[6 September 2011]
PopMatters Events Editor
If hip-hop isn’t dead, the categorization of its subgenres certainly is. In a postmodern music realm where adjective-laced genre definers have become as played out as adding a “#winning” hash tag at the end of your every tweet, there’s no more room (or need) for silly prefixes to assist the listener in pigeonholing the latest underground release. It’s either hip-hop or it’s not. Thus, before we tag the newest album from Texas rapper Playdough with the ridiculous “Christian rap” moniker, perhaps it would be wise to delve a little further into his latest effort Hotdoggin in hopes of discovering something more than a catchphrase to print on a sticker and slap onto the front of the album.
What is Hotdoggin all about? A lot of things. It’s about being broke, riding in your Cadillac, keeping fools away from your girlfriend, being a dope emcee, and just enjoying your life regardless of circumstance. At the heart of Hotdoggin is an incredibly talented rapper who has a penchant for wordplay, a snarky sense of humor, and the much desired ability to turn lemons into lemonade. Many of these things come with experience, which is something that Playdough has in abundance. Whether it be his time with instrumental rap group Ill Harmonics, his current role as emcee in rap-supergroup Deepspace5, or his countless appearances in freestyle competitions, mixtapes, and guest spots, it’s evident that Playdough is well versed in the art of crafting solid hip hop.
On Hotdoggin Playdough takes this experience and expands on his past sounds, adding a few new tricks to his repertoire. On “No Angel”, Playdough drops a smoothly sung chorus that’s as catchy as anything you’ve heard this year. Within the first four songs, he’s already shifted his flow several times over several different tempos and showcased a variety of rhyming styles. It seems as if there isn’t a beat in the world that he couldn’t own. By the time “The Business” hits your speakers, there’s little question left as to whether Playdough means it. The eerie-sounding, Freddie Bruno-produced track opens with the rapper spitting, “I got a bucket list, short cuz I spit big / Cut a jig and a rib off of this pig / Executive, I own the shindig / Off the top toupee, I’m the big wig” before later informing us that “Me, David Blaine, and Gandolf had a stand-off”. Playdough’s over-the-top self-confidence comes both in the form of dead-serious and tongue-in-cheek. It’s up to the listener to decide which is which.
It would be easy to classify Hotdoggin as a testament to today’s ADD culture, as the album itself winds through various thought patterns, emotions, and tempos at breakneck speed. Playdough stands atop the world on “My Cadillac” before becoming depressed over finances with Gift of Gab on “Franks & Beans” and then once again finding hope near the end of “1 Day”. Perhaps this sort of rollercoaster ride is just the life of an underground emcee. Or maybe just life in general. Either way, it forces the listener to stay focused in order to grasp Playdough’s purpose throughout the album’s 16 tracks. Likewise, with production credits ranging from Mr. Dibbs vs. the Black Keys to Beat Rabbi and other Deepspace5 natives to Playdough himself, Hotdoggin is a melting pot of spot on production that ranges from unique sampling to snappy instrumentation.
Near the end of the track “Ya Heard”, Playdough proclaims “Everybody raps, nobody emcees / Guess the exception is me”. While this statement about the current culture of rap in general seems a bit bold, Playdough is certainly one of a small fold still creating hip-hop in its truest form. Hotdoggin is more diverse than his 2002 solo effort Lonely Superstar and more daring than 2006’s Don’t Drink the Water. In short, it’s Playdough’s best offering to date and showcases a rapper who is only getting better with age. Call it “positive”, call it “conscious”, call it “Christian”. Call it whatever you want, really. At the end of the day it’s hip hop and that’s all we’re really asking for out of our emcees.