September 21, 2009

The Second Coming of D. Black


D. Black and Spaceman ::: Photo by Josh Lovseth

“Forget about yesterday, today won’t be the same, and we won’t know, what tomorrow brings…” – Refrain from “Yesterday” by D. Black on Ali’Yah

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine the person we once were. We dread to recall the downright stupid philosophies of our youth and the havoc our own actions have wrought as a result. Yet those are the things that made us who we are now, the important mistakes and miscalculations that changed our trajectory in life and served as learning experiences that (hopefully) made us wiser in the end. And so it can be just as hard to imagine life as being lived any other way. Without a doubt Sportn’ Life rapper D. Black doesn’t relish his former self, and though that life plays a key role in the compelling impetus of his second record Ali’Yah, he seems determined to move beyond his youth with purpose.

Talking big and acting big is part of the hip hop game, and D. Black’s early material reflects that expectation, doing his best to amplify the often gritty vision of urban life-as-struggle. For Ali’Yah though, D. Black is done playing that game the same way. Like his labelmate Fatal Lucciauno, he’s made a life decision to control his own path, and not let the expectations or demands of a fickle industry distract him from his true calling as an urban philosopher committed to music. The first song from Ali’Yah “What I Do” lays all of this out literally while in “The Return” he’s bluntly rhymes “I can’t associate with them fake ones/to add to their fake bullets coming out of fake guns.”

Socially-conscious hip-hop isn’t exactly new in the Seattle area, yet in Ali’Yah D. Black takes the road less traveled, earnestly depicting himself, his former life, and his own impact in the context of the real world consequences. And he is thinking about impact, not just getting by by doing what you “have to” do. Interludes typically inhabited by repping or something funny or stupid, are instead setting the tone of challenge on the record just as much as the songs. At the end of “What I Do” the channel changes and a voice pipes up: “The question stands, as a genre that uplifted and inspired so many of us, is it now poisoning itself?” These are hot words for one who is himself trying to gain traction in the hip-hop scene, and some will call him preachy for it, yet the force of his example on this record serves to quash any weak retorts that it’s not so easy to turn your back on the game. Not simply inflammatory words, he’s genuinely attempting to engage a nuanced conversation from the inside.

For Wednesday night’s CD release show at the Crocodile, much of the local hip-hop community was in the house either to take a step on stage or simply to show support for D. Black and his latest effort. Spaceman was hosting, and he was determined to make sure his boy had a great show. Darrius Willrich started the night out at the keys, bringing me back to my Stevie Wonder period in college. Dyme Def then followed They Live! who both put up energetic performances to a slowly warming crowd. Once D. Black hit the stage though, the crowd quickly thickened up front into a sea of swaying hands raised in in the shape of an “L.”

While D. Black may be done playing by anyone else’s rules, he certainly hasn’t turned his back on bringing the energy and performance that’s generally expected of a quality hip-hop show. Fully engaging the crowd, he was all smiles and thank you’s, especially for the night’s DJ and prolific producer Vitamin D, a tireless advocate for local hip-hop artists for years. Grynch, Spaceman and Fatal Lucciauno all reprised the roles they played as guests on the album (much like D. Black’s recent Bumbershoot performance), while Sportn’ Life “princess” Marissa made a late set appearance to provide backing vocals on Ali’Yah‘s first single “Yesterday.”

As D. Black did the roll call, “Where my South Enders at? Where my North Enders at? Where my blacks at? Where My Jews at?….” he included every group, and got a loud response every time. This moment demonstrated his wide ranging appeal in a striking manner, yet given the dynamic performance it came as no surprise. The next day Abbey commented via twitter, “I’m going to finally say it out loud — local rockers could learn a thing or two from local hip hoppers in terms of performance.” As I left the Croc that night, I couldn’t help but think exactly the same thing.

Darrius Willrich ::: Photo by Josh Lovseth

They Live! ::: Photo by Abbey Simmons

Dyme Def ::: Photo by Josh Lovseth

D. Black ::: Photo by Josh Lovseth

Flickr: D. Black’s Ali’Yah Release Party at the Crocodile

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