In the most recent installment of his Karma mixtape series, Harlem rapper Dave East makes his latest attempt at solidifying himself as one of New York’s head honchos. The 15-track, 53-minute project features notable guest appearances. Trey Songz, French Montana, Benny the Butcher, A Boogie wit da Hoodie, dancehall artist Popcaan, along with R&B legend Mary J. Blige, all lend-a-hand, in what felt like East’s best attempt at a commercially successful project.
The mixtape opens up with arguable its best record. “Handsome” is a thumping and fast paced track where East confesses his life’s agendum, which are “to not break the code,” “try not to die,” and “praying that he gets old.” It is an ode to the lifestyle that many from the inner-city can have an appreciation for. In 2:53, East captures the hopes and dreams of a generation of men, which is wealth and health, while staying loyal to their compatriots. What makes the record even better is that, while it has a radio feel to it, the authenticity remains. And with it being just shy of 3 minutes, the replay value is high. He follows it up with a record that feels straight of a Caribbean crime film. Backed by loud and distinctive horns, “Unruly,” features Popcaan and serves as an antithesis to its predecessor. While “Handsome” described the perfect outcome from a life in the streets, “Unruly” sees East chronicle the dangers that come with operating on the other side of the law.
The third track is where the album takes a turn, in the Trey Songz assisted “The City,” East tries recreating one of Jay Z’s better records “Heart of the City.” While a noble attempt, he lacks the soulfulness to pull it off. Not to mention, at the time of the original recording, Jay-Z was arguably the biggest rapper in the game and thus metaphorically was the “Heart of the City.” We do not think of Dave East in the same vain (or any current New York rapper for that matter). The same issue follows him on the fourth track, “Get the Money.” It’s a solid enough song, as he details his chase for financial prosperity. A god-awful French Montana chorus — along with a bridge that sees Dave East try his hand at harmonizing – completely derail it. He completes a hat-trick of melodically challenged songs with “Thank God.” Featuring A Boogie wit da Hoodie, East tries his hand at a club record, but the song never takes off, as the duo lack chemistry and it ultimately ends up feeling forced.
This ebb-and-flow continues throughout, as the best records see East stay in own pocket, solid beats, along with well put together verses, while his attempts at diversifying himself see him fall short. “Said What I Said,” “Broke or Not,” “Mission,” “Menace” and the Three 6 Mafia inspired “F**ck Dat,” are all good songs. While “Stone Killer,” — featuring Benny the Butcher — is absolutely explosive. The Mary J. Blige assisted “Know How I feel,” was a nice surprise as East meshed well with the r&b icon. Yet, for some reason, it did not serve as the outro. That was reserved for the self-reflective “Believe It or Not,” and while it is a good enough record, it left the project a bit anti-climactic.
All in all, this is a solid body of work, yet it feels as though the pressure for commercial success inspired a few of the songs. The problem is, Dave East isn’t and will probably never be a top-selling (or charting) artist and that’s okay. While he hasn’t led New York back to dominance as some predicted, his abilities as a rapper is still a rare and valuable commodity in this current era of New York hip hop.