Though staying consistently busy as a producer, it’s been a decade since Bronx-raised producer Dub Sonata has released any kind of full-length album, be it his own or a joint project. Comprised of both newly composed and unreleased completed material, his new album “Tranquilizer Dart” is ironically-titled. The cover depicts a man firing a tranquilizer gun at an attacking tiger while the hardcore raps within are anything except tranquil. Though familiar faces are enlisted for mic duties, the question lingered as to “what if?” As in “what if the album sucks because Dub hasn’t dropped one in 10 years?” It’s certainly a fair question, after all, look at Hollywood: They wait as long as decades before making a sequel to an original film and, with few exceptions and more often than not, they end up not being up to par. The same applies to hip-hop albums as well, so let’s just dive in.
The album is entirely produced by Dub and “Cold Alliance” starts it off. In an echo to his last-released album, Double A.B. makes a return and waxes street rhymes with a grimy cadence. Dub makes use of strings and piano samples to create a vibe as chilly as an east coast winter. “My Song” teams up New York with Chicago as Nature and Rhymefest share rhyme duties. Nature hasn’t lost a step as a rhymer and still sounds as fresh as he did during the Firm days. So far, the beats aren’t typical of a New York producer, in that they lack the dusty record samples and hard-hitting drum snares with heavy bass. However, “Somebody Shoulda Warned Ya” is what really shut me up.
Though “The Butterfly Effect” by Cannibal Ox emcee Vordul Mega came right before it and comes with the aforementioned characteristics and DJ Premier-like record scratches for the hook, “Somebody Shoulda Warned Ya” is an unmistakable NYC rap record. Big Apple rappers Craig G, Sadat X, & Dom Pachino tear apart Dub’s beat, which is complete with DJ scratching, a piano sample, and dusty drums. Honestly, this is the first head nodding production on the album and it’s one of the album’s standout tracks. The titular hook, lifted from a vocal sample, is just as haunting as the melodic piano keys. In contrast, “Everywhere I Go” is straight out the Midwest as far as the emcees go: Muja Messiah from Minnesota, Guilty Simpson from Detroit, and Copywrite from Ohio.
The unusual emcee pairings continue on the title track, with Richmond, VA rapper Nickelus F teamed with Bronx native Swigga. Over the multi-track vocal-sampling beat, both emcees take aim at their competition with tranquilizer darts as opposed to lyrical bullets. “Amen” by Evening Elevator is the shortest track at under two minutes. An instrumental led by guitar strings, it sounds like an unrelated interlude and completely out of place. Now, we arrive at the album’s first single, “Rubik’s Cube”. A posse cut featuring Cannibal Ox, Double A.B. and Copywrite, each emcee makes use of a Rubik’s Cube analogy for their rap skills or just playing the game of life. Also, remember how, back in the day, video game etiquette dictated that the best player in a group would be the one who would have to play last? Well, that’s what they did here by having Copy on the last verse, ‘nuff said:
To start with rounding out the album is “Deleted Never” from New England hip-hop acts, the Aztext from Vermont and Mopes from Rhode Island. This track has the most organic vibe to it, with live drums and a female crooning in the background as both emcees describe their dedication to their craft. Bobby J and M-Dot spit raps on the low-key menace of “Another Day” while the final track is a remix of “Everywhere I Go” courtesy of Evening Elevator. This remix gives the production a Wayne Wonder-tropical Island dancing atmosphere and, like the previous Evening Elevator track, doesn’t belong on this album. It’s filler material that should’ve been left off the album, even with Dub’s 10-year absence. But, despite those two exceptions, the album is a mostly solid listen.