Artist: Smoke DZA (A.K.A. The Kush Gawd, Mr. Rugby Thompson)
(The cover is an ode to a scene in the movie “Belly”, where the camera catches Nas at this angle, underneath that same picture)
The Star: “Ghost of Dipset” (Feat. Cam’Ron)
P Feels: 7 out of 10
The Gage: 1-3/10= Don’t bother listening
4-6/10= You won’t remember this album after a year
10/10= Modern era classic
9 mixtapes and 2 studio-albums later, A Beautiful April Fools Day in New York, marks the release of Harlem Repper Smoke DZA’s new album “Dream.Zone.Achieve”, split into three “acts”. The first act (first 7 tracks), is labeled “Dream”, which is supposed to detail the formation and thought process going into your aspirations. The second act (tracks 8-14) is labeled “Zone”, which is the second stage for the dreamer which is putting those driving thoughts into motion, the dreamer waking up and starting to hustle in an upward direction. The final act, obviously titled “Achieve”, is self explanatory, it’s the fruits of your labor, the result of the work you put it in. The highs of the project go higher, than the lows go low. Mr. Rugby Thompson is able to give already established fans what they want and expect out of him, whether it be Exclusive-Rugby talk or that potent smoke, while also showing his growth and evolution from the album’s predecessors.The gap that separates his previous efforts from this album, is the depth and ability to speak personally, which was only shown in flashes previously. On tracks like number 19, the V-Don produced, “Puzzle of life“, in which he speaks on personal matter such as his deteriorating relationship with his baby mother in the pursuit of success, as well as how his well-documented-weed habit started, and being good to bad people. The track really serves as testament to all types of trial and tribulation on his journey to get here.
my conscience like, ‘how long you wanna be number 3?/
Chanel like ‘how long ima be number 2?’/
put music over your family and you gon’ lose us too” (1st verse “Puzzle Of Life”)
Then theres tracks like the Kobe-assisted “I Don’t Know“, in which he speaks more on external conflicts bred by his environment. Here, the Harlem representative speaks on his fast life ventures and the doubts he had to overcome, that were prominent in the surroundings he grew up in. These tracks really showcase the most autobiographic part of his artist that we’ve gotten to date, and though shedding light into the mind and person that is Smoke DZA wasn’t uncommon of him previously, this is really putting the high beams on his personal life, unlike ever before.
“Dreams of gettin’ out this motherfucka’ breathin’/
Gotta thank the Lord that I got a voice/
Biggest fear is being 40 on the corner/
stuck in this motherfucka’ without a choice” (1st verse “I Don’t Know“)
Another highlight of the album was his “City Of Dreams” single, the drum driven, new era boom bap record which sounds so 5 borough-ish, with the rugby rocker politicking and criticizing the game for what it’s become. Peep that video too, if you wanna do a little Harlem sight-seeing. The stand out track, however, is the soulful sounds of the King Thelonious produced “Ghost of Dipset“. The track flips Benny Johnson’s “Please Come Back”, and uses the vocal sample in the vein of Kanye or Jus Blaze, reminiscent of the sound The Diplomats brought to the forefront in their glory days (you could almost hear Juelz Ad-libbing over the chorus). And of course, If you’re going to do a song of this nature, as an ode or tribute to Dipset, you have to get the head-hancho Killa Cam to talk a little bit of his shit on it. The Harlem legend blessed us with a some words of sophisticated-ignorance, showing Harlem love and letting us take a little trip in time travel for 4 minutes and some change. For a kid who was in High School in the era when Cam and them took storm, this was exciting and the track thoroughly does the movement’s legacy justice. Dza brought another legend in for the outro, which is produced by Soul brotha #1 one, Pete Rock (If you can’t appreciate that, you need to do the knowledge). This exit door of the album, titled “Achieve“, gave me chills to listen to, because it reminded me of Fat Joe’s “Dedication” track, second to last off his slept on “Jealous One’s envy” album. Joe shouted out all of the dudes holding it down for us at the time in 1995, which reminded me of the Unity New York once had. “Achieve” serves the same purpose, as The Kush Gawd really shines a light on all the talent we’re producing right now, biggin’ up all the guys in the city doing it, which hopefully propels this New, New York movement forward. Riiiiiigggghhhhttttt *DZA voice*.
Now I have to get my critic on, and be the bearer of the not so glorious side of the album, just to keep it authentic. While there is no specific track you could really point at, and say “Oh wow, this is weak”, one of the low points of the album is the struggle with cohesiveness and direction. May it be the content, or the production, the album seems like it was put together more like a mixtape because of the disorganization. At times the production is gritty, boom bap, golden era reminiscent, while other times it’s more melodic and smooth. You may also get a taste of the hi-hat heavy, slower bpm, subtle southern influence sound that DZA was no stranger to on his mixtapes and previous joints. While you could say I’m splitting hairs, and diversity is key (which is true), there is no connecting thread or consistent pattern, the sound goes back and forth the whole album, such as it does with the content. You get the gist of the story he’s trying to tell, but it’s scrambled. However, the overly-diverse content, might be due to a bigger issue that the project is 21 tracks long, which leads to my final negative critique. I think the album could’ve been narrowed down, if DZA had been more selective with his vision of what he wanted us to get from the album. He didn’t exactly have to use the “Illmatic” or “Yeezus” formula, but with 21-tracks, it’s easy to get distracted, and for the album to seem a little drawn out, especially in today’s internet driven music game, where new music literally drops every 15 minutes.
Overall, “Dream.Zone.Achieve” is a dope piece of work. Though Smoke is a little J-Reid (“In Too Deep” reference) with the aim of the album, a little all over the place, he does show the evolution in his artist. He keeps his Marijuana-cult following satisfied with his fair share of flight talk, but he doesn’t over-do it to the point where you feel as if you’re listening to a “Weed” rapper’s album. On another note, this album furthers the claim that he is to Rugby Ralph Lauren talk, as Pusha T is to dope game talk, they just keep re-inventing and coming up with refreshing ways to flash the same thing. Some may call it repetitive, while others would consider flipping one thing constantly in new, entertaining ways, as a complimentary signature to the artists style and creative genius. If he still makes it sound dope, who fuckin’ cares. Smoke DZA is a lifestyle rapper, he doesn’t fabricate much, he just documents the everyday life of a fly guy from Uptown (The other side of Manhattan), and this project captures that. This album channels Sean, the person, in Dza’s style, which is an interesting element that I hope we see more of. Other than that, He’s mega-generous with the features, aside from Cam, he collaborates on tracks with Joey Bada$$, Ab-Soul, Curren$y, and BJ The Chicago Kid, just to name a few. “Dream.Zone.Achieve” is definitely a step in the right direction for this “New, New York” movement, and a push for a new era in our city’s already decorated hip hop history…
SideBar: Why is that Flatbush Zombies’ assisted “Bamma Weed”, NOT on the album? that shit is playalistic smooth…