I’ve been familiar with RapReviews newsfeed and hisSouthern Smoke influence has gotten bigger since we firstreviewed a mixtape back in 2007. Some people in hip-hop are quick to get gassed if they get a little recognition and their mixtapes blow up all over the net, but Smallz has always stayed down to earth and humble. Not everybody who sends you a press release will thank you if you throw it up for your readers, but that’s just how DJ Smallz rolls. To put a point on it, I like dude. Nothing but respect for DJ Smallz and his hip-hop hustle.
The title of his latest mixtape “The Future of Alabama” caught my eye because I’ve always felt that the ‘Bama hip-hop scene is a little slept on. Recently Gadsden, Alabama’s own Yelawolf has been starting to blow up nationally, but before that you had Rich Boy out of Moline, the group Dirty out of Montgomery, there’s G-Side out of Huntsville, the list goes on and on. Gucci Mane is from Birmingham if you want to count him too – I don’t but YMMV. ANYWAY talent runs deep in the heart of the South, in a state with well over 4.5 million people, one which has had the kind of tumultuous social and racial issues since its founding which for better or worse coincides with a strong artistic and musical culture. In other words Alabama has a lot to offer the world AND hip-hop music, and if DJ Smallz and his partner DJ Frank White want to shine a spotlight on that I say more power to them.
Rappers from the other Southern states support on “The Future of Alabama.” Tennessee’s 8 Ball & MJG join the mix on Fathead’s “Pimp Shit,” and Atlanta, GA’s Yung Ralph can be heard on Spydah Soze’s “Tymezone” among others. For the most part though this is an album by ‘Bama, for ‘Bama. The level of recognition achieved before appearing on this tape varies – aptly named rapper The Future is unknown to me, but his guest star Lil Chappy rings an Alabama bell on the whistling “Switchin Lanes.” Attitude is well known to me for his work with Bubba Sparxxx and Timbaland, but somehow has still not gone mainstream even though he keeps it “One Hunid” on a track with Jackie Chain and Mr. Marley (not to be confused with Damian Marley) – definitely outshining his guests in notoriety and delivery over echoing toms and crispy drums. And since I guess you can’t do an Alabama mixtape without Gucci Mane being on it somewhere, he shows up on Yelawolf’s “I Just Wanna Party” and King South’s “It’s Over.” He doesn’t kill either song so he gets a pass this time.
As often happens with mixtapes, particularly ones you can get on the internet, the sheer weight of material included starts to water down the impact of the rappers presented in it. It’s not as though DJ Smallz isn’t doing a good public service by exposing so many little recognized or regionally popular rappers on this worldwide release, but with 27 songs in total and at least as many different names on the tracklisting, songs and rappers start to blend together even without being mixed. A few people do manage to stand out despite the overwhelming overdose. Rod G and Step B’s “Count This Money” have an old school Three 6 Mafia beat and Rod G’s opening verse sounds eerily like Virginia’s famed lyricist Skillz. He also makes a strong impact on a song with an almost unforgettable title: “Get Money Like Walmart.” The musical flow of Chize Money on “Salute Me” shows promise, although he’s almost drowned out by the beat. Big Show’s “Do the Church Dance” may be the crunkest track on the whole album, and Can’t Stop Muzik must be kin to Juvenile cause “Fallback” would fit perfectly into any of his albums.
The other rappers on “The Future of Alabama” like Red Spade, C-nile, and Black Ciza Sosay have more to offer, but they only got one shot each and didn’t grab me with it. There’s no doubt at the end though that Smallz has his thumb on the pulse of Alabama’s future and does a good job of representing its diversity. It’s a hit or miss mix, but it’s not a boring one, and if Alabama gets the recognition it really deserves for its contributions to hip-hop you’ll hear more from all of them.