When mixtapes recycle famous beats, it is a heavy task for a rapper to be more interesting than the already recognizable original lyrics. It’s not always terribly difficult to outshine some of the more bland commercial emcees, but when a song has been seared into my memory it’s tough to cope with alternate rhymes instead of their familiar counterparts. It is certainly easier and cheaper than gathering original production, but anyone taking this route exposes himself to more scrutiny than necessary.
Conversely, any mixtape with the name “Clinton Sparks” attached to it deserves attention. He’s the host of the only mixape series I’ve recently appreciated, the ridiculously tight “We Got It 4 Cheap” series from the Clipse. And since he mostly keeps his name out of the tapes he works on, the typical self-promotion idiocy is mostly avoided. Still, although I recognize the merits of getting material to the streets via the mixtape format, I generally cannot cope with the basic, clichÃ©d topics that are so uniformly seen there. Mixtapes are simply an easier and potentially more profitable type of album. This, from my standpoint, has resulted in laziness and a distinct lack of artistry in favor of style.
D.O.G. is from Baltimore, but his rhymes sound like they could come from anywhere. The “prequel” tag on the title intentionally hints at something great to come, though, and his flow is good enough to belong on a Clinton Sparks mixtape. So at least he’s got that going for him. The subject matter seems to belong as well. He loves to talk shit about his skills with women, rapping, and dealing drugs. I really get tired of this shit; it’s a waste of a perfectly good rapper. He can ride any beat Sparks throws at him, and his raspy voice has a pleasant hint of tenor, but when everyone keeps saying “I’m a thug” in a similar way, the message kind of loses its luster. It’s not good enough to just say those things anymore. Ever since the glamorous gangsta lifestyle was epitomized by Biggie and Jay-Z, the followers have pigeonholed the market, squeezing it nearly dry. If you don’t have the abstract eye for details that Cam’ron has, or the humorous and elaborate metaphors of the Clipse, there really isn’t anything to say.
For an epic 29-track affair, things are kept moving quite quickly. There are many one to two minute songs that complicate the record while promoting a brisk pace. I cannot claim to have heard every rap song, so my judgment may be off, but it appears that some original production is interspersed with instrumentals from recent radio burners. There are very few memorable tracks. The songs that recycle Kanye instrumentals are simply not as good as the originals, and are therefore worthless. “Still Down” features Tef, but the production is lifted from a Kanye contribution to “Purple Haze,” and I have no reason to choose this version over the original. “Baltimore Dope” is just as dull, with prototypical rhymes such as “like a mason, I’ll show you how to break a brick, I’m a baker, I’ll take that cake and make it flip” that come flying off of the clichÃ© assembly line.
There is a little bit of hope interspersed between yawns. “Hello,” the main single, is smoothed out magnificently, although the sped-up hook singing is a little frustrating. D.O.G. is only doing his macking thang here, but with such a slick beat his flow sounds just right. “Higher” hints at a marketable future, because while his raps are almost totally inconsequential, he is beginning to understand the charisma it takes to be memorable. “Foot Prints of a Dream” is the necessary reminiscing song, but by discussing exactly what inspires him. Words such as “helicopter in a video? That’s straight from a dream!” perfectly capture the allure that enthralled all of us at some point, and instead of hating on the now, he merely lionizes the past with excellent results.
These moments are rare, but they leave hope for D.O.G. as something more than a drug messiah. Even a hideous ode to Biggie, done over the “Big Poppa” beat with rhymes fashioned around the original song, cannot make me forget them. This is a mixtape, so it gets some slack because of its format does not promote musical depth, but a lot more was possible. I’m less likely to check for a D.O.G. solo album now, but at least I know that there’s something down there worth tuning in to. Until he stops slanging crack rhymes and unimaginative braggadocio, however, he’s got a long way to go.