I’ve heard the weather has been pretty horrible out East, but for all of us that have been on the left side of the map over the past 2-3 weeks, it’s almost as if summer came early. 70 degrees and cloudless in March? All you haters can’t say nothing about that! Anyways, days like we’ve had recently make me start thinking about the actual summer, and looking for music that embodies that feeling of relaxed joy you get from doing nothing more than just laying in the sun. All bias aside, I think the West has that type of sound on lock. I remember being 16 years old thinking about why people no longer listened to West Coast music. I kept on wondering “What do they bump when it’s nice out and they wanna burn some trees? Wu-Tang is tight, Killer Mike is raw, but I wouldn’t ever play that shit at a BBQ.” I’ve since found some music from east of The Rockies that’s cool for a sunny day, but nothing that matches that feeling of some 90’s E-40, DJ Quick, Operation Stackola, or anything produced by Battlecat. So leave it up to another MC from Cali to hit us with the first album of the year tailored made to put a smile on your face when you’re kicking it outside, or rolling around town with the windows down.
I first started listening to Dom Kennedy about a year and half ago. A friend of mine told me to look him up for a concert I was putting together, and although that didn’t work out, it got me to download his first, and still my favorite project, 25th Hour, and I’ve been a fan ever since (Catch up on Dom’s full discography, including From The Westside, With Love, for FREE here. Dom’s got a smooth and light hearted approach to the way that he raps that makes him easily distinguishable even after just a few listens. His flow is slow and drawn out, but far from lazy. It conforms to the beat, yet has a cadence unlike practically any other rapper I’ve heard. He mos def is not a thug, and I wouldn’t call him an LA hipster either. His music gives you the sense that he’s just a cool guy that likes to drink, smoke, go out to party, and hang out with the ladies. He exhibits great balance because his projects aren’t so lovey dovey that it will make all the fellas want to turn it off (although some will disagree with me), but at the same time Dom doesn’t really spit anything offensive or ultra aggressive that will make the ladies feel uncomfortable. Out of rappers that are out today, I think he makes some of the best hip-hop for situations when you’re with a diverse group of people with lots of different musical interests, and you just want to vibe out to some cool shit.
With his newest album, From The Westside, With Love, Dom gives the fans his fourth free project in two years. It’s 16 songs deep, an hour long, and a feel good record from start to finish. Lyrically Dom continues to solidify the style he’s been working on since 25th Hour, and earns my respect by not really letting up on any tracks, regardless of their subject matter. On “1997” Dom raps for 3 minutes straight without a chorus about topics ranging from growing up in Leimert Park, picking up ladies, the music he listens to, his career, and in general how dope he is. “The Hotels” is one of many songs dedicated to the females, and features Dom rapping about the women that spend the night in his hotel rooms, over a smooth keyboard and synthesizer combo reminiscent of some 90’s West Coast gangsta luv tracks, paired with modern drums capable of setting off car alarms. Yet for everyone that gets bored with songs about being a laid back player, “A Leimert Park Song” is a track for all of the hip-hop heads out there. Dom raps about his determination to make it in the game with an organ and vocal heavy soul sample and some simple drums that get your lips curving upwards and your head nodding like a sports souvenir.
Yet I do have a serious complaint about the project. For my tastes, there are a few times where From The Westside, With Love sounds a little too much like it belongs in the background of a clothing store. I would say that that’s largely due to the usage of a lot of corny synths that remind me, but aren’t nearly as bad as those used in “We Run LA” by Ya Boy and Dr. Hollywood. Also, there’s a few too many slow jams, which I’ve noticed has been a trend of Dom’s starting with Future Street/ Drug Sounds. It’s almost as if he noticed the success of “Watermelon Sundae” on 25th Hour and since then has decided to make all of his projects tilt more heavily towards that end of the spectrum. Each track is done well, and for that type of song I find myself liking them more than others, but I worry that it hints towards him going a little too one dimensional. Also, the first two songs, “In Memory Of” and “Still Me” lyrically rely too heavily on the repetition of 1-2 word phrases such as “like this” at the end of each bar, or “still” at the beginning of each bar. It’s a style that I would say Juvenile popularized in the late 90’s, and it’s cool in moderation, especially if it’s thrown in the middle of an album as a way to switch up the way things have been going. I just don’t think it really works to start off the record. In addition, it’s probably time for Dom to take his lyrics to the next level by spitting a story, or coming up with a lyrical concept to a song rather than just a theme. It’d be a look we haven’t seen from him, and after four projects, that’s what I’m starting to want.
With all of that said, Dom Kennedy is a rapper that is heavily influenced by The West Coast of the past, and uses that influence to make rap that is distinctly Californian, but that moves in a direction that California hip-hop hasn’t yet fully occupied. He’s proud of being from LA, but it seems like it’s not because they invented the modern day gang, or the drive by shooting, and not because everyone is smarter and more forward thinking, but because it’s one of the most fun and year round beautiful places to spend time in the country. There isn’t much bad that you can say about gorgeous women showing skin 365 days a year either. So he makes music that promotes happiness and self confidence, and that’s why I say if you’re willing to rock something that’s not about being a super thug or a millionaire, it’s a perfect fit for your upcoming summer gatherings. Now let the barbecues begin.