Unless you’ve never known any better, you know that nothing beats the feeling of checking record stores for new music, making tough decisions as to what to buy immediately and what to put on hold ’til next time, compensating all involved for their efforts and taking home a brand spankin’ new CD, tape or piece of wax. Lest you haven’t noticed, your favorite online source for rap reviews, the conveniently christened www.RapReviews.com, is updated the same weekday as new records are usually being released. This reviewer, living far removed from the United States of America and their sometimes strange customs, has been oblivious to this connection for a long time. To him, Tuesday is the day between Monday and Wednesday. But he can sure as hell relate to the underlying message of the following bars:

“New music, Tuesday, it’s the best day of the week
Lunch time, Best Buy, Circuit City on the creep
Your favorite artist released a CD on time
9.99 can’t be beat, I’m coppin’ mine
Don’t want the bootleg, I need to read the credits
We used to quizz and search just to see if niggas read it
But things changed, we gotta take it back
Originality missin’, man, that’s a fact
SandboxAutomatic, CDBaby.com
got the underground music for the soul and the palm”

Actually I’m not sure if the last word there is really “palm,” but it would certainly make sense and bring this argument full circle. I too need to hold an album or a single in my hands to really be able to appreciate it. And I don’t want the bootleg either, I need to read the credits as well. I also applaud the efforts of online stores such as SandboxAutomatic andCD Baby to make independent rap music available to a worldwide audience. Not through dubious filesharing, but by engaging in a business that is now a vital part of hip-hop’s support system. The above quote is from the appropriately titled “I’m Still a Fan,” which offers a highly representative outlook on the indie rapper’s mode of operation: “I’m still a fan, ain’t a damn thing changed / I’m a artist in the crowd yellin’ other people’s names.”

That said, “Diverse” is a record if you’re lucky you’ll find at selected stores in and around the nation’s capital. With go-go being the dominating force on DC’s urban dancefloors, the Disctrict was never particularly known for its hip-hop scene, as only a handful of acts such as DC Scorpio, Section 8 Mob, Questionmark Asylum and Nonchalant gained notoriety on a national level. Despite these odds, hip-hop does exist in Washington, as evidenced by the brotherly duo of Darnaye Hines pka DJ SE and Darnelle Hines pka DarnGood. Together they’re known as Den’D Productions (pronounced D&D – no relation to David Lotwin and Doug Grama), and “Diverse” is their latest offering.

Things kick off with the single “Let’s Ride,” featuring singer Tyreke. I hate to dismiss a crew on the basis of a good-humored introduction like this, but the shortcomings just reveal themselves too quickly here. Rapper DarnGood can be excused for opening up with an oft-referenced Snoop line (“It’s so much drama in the city DC…”), but when he describes Washington as “the place where Jordan played with 23,” he’s simply asking for objections. Washington Wizards fans might feel differently, but the only city to have etched itself in the memory of sports fanatics around the world in association with the legendary number 23 is Chicago, end of story. Chicaco is THE “place where Jordan played with 23,” Washington is just ANOTHER “place where Jordan played with 23.” If this seems like splitting hairs, it still points out a fundamental flaw in “Diverse”‘s lyrical content. Lyrically, not much is to be excepted from a song entitled “Let’s Ride,” but if you offer the listener a ride around town, the sights should be a wee more spectacular than what can be found on “Let’s Ride.” DarnGood likes to reference fellow rappers, sometimes more cleverly (“‘On the Road to the Riches’ bumpin’ Kool G ‘On the Run'”), sometimes less (“Went to college like Kanye but didn’t drop out”), a familiar gimmick that isn’t any less stale just because The Game recently made half an album out of it. “Me and my brother change the state of the game,” DarnGood describes Den’D’s aspirations, but they still have a long way to go considering the rapper’s timid vocal presence and the way they let a decent beat be ruined by a deflated bassline on the very first song.

Sadly, the rest of the album packs no surprises but exposes two artists without a proper clue as to how they want to sound like and what they want to tell us, the clear downside of wanting to be “Diverse.” There’s a song for the car fanatics called “Cadi’s & Z’s,” not too bad an effort, with a lot of retro 808 boom to the beat and lines like “My tires are legal, they over 18 / you would think that I was beatin’ ’em the way they scream.” There’s “The Business 2005,” a track sounding more East Coast than anything coming from the East Coast in the past three years, complete with Inspectah Deck, Big Pun and Big L quotes. There’s a wanna-be Timbaland track named “Let’s Party” with lyrics likely to remind you of the Big Tymers and the fact that compared to these imitators, Baby and Mannie Fresh are actually quite listenable: “Blowin’ out 16 bars like candles on a cake / Den’D the heavyweights, Donald Trump and Bill Gates.”

Most of Den’D’s efforts are simply too obvious and poorly executed, and I’m not even talking about the closing “go-go hop” hybrid “Yeah,” which ends the album on a somewhat optimistic note. It’s tracks like “Back it Up,” crudely introduced with the commando “Back it up, girl, show me your thong / lift up that ass while you grind to this song,” that test my patience. Don’t talk to me about originality when you come up with calculated songs like these, thinking you “got the shorties on lock with the reggae hip-hop.” Maybe it wasn’t so bad if a certain Kandi Girl (showing promise elsewhere on the album) didn’t embarrass herself with nonsense no self-respecting female rapper should ever be caught saying: “Beep-beep, back it up like a dump truck / Knee-deep up in my guts is where you wanna touch / Ooh-wee is what I say when you smack my butt.”

As far as production goes, “Fly Brown Brother” is the only beat really up to par with contemporary beatmaking, an ass-kicking combination of proud, loud, natural-sounding drums, yells and horn stabs, sort of like Kanye West meets Edan. The first song of any real substance is “What We Do For Love,” a heartfelt dedication from DarnGood to his wife:

“…A few months later turned into some years
A whole lotta lovin’ and a little bit of tears
She my best friend, and I think I’m about to question
She know about my skeletons and all my true confessions
I love her family, and her family loves me
She supports my love for hip-hop and that goes for Den’D
Shortie don’t care about the girls in the video
Callin’ all her friends when our songs are on the radio
Like Whodini said, ‘You’re lucky just to have one love’
You know when it’s right because it fit like a glove”

Like “I’m Still a Fan,” “What We Do For Love” is proof that Den’D are capable of coming up with noteworthy material. Too bad they spend most of the album chasing pipe dreams of mainstream success. One notable exception is “Many Styles,” a straightforward showcase for local mic-wreckers V-Pro, Pain, Frankly Speak.king, Aye-One and Multiple Man. Inspired by his underground guests, even DarnGood remembers his crew’s credo:

“Fuck an A&R, they bad for your health
expire they ass like bad aspirine on your shelf
These sheisty-ass niggas fuckin’ up the rap game
got MC’s soundin’ alike and lookin’ all the same
It’s a damn shame the way they lose their name for this shit
Fake cars, fake houses, fake chicks with fake tits
See, the whips and the clothes in the video, we own
We independent, fuck the politics, we grown”

Props to Den’D Productions for trying to roll self-sustained. Hopefully, in the future they’ll stay away from mimicking song concepts we’ve already heard a million times. DarnGood best heed his own words: “It ain’t a hook until the hook is done right / it ain’t a song in your head until the pen and paper fight.” Next time we wanna see some fighting.

Den'D Productions :: Diverse