Closely following his collaborative EP He Has Risen with producer Harry Fraud back in March, rapper Smoke DZA has returned to the mic to close out the year of 2016 with a second collaborative album. This time joining forces with legendary producer Pete Rock for a full-length album entitled Don’t Smoke Rock through Babygrande records. Also serving as the duo’s new collaborative moniker, the album’s title is a play on both artist’s respective names and is the first studio album between the Harlem-based rapper and Bronx-based veteran producer.
In a year that has seen actually quite a variety of collaborations and reunions from veteran artist and groups alike, Don’t Smoke Rock serves as an energizing combination of classic ideas with a fresh new delivery that bridges the gap between that of golden era of New York Hip-Hop and the glory days of yesteryear with that of current artists and sensibilities in 2016’s music scene. The end result of this collaborative effort is a nostalgic, yet surprisingly refreshing and invigorating listen, as old and new collide in a project that not only showcases the respective talents and chemistry between Smoke DZA and Pete Rock but also reminds listeners that New York Hip-Hop hasn’t gone anywhere and is still a force to be reckoned with. The album has a comfortable familiarity about it, while still managing not to sound stale, tired or too dated in a swiftly and ever-changing Hip-Hop scene that is rarely kind or forgiving to artists that choose to remain in the industry long term. Fans of golden era and contemporary Hip-Hop alike will find themselves vibing out to the classic, time tested production of Pete Rock and entertained by the grandiose, lyrical stylings of Smoke DZA and the avalanche of guest performers who make appearances all throughout the album.
Needless to say, the album’s production, supplied exclusively by Pete Rock is nothing short of stellar and living proof of why he is still revered as a living legend in the game after all these years. On top of featuring Pete Rock’s signature, sample-based production intricately weaving and layering old dusty soul and throwback jazz records over Boom-Bap percussion, the album also boasts an assemble of live musicians who lend their talent all throughout the album’s 49-minute run time. Showcasing live horns, strings, percussion and backing vocals, these studio musicians, give the album a warmer, more soulful feel and vibe than the average Boom-Bap laced offerings normally would; propelling the album to even higher lengths than expected. The production perfectly complements the laid-back, nonchalant delivery of Smoke DZA, who verbally glides over each track with relative ease smoother than felt, whose content ranges from waxing nostalgic about the glory days of a pre-gentrification 90’s New York, boastful visions of grandeur and of course, the Kush God’s love affair and infatuation for Marijuana. While the lyrical content from Smoke DZA is tad predictable and doesn’t cover much new ground in this release, it does mesh excellently with the classic Boom-Bap laced production provided by Pete Rock. Pete Rock’s classic style of production has aged like a fine wine, that only seemingly gets better with time and remains more than palatable to the tastes and appetites of younger, emerging emcees in the scene today and featured here on the album.
That being said, the album also boasts a long and illustrious roster of both veteran and contemporary emcees throughout its 13 track entirety, featuring the the likes of BJ the Chicago Kid, Big K.R.I.T., Cam’ron, Dave East, Dom Kennedy, Jadakiss, Mac Miller, theMIND, NymLo, Rick Ross, Royce Da 5’9, Styles P and Wale who all bring something different to the table. While too many guest features and performers often times bog down and album, Don’t Smoke Rock being no exception, most of the guests don’t overstay their welcome and rarely steal the show from under Smoke DZA either. High lights from the album such as ‘Milestone’ featuring The LOX alumni Jadakiss and Styles P serve as platform where the veteran emcees can flex their lyrical muscle and showcase some of NY’s finest lyricism; while tracks such as ‘Dusk 2 Dusk’ featuring theMIND, Dom Kennedy and Big K.R.I.T. roll out bars from some the most promising rising stars in the game right now, striking a bold and beautiful contrast between the past, present and future of lyricism in Hip-Hop. Even Pete Rock makes a vocal appearance on ‘I Ain’t Afraid’, harkening back to his early days of hopping on the mic with former partner in rhyme C.L. Smooth. Overall, the album is pretty even-handed, striking a fairly equal counterbalance between veterans and newcomers, as well as between big names acts and underground icons. Ultimately resulting in a product that’s not tamed or watered down to broaden its appeal, but also still relatively accessible to the casual or infrequent Hip-Hop fan.
Overall, Don’t Smoke Rock is a solid team effort, which brings out the best qualities of both Pete Rock and Smoke DZA. Appealing to both fans of each respective artist, lovers of underground Hip-Hop, as well as those who yearn for the return of classic New York Style Boom-Bap production Don’t Smoke Rock is a solid effort from two of New York’s finest artist. Don’t Smoke Rock is a 13-track time machine that bridges the gap between two different generations, that does not relent or and delivers everything it promises. At a time where New York Hip-Hop is seemingly going through an identity crisis, and some newer artists even shun the city’s long, rich, established traditions its refreshing to see artist still aren’t afraid to embrace the cities spirit and legacy, to make bold, unapologetically, rough, rugged and raw New York Hip-Hop. Don’t Smoke Rock is without a doubt a standout piece of work and a perfect album to close out a year already filled with a plethora of quality projects. One can only hope this is just the first of many more collaborations to come between the Kush God and Chocolate Boy Wonder in the near future.
Don’t Smoke Rock is available now in stores and to stream on Tidal, Spotify, Apple Music & iTunes.