Dame D.O.L.L.A – Different On Levels The Lord Allowed: REVIEW

Portland Trailblazers Superstar Damian Lillard is a rare breed. He is an extraordinary basketball player and a great rapper. In the beginning, I had skepticism about his foray into Hip-Hop, considering past basketball players, not named Master P, haven’t been the best rappers; Shaquille O’Neal was okay, and Allen Iverson didn’t take the time to hone the craft. To fans, it has become a black mark on their respective career since they try not to talk about much unless it “Can’t Stop The Reign.” Unlike them, Dame has grown to create an authentic identity with his music. His past work isn’t bad, but they were slightly basic. However, on his new album, Different On Levels The Lord Allowed, Damian personifies the acronym from his moniker with unique flows and verses, albeit some generic choruses and production.

Looking back on Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson’s work, the sound is a time capsule for the time. And like them, Dame has done so with the sound of his music. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This sound is prominent with conscious hip-hop; however, Damian Lillard brings slick wordplay and rhyme schemes. It’s a glaring difference between the music from the past and then. Damian is a kid from Oakland, and he doesn’t shy away from his roots, even though it doesn’t always reflect the final product for each song.

But to me, there is no doubt Damian Lillard is talented, and his verses/writing speak for themselves. Unfortunately, he has consistently faltered into mediocrity due to the surrounding aspects of his music. The production usually takes familiar beats from current styles in hip-hop, except they don’t explore it beyond a basic concept. It isn’t as noticeable, and Damian is to thank. His intricate flows and wordplay have brought about more depth than expected.

Damian Lillard has witty wordplay and metaphors, which shows the range of his talent. It speaks louder when he can deliver songs with a positive message and avoid being hammy. And at the same time, reflect that on his verses. Unfortunately, he is limited to two styles as his love-centric songs end up hammy. There is unison between the love-centric “For Me” and “IYKYK” that their tangent is written off quickly as Dame circles back to what he knows best. That is why, Different On Levels The Lord Allowed starts and ends on a high note, as we hear Damian Lillard at his near best. 

Starting with “The Juice,” Dame delivers a statement that significantly contrasts himself from others with his approach to music and social commentary. He is more like Q-Tip, who was more subtle than Tupac and Radio Raheem of Do The Right Thing. “The Juice” is a reflection of him as a rapper, full of confidence and clarity. From here, listening to Different On Levels The Lord Allowed felt like a breath of fresh air because, albeit some basicness, Dame still has a high level of confidence to back his braggadocio nature on some songs.

As the album continues, it starts to act like a rollercoaster ride with the highs and lows. After “The Juice,” there is a small low with “Overnight,” as its runtime left me wanting more, similar to J. Cole’s “Punchin The Clock.” “Right On” takes us back up as Damian brings Lil Wayne and Mozzy to spit about their status in their respective hoods. The vibrant percussion has the thermostat high, and Lil Wayne and Mozzy break it with the heat from their verses. Mozzy, being a non-pop artist, brings the mojo that the other two bring their A-Game, and there is nothing more refreshing than a non-pop Lil Wayne feature. But this isn’t to say Dame is never on his A-Game. He is constantly delivering; however, some off-color and standard choices make certain songs forgettable. 

The choruses are the weakest aspect, as they don’t stand out. Blxst and Jane Handcock don’t deliver bad vocal performances, but the lyrics come across as bland. Sometimes they fall in line with standard conventions of uplifting soul. And it isn’t just them, as it stays an issue when Dame is in control of the chorus. Similarly, Derrick Milano delivers a simple 1-2-3 hip-hop chorus on “Kobe,” which doesn’t come as a surprise as he did it before in the song “For Me.” “Kobe” has solid verses from Damian Lillard and Snoop Dogg over an adequate, albeit simple percussion-heavy beat. 

The high note Different On Levels The Lord Allowed ends on makes you feel better about the poor non-factors of the last few songs (the choruses). After the journey Dame has taken you on throughout the album, “GOAT Tier” reminds you about the flawed nature of Dame. He speaks on his failures and shortcomings as a way to demonstrate strength from growth. It is like the three-year span where he didn’t make an All-Star game after previous selections, to being 1st Team All-NBA and a Top 5 MVP Candidate in back-to-back years, respectively. The bouncy production is my favorite as the soulful tones elevate add levels of creativity, especially with Raphael Saadiq’s eloquent performance on the outro.

The production’s wrought simpleness doesn’t hinder the final product, but it does leave you saddened that Damian Lillard’s ear for beats isn’t as profound. It works for what he is going for, and if it doesn’t affect you, then this is for you. It connects on many fronts, as the production does fit the style cleanly. As well, the features bring a lot of energy to elevate the surrounding aspects of the album. And fortunately, it doesn’t take away from the focal point, Damian’s rapping.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

YG & Mozzy – Kommunity Service: Review

YG and Mozzy have always been rappers to turn out great pieces of work, one after the other, but as of recent their final products have been teetering on mediocrity as they try to blend into trends. YG has never been slowing his lyrical and technical abilities, but his recent work has had weird sonic directions, that hearing something nuanced is like a breath of fresh air. Mozzy has always had this distinguished swagger that brings more than his slow flows tell you. So upon hearing about their collaboration album, Kommunity Service, it gave me a small hype as I awaited the release. It delivers in many ways, as Kommunity Service feels more grounded and nuanced to the modern bounce centric west coast hip-hop that made both such monumental talents in the rap world. It has enough to keep in rotation as we hear the side of YG from the first half of the 2010s in rare, but note peak form, while Mozzy contributes as expected.

Kommunity Service opens on a bold note. YG and Mozzy flow over a flipped version of the instrumental to “Wanksta” by 50 Cent. This new take yearns for melodies and on-beat flows, and YG is the only one to truly make a splash on it despite Mozzy having some solid bars and trying to flow in melody. It is after this, where the album starts to get interesting and nuanced within production. It contains a west coast tune up; specifically in their melodic bounce overtones on most of the instrumentals. Though it is to their benefit they get bonafide producers like Tariq Beats and DJ Swish; the latter of which produced some of YG’s best work and the bombastic political anthem “FDT,” while the former has had his hand on the stellar “EAST COAST,” by A$AP Ferg and working with Californian rappers like Nipsey Hussle. 

There are many high points in the production, but the features can make or break the whole track they are a part of. There are some significant highlights like G Herbo on “Dangerous,” and “First 48” with some Californian staples, D3SZN, Celly Ru, and E Mozzy.” It is reminiscent of posse cuts that embolden the west coast sound, which distinguished the music prominent to the areas, specifically the Bay Area, where this comes across as a modernized version with a big LA rapper – i.e. “Dusted & Disgusted,” with E40, Mac Mall, Tupac, and Spice 1. The distinguishing mark being on the flows and production that resonates with the area. 

“Vibe With You,” in particular blends this off-putting acoustic riff over a simple percussion pattern that falls too inline with the many other boring love/relationship tracks. Ty Dolla $ign sounds like he is phoning it in as well. It is easily forgettable and one that could have been left out. Similarly this feeling comes on the track that precedes it, “MAD,” with Young M.A. who doesn’t bring much to the table. She feels too much like an outlier and even worse when the quality of the verse and delivery is subpar. It isn’t like the bouncy and bombastically fun “Toot It Up,” with Tyga, which is a prototypical booty bounce party track but it is delivered well with hypnotic flows and tolerable production. And outside of the aforementioned “Vibe With You,” and “Gangsta,” the other solo outings from the two are phenomenal.

YG and Mozzy have this unique equilibrium that fleshes that kinetic energy from one with vibrant and fun flows in YG, and while Mozzy keeps it within constant motion no matter the tempo/pacing. It is why some of the best highlights are in the tracks that contain no features, and those are both “Bompton to Oak Park” and “Bite Down.” The former is this beautifully bombastic gangster rap anthem that exhumes monstrous flexes, while the latter is a somber take at their personal lives, which has arisen from their reputation and status in their respective gang and celebrity status. It bounds the varying party tracks into something that explores a new brotherhood from YG and Mozzy.

The album cover’s homage to the DMX and Nas vehicle Belly embodies a lot of the themes reflected in Kommunity Service, like brotherhood and gang violence, which they never shy away from on the album. When it’s brought to life they strive above some of their more mundane outputs. It isn’t the most perfect album, but it has many highs and worth a listen. 

Rating: 7 out of 10.