The Mellow Vibe of Dom Kennedy's 'Rap N Roll' Shine the Veteran in Evolved Light
Evan Dale // Sep 28, 2020
Always prolific, always prophetic, Dom Kennedy’s timeless appeal to the West Coast tenets of hip-hop ring anthemic and have for a decade. In fact, if any aspects of life have remained consistent through his run as Godfather of the South-Central sound, they’re Dom’s spoon-fed cadence and his identity synonymous with sunshine and coastal drives. With Rap N Roll, the trends both continue and evolve.
His newest album – at this point, his uncountably nth solo project – and his second full-length release of the year behind he and Hit-Boy’s collaborative project, Also Known As Half-A-Mil, is an exploration of his stylistic consistency while the world and the hip-hop world in particular, are in constant flux around him. For Dom and a sound he invented, the lighthearted, warm-weather lane is just too easy. And though some of the simplicity in his creative process is certainly owed to the simplicity in his style, it shouldn’t be overlooked that he’s making art reflecting the reality of himself. A laid-back, fun-loving, and often hilarious wordsmith, making something seem so easy has been a lifelong process of hard work. So, changing course, however slight, is a big step.
For that, Rap N Roll is an album etched by a legendary veteran whose auditory aesthetic no one can replicate, and no one would dare question. The game needs Dom, and 2020 needs Rap N Roll not because it’s another bright and warm collection of Summer anthems (which it undoubtedly has), but because even though it still gleams with his positivist signature, it doesn’t sidestep the reality of the moment.
Even when weighed against his pre-existing canon, the album is driven most by a fervent adherence to a mellow identity. It’s a signature of his to spit even brutal punchlines and heavy-hitting verses under the spell of the eternally comfortable, but from beginning to hour-long end, Rap N Roll rolls along at a slower, steadier pace than expected even from the slow and steady Dom Kennedy. There are less West Coast synth explosions, no party anthems; there is lyrical introspection, smooth production, and more time spent fusing samples, keystrokes, and melodic gestures to his overarching aesthetic. In outcome, Rap N Roll is perhaps a snapshot of Dom after some long months spent relatively alone in comparison to the nightlife and ballgame fueled lifestyle that he’s built out for himself as one of the most important homegrown cultural icons in one of the most important cultural spheres. Perhaps it’s simply a glimpse into what the sullen mindset of a man who curates the ultimate Summer vibe sounds like as we head into the colder months. But regardless of the reasoning, the even more mellow is a nice change of pace from Dom Kennedy.
Change of pace as it may be, Rap N Roll is also a classic addition to his canon. Though he’s never delivered an album like this, he’s certainly granted glimpses of a more emotive, thoughtful introvert in the past. For the Dom savants out there: think Dom’s Prayer, What I Tell Kids, One Eye Open – that downtempo Dom in perpetuity. Now mix in the sociopolitical strife, health crisis, and climatic degradation we face together in 2020 – especially in Dom’s native California. Take into account the personal struggle he still faces in the wake of losing longtime friend, Nipsey Hussle, and suddenly the realization that maybe Dom doesn’t only have to make Southern California party anthems comes into focus. Per the cold times we live in, Rap N Roll feels almost strongest in its ability to frame a dark moment in time through the lens of an otherwise eternally upbeat, summery rapper.
Take the West Coast synths and replace them with downtempo keystrokes. Take the anthemic hooks and replace them with more thoughtful poetics. Undoubtedly ignore the last two rules here and there for a return to relative Dom normalcy with tracks like Bootleg Cable. Loosely follow the guidelines, and a new Dom Kennedy chapter spurred by a new Dom Kennedy album, Rap N Roll, takes shape.
We all love Dom for different reasons. For those that appreciate him for his smooth-talking one-liner-tinged pick-up ballads, look no further than We Outta Here with perpetual collaborator, TeeFLii. For those that look for his shit-talking bouts of braggadocio, listen to TYM & Bootleg Cable. For those that roll the windows down when they hear his 101 anthems, Love Is Gangster breathes of warm-weather positivity. But regardless of the reasons we love Dom, we should love him for his vulnerability to evolve during times that have changed us all. Still spitting his lines, talking his shit, and soundtracking our most Summery, margarita and mojito fueled weekends, he’s also laying the framework for how to soundtrack a new era of hip-hop music still aimed at bringing some Southern California love to the game, but taking his time and appreciating the details in the process.
Rap N Roll is not expectation. And yet, it’s still an image of why we love the music of Dom Kennedy. And with it, now there’s a cold-weather, downtempo Dom project to work hand-in-hand with what is otherwise the most Summer-laden canon in hip-hop history.