I’ve been hearing good things about D-Lo. Things like “Modesto, CA native D-Lo blows up despite doing jail time.” Things like “D-Lo’s ‘No Hoe’ is the biggest West coast hit since ‘Tell Me When to Go’ by E-40.” Things like “D-Lo is so big in the streets that Snoop Dogg took his instrumental and did a remix.” Of course it doesn’t hurt D-Lo’s got a really strong marketing and promotions team who blitzed my inbox with e-mails and made sure I got a promotional copy of “The Tonite Show with D-Lo” for review. It also doesn’t hurt that D-Lo shares the same name as one of the Ring of Honor wrestlers I see every Monday night on HDNet. D-Lo had the right amount of buzz and just enough of a name I would remember, so when this CD finally crossed my desk I had to crack it and see if D-Lo lived up to the hype.
The first thing that struck me right out of the gate was that D-Lo’s album has the kind of liner notes you find in mixtape gem cases – a little more informative than a one-sided Rap-A-Lot Records insert, but not much. There are phone numbers for D-Lo and his DJ if you want to book him, a bevy of URL’s that point you to hisMySpace and YouTube sites, advertising for future Clear Label releases and a very basic tracklisting that says “produced by DJ Fresh & The Whole Shabang.” That means 12 of 14 tracks are laced by both with exceptions being “No Hoe” by D-Lo and “Dio Dio” by Face the Music. Otherwise the spartan liner notes are unhelpful – no credits, no thank yous, no sample clearances or anything of the sort. It’s not hard to guess what the samples are in the first two songs though – the title track borrows from the old Johnny Carson version of “The Tonight Show” and “U Already Know Doe” samples from the game Gauntlet.
Yes – “warrior needs food badly” Gauntlet. Good old money eating, quarter sucking “warrior is about to die” Gauntlet. I pumped a ridiculous amount of tokens into this game, to the point I realized saving my money and buying a Commodore 64 version was a better idea. The sample here reminds me of the NES version though, which I actually enjoy playing a little more – it just looks and sounds better. Either way once I get past tripping down memory lane on the DJ Fresh beat, I’m focused in on what the Modesto, California sensation has to say to set himself apart from other area emcees:
“You love to run your mouth but I don’t really be speakin
After war nigga I’ma be the last Mohican
On the beats, on the streets, I’m a muh’fuckin beast
Knock a nigga down and think none the least
Yup! And I’m a motherfuckin fool boy
Cuss a bitch out, I’m a muh’fuckin rude bwoy
Oh you hard now? Before you was a school boy
Used to pack books but now you packin tools boy?”
Lyrically, not much. D-Lo’s standout quality is his combination of a gravelly voice and squeaky delivery. I know that sounds impossible, but trust me when I say D-Lo can jump two or three octaves at any time when he gets excited or wants to give a word extra emphasis. This happens all the time, so it gives D-Lo a very unique flow that I can best describe as a mixture of Keak Da Sneak, Hi-C and E-40. Let’s see how he applies that unique vocal tone and delivery to his self-produced breakout hit “No Hoe.”
“Aiiiiiiight, this is D-fuckin-Lo
Niggaz better watch your bitch, cause I’ll repo your hoe
And I ain’t a pimp, man your boy just a mack
You better tie her to a tree cause I’m quick to fuck the snatch
Take her to the studio, run her with my brothers
Rick, Sleepy, Kev, D-Mo
D-Lo – yup!”
NOPE! What the hell? This is what all the hype was about? The beat doesn’t blow me away either. It gets props for being a minimalistic boom and clap with only a few spartan notes of melody sprinkled on top infrequently, but I’m really starting to feeling like minimalism is getting just as played out as Auto-Tune. To be fair though there are some lightly produced songs on “The Tonite Show” that hit heavy. “Pump Up the Volume” starts off on the right note by sampling Rakim and has guest raps from Shady Nate and J-Stalin that add variety. Speaking of guest rappers Mistah F.A.B., Philthy Rich and Yung Moses join the mix on “18” while Beeda Weeda, E-40 and The Jacka REALLY take “No Hoe” to a new level on the remix. If you have to listen to one version of the song, make sure it’s this one. The other guest appearances are nothing to write home about.
It’s clear D-Lo has done enough in his own Modesto turf to get noticed locally and get distributed across the U.S. That alone deserves props given how hard it is for artists to break through on a national level, especially given the often insular, self-supporting and self-sustained independent California rap scene means you can sell 300-600K without needing anybody else’s help. I hear hints of potential here and there in songs like the survival narrative “It Won’t Be Long” and occasional snaps catch my ear like “choppers stand taller than that boy Yao Ming” on “Blaaaat!” On the whole though I have to rate D-Lo as no more than mildly interesting – one cool video game sample and one remix with E-40 and The Jacka do not an entire album make. I think it may be the overly simplistic DJ Fresh beats that are holding D-Lo back, so I’d like to hear him take another crack at it working with producers like Rick Rock, Kero One, Alchemist, you name it – just give him something more inspiring to write rhymes to. Then and only then will D-Lo’s unique vocal talent truly latch on in a big way.