Hood lyricism with a soft underbelly...

The real is back. With much awaited third instalment of the Karma series mixtape out, there is little doubt that Dave East (born David Lawrence Brewster Jr.) has earned his stripes as an artist who has gone from strength to strength and become the best thing that happened to the East Coast Scene since Styles P, Jadakiss, and Sheek Louch aka the LOX.

Gangsta rap and method acting have become so indistinguishable, any decent record company should hire a casting agent and start running auditions. Your average rapper may look the part and can play it. East is the part like Ice Cube is Doughboy in Boyz n the Hood. Ten years spent perfecting his production style, always tight and to the point, really shows – East’s unrehearsed, spoken word flow is a slice of life from the New York projects incarnated. There is no shortage of better lyricists. They are just not hood nor good enough to sell lines such as “You knew my life, you would’ve been shellshocked / Not just a training day, no Denzel Wash.”

The tough guy act only gets you so far, though. And that is why 'Karma 3' really comes alive when East exposes his character’s soft underbelly. By night, he sees demons in his sleep. By day, he sees the face of his dead homeboy in the sky. “I'm traumatized, just look in my eyes, I need therapy,” he concedes on hard-hitting ‘Believe It or Not’. And when faced with the fear of violent death, even solace from material wealth is nowhere to be found. “They think this money make it all good, how? / Things change, spend too much time in the hood / Now I know I could get killed.”

Memories tainted by regret and guilt – the flip side of nostalgia – resonate in Motown-style acoustic instrumentation and chunky Golden Era beats combined with a supreme cast of vocalists; Memphis songwriter Jozzy’s iconic voice in ‘Broke Or Not’, a fellow New Yorker Benny the Butcher’s rhymes in symphonic old-school banger ‘Stone Killer’, and none other than Mary J. Blige in ‘Know How I Feel’, a song that gets to the heart of 'Karma 3' in the piercing final verse: “I wish that when I close my eyes / Wish I could sleep straight through the night / When the fight for my life gets so hard I can cry / Sometimes I wish it didn’t feel nothing right.”

Looking at East’s history, Rikers Island and Rollin 30s might as well have been in his past life. His own signature range frames are selling for 715 USD a pop and he is playing Method Man in an Emmy nominated Wu-Tang documentary. Some people call it karma. Others call it meritocracy. The principle is exactly the same. Whatever we sow, we will also reap.


Words: Eero Holi

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