Recently chosen (along with the likes of Braille, Edan and Nottz) by URB magazine to represent hip-hop in their annual ‘Next 100’ presentation, Thaione Davis follows up the EP that got him there, last year’s “Situation Renaissance,” with “Situation Revisited 1964,” subtitled “The Mixtape.” In my career as a contributor to RapReviews there haven’t been that many promos that once I pressed play urged me to turn the music up loud and just bump them straight through. This CD is one of the few exceptions. It’s an hour plus of Chi-Town hip-hop soul, a breathtaking tour across the musical landscapes that await beyond underground seclusion and commercial exposure. That other shit that’s out there, that which makes up your uncle’s intriguing record collection, that which is waiting to be tapped into somewhere on your AM/FM dial, that which your favorite producer is always on the lookout for, that which will always be welcome in hip-hop as long as it sounds dope. Introducing the crate digger as a medium to channel music from anyplace and anytime to an unsuspecting audience. Introducing Thaione Davis, who claims, “ain’t no blood in my body, it’s liquid soul in my veins.” A man who blends roots reggae, jazz cool, cinematic soundscapes, classic breaks, Madlib playfulness and Bobby Womack vocals seemingly effortless and still finds the time to write interesting lyrics. I’m aware that this introduction may sound a bit too enthusiastic and maybe it is, but what the heck, when someone with such an ear for music comes along, he deserves a gushing welcome. The true test for Thaione Davis will be the eventual full-length, not some mixthing, which too often is used as an excuse to dodge the artistic responsibility that comes with realizing a studio album.
For now, this mixtape according to Thaione Davis is “just an extension of what we dropped off last time.” “Chi-Town gotta go for the crown,” he stresses on “Renaissance,” which he laces with a signature Kanye West drum track. Incidentally, “Situation Revisited 1964” comes at a time when rapper Common and producer Kanye West team up to prepare a larger-scale Chicago renaissance with Com’s upcoming album “Be.” After just a cursory glance at how Thaione Davis gets down, Kanye comparisons seem inevitable. (He’s probably already sick of them.) Like West, Davis is a producer/rapper with a broad musical understanding but at the same time not afraid to build tracks around a central element. Check the dominant bassline on “Get it Together,” the rhythmic excursion of “The Movement,” or the string attack of “Town Crier.” On the vocal side, he possesses a clear voice that adds a melodic lilt to his passionate delivery. Like West, he’s a crate-digger, blessed with a similar confidence (maybe minus the cockiness), a social conscience and a willingness to acknowledge a higher power: “I’ve already claimed what is mine in the name of divine, the Most High / Jah gave me all the wisdom that I need to survive.”
It remains to be seen if the currents of the Windy City will ever carry the name Thaione Davis past city limits to Kanye West-type exposure. Right now, he’s content with shouting out local peers such as Capital D, doing collaboration albums with Infinito (“Low Income Housing”), giving Common’s “1-9-9-9” the Thaione Davis treatment (“1999 (Fighting For Freedom Mix)”) and giving the people want they want – a mixtape. And what a fine mixtape it is. “Situation Revisited 1964” succeeds at creating that peculiar mixtape atmosphere, yet at the same time goes beyond the self-promotion and more or less smooth track transitions as Davis acts as a true master of ceremony who captivates the crowd with his beat selection as well as his hypeman qualities and lyrical abilities. He doesn’t shy away from covering familiar ground, blending Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang (He Shot Me Down)” with Billy Squier’s “Big Beat” or showing his affiliation to the East Coast sound with the DITC-dark “181 (Deep Rooted Mix).” But in the end, Thaione Davis represents a new breed of creative hip-hop producers, helping to blow the dust off underground hip-hop at the moment and hopefully off commercial hip-hop in the near future.