Dave East is one of those cats who has been on my radar in name alone for about the past six months. I can’t remember how he got there, but my guess is Peter Rosenberg mentioned him at some point so I put him on the medium-sized list of people to give a chance to at some vague time in the future. Add some procrastination, and we’re at the point where Dave dropped a new mixtape, Hate Me Now, three days ago but I just started listening to Straight Outta Harlem several weeks ago. So I’m in the interesting position of being able to witness a rapper’s year-plus progression in a matter of weeks, which may be one of those rare times where being lazy pays off. Or maybe I’m imaging silver linings? Anyway, on with the review…
According to Straight Outta Harlem‘s intro, Dave East has a decent amount of industry respect, despite his lack of consumer popularity. Then again, most of those industry cosigns come from names who don’t exactly move major units: people like Nas and the aforementioned Rosenberg. In terms of content, Dave is definitely a New York gangsta rapper, but he’s at his best when his beat choices are forcing him to do a bit more than play that well-worn role. On How Bout Now (yup, using that awesome Drake beat), he tells his story starting with crime and burying family members to his present where his rap career seems to slowly taking off with industry love from respected names like The Lox. The moody instrumental highlights his retrospection, and my only complaint is that the transition from crime to rap is not given its fair share of detail.
The same happens on Summerjam, which samples the Norman Connors song that Mobb Deep used so well in their song, Trife Life. Again, the instrumental brings a different Dave, less braggadocious and more contemplative. He’s telling the same story as on How About Now, but it sounds so good that I don’t mind at all.
The pattern here is that certain beats, those with a charm that brings something abnormal out of Dave, are the ones where he shines. Unfortunately, most of Straight Outta Harlem is generic, drug dealer New York gangsta rap. With average beats, annoying hooks, and so-so rhyming, this mixtape is an audible tranquilizer. Dave isn’t a punchline or wordplay rapper, so he’s most compelling when he’s telling a story. And it seems that only certain beats drive him in that direction. At other times, he’s a rapper desperately trying to find his voice. Why else would he rhyme on Chris Brown’s 24 Hours?!?
Dave’s flow and multisyllabic rhymes are also pretty impressive when freestyling on the industry’s best hardcore beats, particularly on 8 Ball and MJG, using the Chiraq instrumental that Dreezy and Nicki Minaj both previously obliterated. The fact that Dave’s song is still worth noting after those two women killed it is an accomplishment by itself, but I’d even say that his version stands with the best uses of that track.
That all said, I can’t emphasize enough that Straight Outta Harlem is a bad mixtape. 20 tracks and I can only stand maybe five of them, but all five are spectacular. That ratio is not enough to get a positive score, but Dave definitely did enough good here to force me to keep checking for him. Hopefully, on Hate Me Now, he’s grown into his own style, has better beats available, and leaves the average shit behind.
- How Bout Now
- FDR Drive
- 8 Ball and MJG
- Seen It All