(Today's Reader Review comes from Justa, who decided to tackle Unexpected Arrival, the debut album from Rev. Run's son, Diggy. Which I probably should have ran during that unofficial “teen rapper” week, but whatever. Leave your thoughts for Justa below.)
Back in 2010 (a decade ago in today's music climate), Diggy Simmons, the son of the artist now known as Rev. Run & nephew of hip hop Mogul/Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons, released a freestyle video to one of Nas’s most heralded tracks of late, “Made You Look”, which cured cancer, helped negotiate peace between Israel and Palestine, and brought down carbon emissions to prehistoric-era levels. A friend of mine who wasn’t really all that into rap (his favorite album is Jay-Z's The Blueprint 3...yeah, I know) brought it to my attention first, and I quickly dismissed Diggy as something that Chuck D instructed me to not to believe in as a young’n decades earlier: “The Hype”.
Afterward, two fairly standard mixtapes followed (the definition of anti-climatic), which I can remember very little about aside from one featuring a collaboration with Pharrell and Lupe Fiasco, and the other one being hosted by DJ Premier (which should mean something, right?). Between the two, Diggy got signed to Atlantic Records (do they even release albums anymore?) and readied his debut album, Unexpected Arrival, while everyone who had a Twitter account and has something to do with hip hop chimed in, proclaiming that a new hope had risen.
In retrospect, outside of the initial co-signs, this was a very important moment. You have the son of one of hip hop's original and highly-regarded artists (I added in that description to shut up any commentator who would name-drop the likes of Lil' Romeo and Eazy-E's son, who I won't even take the time to google the name of, help me out here Max) (Lil' Eazy?) who has now entered the arena, which tells you that the culture is getting up there in age. It's also interesting to think about rap life without the perspective of coming up on the impoverished streets. Rather than a rags-to-riches tale that is all too common, we now have a kid who is a product of the “riches” part of that story, one who still seems to take this rapping thing pretty seriously.
So how young Diggy would fare once the machine took him in was the ultimate mystery. Would we have another dime-a-dozen tough guy like Cory Gunz? A pre-The Carter Lil' Wayne, who many don’t even realize was once a child rapper? Or a Lil' Romeo, Bow Wow, or any other fill-in-the-blank young punk kid during the last fifteen years that had video hits on 106 & Park for a couple of years and then faded into a career in real estate before resurfacing to do a few local fair shows?
Only one way to find out, I guess.
1. THE ARRIVAL
A spoken-word intro accompanied by a piano. Sure, very original. Though it doesn't sound bad, I don't know why I would ever need to listen to this again.
2. HELLO WORLD
This Happy Perez instrumental is one of those “stadium-status”-type of beats that Kanye West wouldn’t be disappointed in, but an old-school hip hop head probably might. Bombastic, loud, and in-your-face, with the standard elements of a more modern style-based production: your electronic horns, distorted vocals during the hook, and some large-sounding dusty drums for good measure. I’m digging this beat. Young Rev. Run doesn’t sound bad on it, either. Aside for the fact that he was only sixteen at the time and the hadn't yet grown into the bass in his voice, Diggy delivers some solid (and positive) lyrical delivery.
3. I NEED TO KNOW (FEAT. CLARENCE COFFEE JR.)
Not a fan of the hook on this one, performed by Clarence Coffee Jr., the poor man's John Legend. Diggy gets into the topic of serious (read: teenage) romance, questioning his relationship with another and how it relates to his upbringing, fame, and other things of this nature. I remember being sixteen once upon a time, too. Minus the money and the wealthy relatives, obviously.
4. 88 (FEAT. JADAKISS)
Da Internz lend Diggy one of those bass-heavy tracks that Lil Wayne made popular (see: “A Milli”, “6 Foot 7 Foot”, and anything else that may have triggered the producer, Bangladesh, into suing Weezy for compensation), except it brings nothing new to this style of production, nor is it very interesting. Jadakiss (who I would say has mostly a cult-like following at this point) provides a guest verse. I've never really been a fan of Kiss, but those of you who are will probably say this verse is just as on-point as anything else he’s done while taking a sip of Kool-Aid, or perhaps they will just hate on “88” because they'll think their hero “sold out” by making the cameo. Not really feeling this one: it seems a lot more forced than everything else on Unexpected Arrival so far.
5. TWO UP
This one leans more towards the “pop rap”-styled production radio listeners will be more familiar with. More gloss than grit, basically. But this works for Diggy a little bit better, as his voice doesn't get buried within the beat. Plus, it isn't corny, either: “Two Up” has enough hip hop and R&B elements to attract the heads, but is designed to be more in tune with a generation that likes to purchase individual tracks on iTunes. I liked it. What can I say? One thing that stands out on Unexpected Arrival thus far is how positive Diggy comes across: he exudes confidence, but not that swagger-masking confidence projected by the likes of Big Sean, Tyga, or some other vanity-label cronies of A-list rappers you like. You kind of have to clap for this young man, who at least comes across as sincere. I suppose his dad's words of wisdom weren’t just a way to score a book deal.
6. UNFORGIVABLE BLACKNESS
Wow. I didn’t see this one coming at all. Diggy's first verse was a little more on the personal side, with our host defending his place in the genre while coming from a privileged upbringing that typically results in a backlash. But overall, the track is an anthem (of sorts) for black unity. Through his lens of a kid who has “made it”, Young Simmons shares what's on his mind regarding the lack of unity and support within the black community, and even though he's in a position to receive a lot of hate, he still wishes for everyone to be successful. Some very unexpected deeper content from a younger artist. Nothing but props for this song.
7. SPECIAL OCCASION (FEAT. TANK)
Tank? I haven’t seen that name around in a very long time. An uninspired hook (although Tank still sounds great) hurts “Special Occasion” a lot, but I will say that Diggy sounds good over this laid-back D'mile beat that comes across as an homage to the production of The Ummah. He really should stay in this lane and stop relying on R&B hooks so often. Other than that, no real complaints: Diggy showcases his boastful nature here, and it works much better than on the earlier “88”.
8. GLOW IN THE DARK
Now this one is way too pop for my liking. It’s the later-career Eminem/Rihanna/Lil Wayne/Cee-Lo/ Bruno Mars/etc.-type nonsense that would normally be pushed as the first single. Diggy also isn’t really saying anything all that new on here, and, once again, his voice gets lost within this more boisterous production. Next!
9. 4 LETTER WORD
An R&B number. So those of you two who make that face whenever those two letters and the ampersand pop up in any of these review, skip ahead to the next track. For everyone still here: this honestly wasn't that bad. Being that I am a tad bit older than the kid, I wouldn’t initially gravitate towards this kind of thing, as there are a few corny lines here and there. But if that Bieber kid can go around making generic/plastic music that comes across as “romantic” for the same demographic, and make a ton of money for it, then why not Diggy? I'd gladly prefer to listen to “4 Letter Word” and its ilk over Bieber any day. This was a nice little track for the youngn’s to get their cupcake on to.
10. DO IT LIKE YOU (FEAT. JEREMIH)
This track is fun. I can see this popping off in the clubs and such. Oops, sorry, I meant “popping off at Homecoming, proms, and Sadie Hawkins dances”. Comes from a place of respect for the opposite sex, as well. I guess you can make a decent dance song for the young folks nowadays without getting “ratchet”. Who knew?
11. TOM EDISON
Another beat with too much going on, and Diggy is once again drowned out by the production. This is a huge misstep, but I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised, being that most of the younger generation don't exactly look for lyrics (although Kendrick Lamar has proved to be an exception). So if you ain’t checkin' for the lyrics, I guess this works, but for me it was just annoying.
12. THE REIGN
Closes Unexpected Arrival with a more smoothed-out version of the last track. Same concept: the very braggadocios, confident type of bravado and all that goes along with it. Except now the kid is able to show off his stuff, and his voice can actually be heard. A fitting end to a shockingly short album.
THE LAST WORD: I was very surprised with how good Unexpected Arrival actually is. Clocking in at barely forty-four minutes, Diggy wastes little time with filler. Though there are a few missteps, mostly his choice of stadium-type anthems that overpower his voice and too many R&B-type hooks, there isn’t much to complain about. It’s good to hear someone young come into the game and sound somewhat dope and like they are actually having fun doing this. Diggy doesn’t merely sound hungry: he also does a good job carrying on the legacy his pops, DMC, and Jam Master Jay (R.I.P.) crafted all those many moons ago, all while creating his own identity. Unexpected Arrival was a massive improvement from his previous mixtapes and shows definite growth in Diggy overall. The older members of our culture might not deem this hip hop-enough, but it is definitely something I wouldn’t mind listening to with kids in the car (if I was a parent), especially if he has more songs like “Unforgivable Blackness”, “Do It Like You”, and “Two Up” up his sleeve. I look forward to seeing how the rest of this man's music develops over time.
(Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave your thoughts below.)