Tennessee. When I think of that state and its hip-hop scene, it takes me back to my first exposure to it: Namely, Project Pat and Three 6 Mafia from Memphis during my senior year of high school. Back then, down south hip-hop was gradually creeping up on the mainstream, with club-tailored production and an appalling lack of concern with being even marginally good at lyrics. But that was more than twenty years ago and, since then, a new breed of Memphis emcees has been born. One such rapper, who goes by the name of Dero, aims to oust the near-general consensus about the ignorance of southern rap. His EP, “A Lens Through My Eyes”, has its sound more rooted in the soulful vibes of Goodie Mob or the Justus League as opposed to the horrorcore bounce of Three Six.
One thing about Dero is that he’s not one of those spoken word rappers who tend to frequent the open mic nights at the local coffee shops. He’s a multi-instrumentalist with a college degree in the music business itself, which I hope serves him well should he ever venture into the other side of the music industry. His seven-track EP not only comes without guest features, but also has several producers, a different one per track. As for the cover, it’s a self-painting, one used in an obvious, and not-so-subtle way to convey the message of Dero painting his own canvas.
There is no filler to this EP, as every track (even the interlude in the middle) consists of raps. To start things off is the introductory “Intro”. The J4K-produced track contains an airy and soulful sample, over which Dero shows his flow and his faculty for both rhymes and wordplay. GrownupKeelen laced the beat for “Reflections”, which is also soul-sampling, but more up-tempo. For the latter, Dero adopts a customary southern flow (part-drawl, part chopper) to stay on beat. “Mr. Still Caint Quit” is an a Cappella rapped interlude with some gems, but “What More?” is where the EP picks up. DB Beats makes use of several samples, particularly horns, to create a soundscape where Dero and the production are right in sync with one another:
“MATA” is driven by a looped piano sample courtesy of KlwnCat. It’s stated to be a storytelling track, but feels very loose and without a cohesive narrative. Not to escape his southern roots, the autobiographical “Way Back” makes use of 808 productions combined with a slowed sample courtesy of BYoungBeats. Though the track is autobiographical, the hook is more braggadocious. The closing “Outro” has Dero leaving the listener with pensive rhymes over FlyingRoach’s production, which sounds like Kanye West circa College Dropout. “A Lens Through My Eyes” through my eyes shows promise and potential. In a crop of southern emcees who seem monolithic, Dero is one of the few who stands out. If he steps his game up in terms of what he can do lyrically, he’ll almost certainly shine.