New York rap has long wrestled with its identity. Last week I tried to unpick who Ghostface Killah’s latest album was aimed at, considering his long, illustrious career as part of New York’s biggest rap group, the Wu-Tang Clan. It highlighted how popular rappers have struggled to adapt their style whilst retaining what made their best work so special in the first place. At the other end of the spectrum, we’ve got emcees like Emskee, who never deviated from their original outlook, or aesthetic. Emskee has been active since the 1990s, and you can hear his earlier efforts on the Nick Wiz compilations released through No Sleep Recordings, which are essential additions to any fan of that 90s boom-bap. His own output began much later in 2006 when he formed The Good People alongside The Saint, releasing “The Good People”, followed by his solo album, 2009’s “Hardly Seen, Rarely Heard”, and the “The Marc Smith LP” in 2013, Emskee’s rap style is heavily rooted in the golden age of hip-hop, characterized by its emphasis on enhancing the beat with a fun, boastful flow instead of telling a story or sharing any interesting insights into the man behind the moniker. Rhymes about rhyming in a superior fashion, shoehorning in punchlines from the pantheon of Lord Finesse and Celph Titled. This light-hearted nature to Emskee means that his dismissive attitude to more popular emcees feels less bitter than it did in his early years, where songs like 1995’s “My Skills” came across as vicious attacks possessing more than a hint of jealousy.

In 2024, he teamed up with Canadian producer MilkCrate for “The Dumb Bummer”, a twenty-minute EP that’s a joy from start to finish. If you enjoy the works of Atlanta’s Pete Flux or the earlier, well-mannered rhymes of CL Smooth, you’re in for a treat.

Production and scratches lend “The Dumb Bummer” a level of quality above similar records that operate in this area. The beats on here possess the same satisfying heft of early Nick Wiz, but MilkCrate ensures they don’t feel too predictable. Beats pack a nice punch, and have some magical touches courtesy of guest DJs, such as the Andre 3000 flip on “I Am For Real” which requires a kiss from your local chef. Mista Sinista has been on a rampage this year, and while it’s the lone rap performance that felt a little hollow compared to the others, it’s no less fun. “All I Got Is This Music” is more personable, weaving in references for fans as he shares how important making music is to his life, even if it doesn’t make him money. “It’s not a money maker but it’s here to support me” is refreshing to hear, and Emskee reiterates this emphasis on making music that real people can relate to.

Playing on the Tom Hanks film “The Money Pit”, Emskee uses “The Struggle Pit” to air out his position as someone who struggles day-to-day, and that if you’re going through the same, you’re not alone. Particularly when the majority of what rap music consumers are subjected to depicts life as prosperous and full of riches when for most of us, it’s far from it.

Emskee is well aware of his strengths, pointing out the technical proficiency in his performances:

“I’m known nasty, like lickin’ a pole on the subway
super sick with the slick cadence and lyrics
The work you’re puttin’ in is pudding, sweet and instant
Never doing any suicides or wind sprints
Been dues payin’ since they coined the phrase
So I’m salty seeing fake ones enjoying getting paid
But the world ain’t fair, and nobody cares, we dolo
Each to his own at the end of the day, they all grow
You the writer type to overhype”

I might be overhyping this project, but I challenge anyone to bump this album and not find themselves slamming their head and smiling. For every time he slips into a comfortable retread of played-out themes, he opens up and provides glimpses of his own life. But it’s the masterful selection of beats provided by MilkCrate that make this EP such an easy endorsement, just listen to “The Lesson”:

Emskee is now thirty years deep, but the name “The Dumb Bummer” doesn’t help his cause given bummer is derogatory slang for a homosexual. But much like how The Nonce never caught on (slang for a paedophile), at least in 2024 you don’t need to worry about asking a store clerk for this one. Or this writer needs to simply gets his head out of the gutter. Hey, that’s what all these years of listening to rap has done to me, but Emskee has come through with a record that just made me happy. Rap that’s fun again. Sleep on this record and you’ll feel like that fella on the artwork.

Emskee & Milkcrate :: The Dumb Bummer
8.5Overall Score