Sometimes you may listen to an album you've never heard of before, by an artist you've never heard of before, laced with beats by producers you've never heard of before. And in many cases, you will listen to that album, and after wasting your time, you'll fully understand why you've never heard of that artist. But in the case of Dan Johns' Yesterday's Redemption, you may be left wondering why you haven't heard of him. If you are familiar with Dan John's previous work, you may have been sitting on a great secret.
Hailing from South Carolina, Dan Johns brings us his third release, Yesterday's Redemption. But don't expect to hear a L'il Flip-esque southern drawl over any glossy beats. Dan displays an intelligible, commanding flow--not unlike Pharoah Monch--with a hint of a southern accent. In fact, his vocal clarity keeps this listen enjoyable and engaging. If you prefer rappers who harp on the evils of their world--violence, objectification of women and drugs--you've come to the wrong place. The seemingly heavy title of this album is indicative of Dan's penchant for usually coming from the heart.
The first track, "Just the Intro," sets the tone nicely for the album, as Dan raps nicely over a lingering string loop. If a guy puts this much effort into an intro, you know you're in for something good with the rest of the album. "On The Same Page" follows nicely with another string loop--this one laced by Will Power--and it's a good track to feature as the first full-length song. Dan does himself a great favor by self-producing "A Tale of Two Cities," a playful track with a sweet piano loop. Dan let's us know what he's all about on another mellow string loop, "For The Fans:"
"I walk the fine line between two kinds of rap music
That means you can listen and nod or dance to it
High School football teams get amped to it
The Carolinas' best MCs, I ran through 'em
Either that, or I extended my hand to 'em
And told 'em they can get on the bus with the Dan movement
This ain't about celebrity status because I'm better than average
Average is for the celebrity rappers"
Track number 8, "Hip Hop Vet," is altogether stellar. Dan may stand-out on this track moreso than on any other, and the beat, supplied by ill Natured, could pass for a DJ Premier production--scratched vocals on the hook (courtesy of DJ Prince Ice) and all. Though it may have been an overstatement when ill Nate wrote in the liner notes of that it "Could be the song of the year," this song is great on first listen--and only gets better each listen thereafter. Check the first verse:
"They say that, struggle and hunger helps improve the taste
But it's hard to imagine that when you're losing weight
See I, used to debate every groove that I'd make
3 or 4 times then end up at the lab writing more rhymes
Tryin' to perfect it, plus find my perspective, just
Hopped in the game deep, writing the essence
I'm reminded daily rappers lead a life of deception
Where every, left is a right and every right is a left
Right in the chest it hits me, like a swig of whiskey
Business is business and all businesses are risky
It's deeper than looseleaf, new beats and groupies
I see why entertainers get drunk and smoke lucies
It's stressful, can't let the next man test you
Plus, labels got you on the next man's schedule
Glamorous? Yes, but is it scandalous? Yes
Since I'm healed by nature, I'm demanding respect"
After the high of "Hip Hop Vet," it would have been easy to fill the rest of the album with mediocre tracks and call it a day in the studio, but Dan doesn't let up at all. The jazzy horns of "Survival" is a welcomed change-up. Topically, "American Hunger" is similar to Talib Kweli's "Get By," though he approaches the topic with beautiful, melancholy piano chords and what sounds like a flute(or some kind of woodwind) loop. The intense, synthesized-organ loop on "In His Eyes" matches Dan's lyrical conviction. The guitar on "Pressure Point" is another welcomed musical curveball. The seemless blending of the guitar chords and strings on the title track, "Yesterday's Redemption," is another awesome, self-produced track--the chord scheme may even remind some of Metallica's "Nothing Else Matters." "The Magnum" could be one of the best three or four tracks on the album but might get a bit lost as track number 18.
There isn't too much to dislike on Yesterday's Redemption. A few of the tracks fall flat like "Drunk Man Boogie," "The C in Carolina," "Re:Jection," and the bonus "Ladies & Gentlemen," though in most cases it's because of the production. Still though, that leaves 16 tracks which range from pretty good to excellent. There aren't an overwhelming number of guest appearances, but most of those guest appearances are underwhelming, save for Auz, Amen and Akshun on "The Magnum." Maybe it's a little picky, but a guest vocalist could have been nice to spice up a hook or two as some of them can get mundane.
One of the most impressive feats Dan achieves on the album is that the album is extremely cohesive and flows well considering the 20 tracks were produced by 8 different producers including Dan himself. Much of the production is very good, but if Dan could hook up with guys like Primo, Alchemist or Kanye West, watch out. In the short biographical sketch contained in the press release Dan provided RapReviews with, Dan Johns "wants to be heard. He wants to be respected. He wants to be remembered." If he continues to make quality music like this, he will be.
Music Vibes: 7.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10
Originally posted: September 9, 2003