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Album Review: Dubz mixes early-era hip-hop with self-deprecation on new LP

Most reviewers act as if they know everything about every genre. Maybe they are desperate to seem credible, and, to them, credibility means they're perceived as being as well-versed in 1930's jazz as they are in trap music as they are in funereal doom.

We're not gonna play that game today.

This is worth saying because, this week, we're looking at "Throw it on My Tab," the new LP from Duluth rapper Dubz, and it's the kind of music that your humble music reviewer doesn't spend much (read: any) time listening to. Is this an admission of guilt? Nah. It is an attempt to give Dubz a fair-ish shake without pretending that we're totally conversant in his obvious influences or his production style or what have you.

First thing we gotta look at: can our boy rap? Answer: sure. He has rhythm, style, and it's obvious he knows what he's going for with regard to production and impact. He does not sound like some half-cocked bozo — on the contrary, he sounds confident and relaxed — which seems like a success in and of itself. As with any musician, it's not what you do, it's how you do it. And Dubz sounds like someone who's coming at it from a sincere place.

His style? Well, it's easy to dig into that with a clue from the opening moments of "Throw It on My Tab," where Dubz announces that he's "from the home of the Rhymesayers," the Minnesota hip-hop label that brought the world artists like Atmosphere and Brother Ali. Like those folks, Dubz seems to be interested in both the standard early-era hip-hop braggadocio as well as the more recent trend in rap to be a bit more self-deprecating or just plain funny. It's Jay-Z stuff, but it's also got some early Eminem goofiness to it.

We get into the thing that rappers like to do — talk all about where they grew up and what kind of food they ate and where they hung out — on "Not Too Long Ago." Dubz is able to take that sort of cliche and own it. It's not a zillion miles off the mark Ice Cube hit 25-odd years ago with "Today Was a Good Day," where he made references to breakfast foods and other mundanities and made it sound epic.

The title track is a little annoying. It's one of those rap tunes that say a lot without really saying anything, and it's got that thing with the programmed hi-hat doing 16th notes and all the lines are kinda barked in the same cadence. Same with "Good News," which finds Dubz attempting to get Slug-intense but tripping over lines like "Man, I wish I had the answer / I hate seeing anyone with cancer."

Not every line has to be poetic, but no one likes seeing anyone with cancer, so the sentiment is unnecessary.

Dubz does better when he doesn't try to match the gravitas of his heroes. The hilariously-titled "I Bought Your Mom a Rose" opens with this stunning couplet: "I got dime-size nipples, but I'm worth a couple bucks." That's funny, even if it's totally perplexing. (Question: does nipple size have a proportional relationship with one's earning ability?) A later reference to "drinking in Lower Chester" is appealing because it displays Dubz' interest in speaking his truth. Farther down the tracklist, "Being Single Sucks" serves a similar purpose, although statements like "Being single is not fun" drag things down into self-pity without much else to leaven it.

The production is pretty good, although sometimes the tracks are a bit stock-sounding, and Dubz' mic sounds a bit too dry. The record is probably too long, although this isn't anything out of the ordinary for hip-hop. Overall, it's an album that fans of hip-hop — especially of the local variety — should enjoy. Even people who don't really care much about rap music — ahem — will likely find something on "Throw It on My Tab" to admire.

  • Artist: Dubz
  • Album: "Throw it on my Tab"
  • Upcoming show: 9 p.m. Dec. 22 with NonFic, Willie Diction, 2 G's, and Dj Delgado at the Barrel Room, 600 E. Superior St.
  • Tickets: Free
  • Listen to Dubz' "Throw it on my Tab" here. This album has explicit lyrics
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