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This Or That? Dave East vs. Black Dave

“It must be good to be black,” said the white rap blogger from behind his $2,000 Macbook Pro. You’re authentic, you’re street, you can say the N-word (!) and really claim the culture just like all white rap bloggers hope to do one day. So when a guy like Black Dave comes around, you best believe tighty whiteys are rushing to click that little download box on DatPiff. He’s got black in his name — it’s gotta be good!

The last tape he dropped, in September 2013, was ‘Black Bart,’ and it starts with a song called ‘Money Ain’t Sh!t’ on which he chants “money ain’t sh-t” before bragging about how he eats good steak. His style sounds amateur, like he studied A$AP Rocky for months before pulling up GarageBand. The hook on ‘Fake ID’ goes, “I got my fake I.D. in the NYC, bad ass bitch with a blunt full of green / Stoneroller gang and you know that’s the team, don’t f–k with lames, can’t run with me.” It’s not that what he’s saying is unoriginal — it’s that it has no emotion or creativity. Some rap music gets in your system like a virus. You can’t get it out of you, try as you might, until it consumes you and totally changes your biological make-up. Not all rap can be like that.

Black Dave says he’s proud to be black, but fails to flesh out or illustrate any example of that pride beyond saying those words on some songs (Lil’ B, for example, actually tells people why it’s important to be proud of their race). He says he wants to teach the children, but across 14 songs (and a poem on the intro), where are the lessons? Why would you tell struggling people to ‘Quit Ya Day Job’ when those day jobs are often the only thing keeping them alive? Rappers hate punching in — that’s why most of them are broke.

New York rappers used to pride themselves on knowledge, wisdom, understanding. Now they throw up foreign gang signs, sip lean and copy sounds from other regions. It’s more about being relevant and d–kriding trends than speaking from the heart and trying to help others.

Who knows if Dave East is honest, but at least he sounds like he means what he says. His latest tape, ‘Black Rose,’ is a wake-up call in an age of Ambien rap. Yes, he sips lean and talks about money, b-tches and bottles too, but when his voice comes through your headphones, he grabs you. ‘In Some Sh-t (Pt. 1)’ is stuffed with little details that put the listener in his shoes. ‘Hangover’ (above) is the best song on the project, capturing that queasy morning feeling with elation. Even a song generically called ‘Smokin Kush’ quickly reveals memories of pissing for a P.O. His ex had an abortion, his dad got locked up for five years; these are the tidbits that bring us closer to a rapper, character or otherwise.

He isn’t the best rapper in New York, but he has a tight grip on what it might take to get there. He’s a man of the people (on ‘New Jux City’ he relates how he used to take two buses to work) who can craft a good enough hook, though they need some fine-tuning as he moves forward. But his music isn’t chorus-driven like these other rappers with weak ankles. His verses are somewhat dense — he’s no lyrical miracle dude, but he’s packing a lot of words into the rhymes, and it gives the listener a wealth of info to parse. There’s a lot more to Dave East than what you see on the surface.

Both Daves are from Uptown (East from Harlem and Black from the Bronx), but that’s where the similarities end. Black Dave skateboards and doesn’t say much of substance on ‘Black Bart.’ Dave East sounds hungry, and though he can get a little bogged down in the Southern sound (sigh), he’s got vigor. As long as he keeps applying it, he’ll be worth listening to. Now he needs to figure out what’ll get the city in a frenzy. It only takes one record, and East has the depth to retain fans attracted by honey.

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