Flint, Michigan’s most notorious rap group is back. If you weren’t familiar with The Dayton Family by now, don’t feel bad – if I hadn’t lived in Michigan I wouldn’t know who they are either. Don’t think that this group is new to the rap scene though or that they don’t have credentials – they’ve been putting out major label releases since 1995’s “What’s on My Mind?” The Dayton Family is the kind of rap group that enjoys a cult following in one region of the country, borders on the verge of going national, and never does. While groups like Three 6 Mafia have broken through, the Dayton Family has only pushed past gold once and is still struggling to get their meal ticket.

I respect any artist or group who works hard, struggles to succeed, and has to do it all in the face of continuing legal problems. Founding members Bootleg, Shoestring, and producer Steve Pitts all had to fight just to keep the crew alive and get their new album “Welcome to the Dopehouse” released; and they succeeded in high fashion with major label distribution thanks to Koch Records (home to Afu-Ra and KRS-One, among others). I also respect the production values that Steve Pitts brings to the group – fat bottom bass, crispy (if clearly electronic) drum tracks, and smooth synths and instruments.

Unfortunately, this is where I draw the line at respecting their work ethic and praising their album. While some of DF’s earlier material definitely had a distinctive identity that screamed Flint, this new album eeriley echoes the flow styles of Cleveland, OH and Memphis, TN. Listening to the tracks on this album, you’re assaulted with a lot of triple-cadence and fast-moving rap flows – not a bad style, but still seeming less original than material from previous LP’s “What’s On My Mind?” or “F.B.I.” The result is rhymes that sound stuck somewhere between Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and Twista, without the musicality or lyrical slickness.

If the style were unoriginal but the lyrics were fresh, these problems could be mitigated by overall dopeness. Unfortunately, this is the kind of rap material that’s only for those entertained by violence with no purpose. As an example, here’s the chorus of the song “Drugstore”: “Let’s go to the drugstore, and pull out a shotgun (SHOTGUN!)/Take all the money, then break out and run (LET’S RUN!)” Repeat ad nauseum. Try as hard as you like, but you won’t find anything beyond the basest of pure male posturing on songs like “Set Up,” “Big Mac 11,” “We Kept it Ghetto,” “Outlaws” and the obligatory “Weed Song.” When your song titles read like cliches of gangsta rap, it doesn’t speak highly of your creativity.

I really wanted to like “Welcome to the Dopehouse,” because even though I no longer live in Michigan I still feel a certain loyalty to rappers who call it their home and struggle for national recognition on the daily. Artists as esoteric as Binary Star and artists as down to earth as the legendary MC Breed. Unfortunately, this album really doesn’t illustrate why The Dayton Family has survived through all their struggles to come back in 2002 with their third full-length release. If anything, it only serves to show that no matter how good your producer and your music are, if you ain’t got shit to say nobody cares just how hardcore you are.

The Dayton Family :: Welcome to the Dopehouse