Smoke DZA :: Rugby Thompson :: High Times Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[Rugby Thompson] If Lil B is the #BasedGod, then Smoke DZA is the #KushedGod. Since he dropped his first mixtape "Substance Abuse" back in 2009, DZA has consistently portrayed himself as a top chronic smoker, a fact reflected by his nom de plume itself is a reference to smoking "Sour Diesel." Those looking for ways to describe his flow invariably use the same terms once applied to Parrish Smith - laid-back, smoothed out, relaxed, et cetera. I've even seen him called "the cool kid's cool kid" but personally that one seems like a little bit of a stretch. Nevertheless you name a who's who of today's up-and-coming young rappers like A$AP Rocky and ScHoolboy Q, and invariably the Harlemite has recorded tracks with them and appeared on their shit.

2012 is the year for Smoke DZA to take it to the next level, from free mixtapes and cameo appearances, to a commercially released album available physically and digitally worldwide. Appropriately he has teamed with High Times Records to put out "Rugby Thompson," an album produced entirely by his friend Harry Fraud. DZA says this album's title and concept is inspired by Nucky Thompson from the TV show "Boardwalk Empire." Nucky (as portrayed by Steve Buscemi) is a ruthless politician who controls an Atlantic City racket (hence the "Boardwalk") of influence and bootlegging during the prohibition of the 1920's.

To be honest I can't find the theme on "Rugby Thompson," as there aren't any explicit references to the show, or any portrayals of DZA as a similarly political criminal mastermind. If anything DZA's references seem to direct the listener to other pop culture touchstones far removed from the boardwalk. "New Jack" specifically samples from former ECW announcer Joey Styles, and a promo from the pro wrestler of the same name, the self-proclaimed "Original Gangster" of the squared circle. Similarly "Kenny Powers" is a reference to the hit HBO show "Eastbound & Down," though a lack of audio clips from it suggest the price of sample clearance might have been too high. It obviously wasn't for GangStarr's "Who's Gonna Take the Weight?" though, which Harry borrows from liberally right down to DJ Premier's scratching. Guest apperances on the 12 song, nearly 40 minute long album run the gamut from familiar friends like Q to unexpected pleasures like Sean Price on "Fuck Ya Mother":

"P! I will rock your knot bitch
Remained emotionless, on some Doctor Spock shit
Robotnik, Inspector Gadget with ratchets
Go Go fo'-fo', blood in your bath bitch
Listen - I will bash your brain
with a walking stick bitch felt +The Wrath of Kane+
Uh; bullets make you dance Scoob and Scrap Lover
Fuck firearms fam, we can scrap sucker!"

Notorious freestyle pugilist Thirstin Howl III and his fellow Lo-Lifes cameo on the song "Lo Horsemen," which once again has more to do with the grappling arts than the political ones (think of the guitar rock theme that Ric Flair's crew had in WCW in the 1990's). As a fan of the sport of pro wrestling this is not insulting me in any way, but it has me wondering why the press release and album title both go out of their way to make Smoke DZA out to be something he's not. He's also not quite the super slow mo' rapper his publicity makes him out to be - he won't give PMD a run for the title of "Mr. Slow Flow" any time soon. What he is though is uncannily similar to Fabolous, as evidenced by solo tracks like "Rivermonts":

Polo to the jew-els, rose gold the jew-els
Still get my hands dirty, gotta keep me some Purel
It's a cold world, but the streets is more cru-el
I'm just tryin to do well, jet like two L's
9/11 cartel, money zone, came a long way
from slidin skeezers, smokin reefer and the honeycombs
Instead, lost friends off envy and hate
Niggaz mad cause they sell nicks and I sell weight"

"Rugby Thompson" is one of those hard albums to critique in that as hip-hop it is inoffensive, and yet when it comes to pushing the boundaries of what the art and music could be there's literally nothing you could point to as innovative or revolutionary. Not every album needs to be a milestone or a masterpiece, but one should at least get the impression the artist involved aspires to greatness and wants his music to be considered a classic by future generations. The only impressions I get of Smoke DZA on "Rugby Thompson" are that he wants to smoke weed, fuck around, and make tracks with his friends - which when it comes to free mixtapes was perfectly fine. Now that he's charging for it though he should come with a little bit more, especially if he's promising a thematic cinematic album that ultimately doesn't turn out to be either.

Music Vibes: 7 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 6 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 6.5 of 10

Originally posted: June 19th, 2012