“Death by electrocution’s like life in New York, innit?” That was my favorite line from the last Run The Jewels album. When he spluttered that line, El-P got at a few essential truths about his hometown. New York is nervous and stressful and jittery, and it can kill you. But it can also make you feel absolutely alive in a way that I don’t think a single other city can do. People in New York are piled on top of each other in all sorts of uncomfortable ways, and they’re all trying to adapt to an environment that’s constantly changing, like fish in water where the temperature isn’t quite right for survival. It’s so goddamn fucking expensive that everyone is constantly working but also constantly hustling, looking for a way to scheme ahead of the asshole in the apartment across the hall. Everything is hard; trying to figure out the logistics of getting groceries from the store to your apartment can take up way too much of your day. But the flipside is that you’re constantly surrounded by the smartest people you will ever meet, and you have to keep your mind sharp just to keep up with them. It’s a good feeling: You’re operating on your highest possible frequency, and everyone else around you is right there with you. A great night out in New York is like a great night out nowhere else on the planet. The New York rapper DVS comes from the same underground that produced El-P, though he’s a generation or two behind El. And his new album DVTV gets at that highly specific and local feeling: The euphoria of stress, of giving yourself over to this ridiculous place.
Within certain, extremely specific corners of the rap internet, DVTV was one of those hotly anticipated albums that never seemed like it would arrive. DVS has been working on it for long enough that one of the tracks here, “It’s Always Money In Krilladelphia,” features both members of Das Racist. It’s the first real DVS album. Last year’s crazy-entertaining Mutant League was more of an odds-and-ends collection that was packed with posse cuts. It did a nice job capturing the incestuous Brooklyn gallery-rap scene that DVS called home, but it didn’t always showcase the man himself. DVTV is different. There are guests here: Lakutis, Weekend Money, the Parenthood actress Mae Whitman. (She shows up to play a stereotypically annoying bourgie white lady on “Charlie Chaplin,” and she is good at it.) And it’s not exactly a painstakingly programmed album, with peaks and valleys and all that. But it’s recognizably the work of one guy, a complete look at a personal aesthetic. And in its own way, it works like one of those nights out in New York, battering you with frantic cleverness until you’re not sure you can process it anymore.
DVS is an interesting human being: A former New York hardcore growler who now works at a strip club and a constantly funny presence on Twitter. He’s got a voracious trash-culture frame of reference that makes him an engaging presence, especially if your interests are anything like his own: wrestling, comic books, having friends who do really unwise drugs, junk food, getting drunk in the early afternoon. More to the point, he’s a clever and canny songwriter. He makes one hook out of a subway-conductor announcement, another out of the Darkwing Duck theme music, and another out of something that Christopher Lloyd yells in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. He samples Dusty Rhodes’ “hard times” promo for maximum fire-up effect. He delivers an entire short interlude song in a snooty stuck-up rich-guy voice, making absurd wealth claims the whole time: “On Tuesdays, I have Bruce Wayne tend to my garden,” “I’m in the hood like lobster bisque.” He comes up with these combinations of words that sound so goddam good that you want to write them down just to see what they look like on paper: “Hundred proof peppermint schnapps up in the sippy cup / Silly fucks crumble to dust, muttering kiddie stuff.” But for all that rampant intelligence, he’s not above pausing in the middle of a verse to bellow, “DRINK DRINK DRINK DRINK SMOKE SMOKE SMOKE FUCK FUCK DIE DIE.” He is the type of rapper to make some silliness like this rather than a music video:
But this isn’t some sort of look-how-smart-I-am joke record. DVTV is genuine New York rap shit, with all the hectic intensity that that term can imply. It’s hard to relax listening to the album. DVS has a hoarse, loud voice. You can hear the influence of hardcore in his delivery. He’s a fast rapper, sometimes cramming in syllables so quickly that it’s hard to pick out what he’s saying. And he switches up his flows more often than most New York rappers do. But there’s not a lot of nuance to his delivery; he growls over beats rather than falling into the pocket. And he’s just as natural talking about systemic inequality on “Just What Happens” as he is at talking about old cartoons. He doesn’t even switch up his approach. When guest Majesty talks about prison-commissary economics on “Breathe Easy,” the sense of feverish desperation is very much in keeping with the rest of the tape. The beats are just as dense and cluttered as his verses: Huge horn farts on “Charlie Chaplin,” hard-strutting bassline on “Life Is A Gamble,” assaultive buzz-bass on “Camo Remix.” That sense of tension isn’t a bug; it’s a feature. DVTV is an exhausting whirlwind of an album, but it’s a fun one. It keeps you on your toes. And even if it can give you a profound headache if you hear it in the wrong mood, I haven’t enjoyed a mixtape this much in months. Buy it here.
Playboi Carti – “Fetti” (Feat. Maxo Kream & Da$h)
One of my favorite things about Atlanta rap is the way people can suddenly emerge out of the ether to become a Thing. A couple of weeks ago, I’d barely heard of the Awful Records associate Playboi Carti. Now, thanks to the bubbling-under track “Broke Boi,” he’s a star on the rise. And he’s already followed it up with this song, a dazed, drifting banger with a couple of other on-the-rise rappers. “I just left Houston / I just left Earth” is a great way to start a song.
Deniro Farrar – “World On My Shoulder”
Farrar, from North Carolina, was convincingly grizzled and guttural when we first met him a few years ago, but he’s still getting better at putting together songs. This one, with its spacey sunset beat and its surrounded-by-sharks paranoia, might be the best one he’s done yet.
Wiley – “Chasing The Art”
The UK’s grime scene is resurgent, and one of its original architects has noticed. Wiley founded Roll Deep, discovered Dizzee Rascal, and made some truly great songs more than a decade ago. And on “Chasing The Art,” he locks right back into that jittery slap mode. He still sounds hungry.
Young Thug – “Dance”
Barter 6 is just a week and a half old, and already new tracks are hitting the internet. This time, a twisty and hyperactive beat sends Thug into mournful croon mode, which makes about as much sense as everything else this guy does.
Large Professor – “Opulence”
This New York legend produced three tracks on Illmatic, so I’m not sure how he thinks this clumsy-ass, barely-there rapping is good enough. But that gooily glinting beat is a thing of absolute beauty.
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO
Killer Mike X Arianna Huffington = Bad Ass salutes her for repping #RTJAllDay! She grabbed my hand lead me through the party introduced me to all the important folks and made me feel warm &!welcomed. She was a class act and took good care of me for Shay. She invited me to write some stuff for the sight so look 4ward to that too! Salutes and Love to her & #HuffingtonPost #WHCD2015 #HistoryMade #NoOtherRappersThere #IreppedHipHopWell #AintWeClean #superCleanSuperHard #NerdProm #KingNQueen