Having come across one too many homemade CD-Rs, my first notion was to dismiss this release simply because of its xeroxed covers. But because you will never see this man throw away rap music without giving it a listen first, I popped it in, pressed play and listened. Not far into the first track, the rapper seemed to be taking shots at Eminem. Being informed about Eldubl's Detroit background, I decided that this CD could be interesting after all. I kept listening, and soon knew that "City of God" would get its chance here at RapReviews.com, not because of any sensationalist disses that don't exist, but because it is a well-meant, sincere rap record from a city that despite Eminem and "8 Mile" still remains largely uncharted territory.
Why the City of Detroit, with over 90% Afro-American inhabitants, has yet to produce a notable rap star that is not white and not patronized by Marshall Mathers, remains a mystery even to Eldubl, certainly a committed advocate for this particular cause. Even he can only ask: "Can my people ever get they shine?" What he seems to be sure of is why Eminem ended up getting so much shine: "No coincidence, now that white boys rock mics / they get hella press, names up in lights." Even when he gets at Eminem more or less directly ("that 8 Mile flick was false / Marshall cool, but back then y'all know Proof was the boss"), Eldubl makes it clear that what bothers him is that the media's focus is not really on Detroit but on skin color:
"My beef is with these media cats
who cover every rapper in Detroit but the blacks
No coincidence, that's how it is in modern times
Now you ask am I happy that it's now our time?
I'ma have to pass, laugh just to keep from cryin'
Line reporters on the wall and let 'em catch the nine"
It may be easier to understand where Eldubl is coming from when you explore the rest of this CD and find out that what ultimately drives this rapper is his love for his city and the people living in it. And that what makes "City of God" worthwhile are his many ways to profess this love. It shines through in "Eastern Market", a short ode to crate digging. It shines through when he and spoken word vocalist Cookie M spread their hometown love on "Our World". It even shines through in "State of the City", where Eldubl turns that love into tough love, saying that Detroit's denizens have "a lot to proud of,", but that they also tend to celebrate "shit we shouldn't even be proud of." Not afraid to get specific, Eldubl finishes with the memorable lines: "In this land of the pay we rebought our chains / we some very special slaves, convinced we got game."
On "Robeson", perhaps the song with the most refined and engaging writing, Eldubl uses the full range of his rhetoric to expand on this thought, showing true concern for his kin:
"This is our city, right here and now
we run the D, we hold it down
Sad truth, though, we don't even play our part
The young got to finish what Coleman start
All this money on hair and clothes
all this cheddar on whips and hoes
Look around, stupid, what we don't own
Buy Lex trucks but rent our homes
buy Benz coupes but rent our homes
12 year old kids with cellular phone
new Jordans, not a single book they own
Cause if you wanna pull a nigga, dip some shit in chrome
wanna scare one, put somethin' in his dome
give their PlayStation mind too much to hold
Trippin' if you think he won't leave you alone
be lucky if that cat let you finish your thought
'fore he tell you what he buyin' or what he bought
which one he's schemin' on or who's a freak
or how they got to get it 8 days a week
But damn, if we cool I'm your boy regardless
The D, a never-ending test of who the hardest
Don't make sense 'less it gon' make dollars
How we caught up in these thangs makes me wanna holler
Casino full of blacks flashin' they last dollar
cause they rather play a hunch than be empowered"
Once you've witnessed such a strong showing that builds on all of Eldubls qualities, from hooking up a dope loop to putting real emotion into his delivery, it will be all the more harder to overlook the rapper's obvious flaws. Through lines like "L been twistin' brains since Rick done ruled / [...] a nigga got shit to prove," Eldubl claims years of experience, adding that "it ain't '86 and I don't rhyme for fun." Unfortunately he doesn't sound particularly professional either. Whenever he isn't completely focused on getting his message across (and frankly, "Robeson" is the only time that happens from start to finish), Eldubl's mic stylings are too cumbersome to get anyone excited. A lot of tweaking is in order to make Eldubl interesting beyond his subject matter. Even a little bit of tweaking might help, to animate the languid flow and to reduce the squawk in his voice.
Likewise, too much of "City of God"'s music betrays its demo status. The three screwed tracks at the end only contribute to the experimental nature of this project. But they also show that Eldubl is open to many things. Stylistically, his album is more varied than a lot of commercial releases, from the offbeat funk of "Sincerely" to the rewound sounds of "Playback". But compare "West Side Story" to Ice Cube's "Once Upon a Time in the Projects" (which both use the same sample), and it becomes evident that Eldubl needs to brush up in the beat department as well. Yet even though "City of God" might be primarily addressing Detroit residents and isn't musically fit to travel beyond city limits, it itself is open to anyone who dares to enter.
Music Vibes: 4.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 4.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 4.5 of 10
Originally posted: September 16, 2003