Holy Smokes is just about what I expected, so perhaps that colors my opinion of it. Dudley’s previous album, Expressions, has slowly become one of my favorite albums since it came out, and it continues to sadden me that few others are willing to fall in line. While Madlib’s beats were a big part of the equation, Dudley himself is quite a presence on the microphone. Many don’t enjoy his singing voice, but I happen to think he uses it to great effect, and knows how to sing well within his box. And as a rapper, his delivery is wildly abstract like a drunken Kool Keith, yet with all the spiritual qualities of the recently departed Baatin. Needless to say, his delivery is a bit of an acquired taste.
For Holy Smokes, Dudley comes out of the ’60s psychedelic soul movement and lunges head first into p-funk. Like some of the better Funkadelic records, the album is heavily political, but the message is obscured or partied-down by a number of extremely dope beats and synths from California’s new resident wunderkind, Georgia Anne Muldrow. On “Understandment”, Dudley spits “Show these suckas just what you do / If you can’t understand this ain’t for you”.
This is really the best way to explain Holy Smokes, because nothing about the music itself is anything to scoff at. What stands between the listener and the music is mostly Dudley himself. Dudley’s stream of conscious lyrics are both hilarious and eye opening, particularly on tracks like “Cricket Cop” and “Summer Daze”, but at other times his delivery is so off-beat and beat-poet-like that it’s hard to stay, or hard to want to stay, focused on him at all times.
Interestingly, Muldrow isn’t given any featuring credits, but she guest raps on “Understandment” (and another track or three), as well as including her vocals in the subtext of most beats. And to be honest, I really don’t mind it — Muldrow is great at interjecting herself into her music without taking much away from it.
In my eyes, the dual release of Muldrow’s Umsindo and this album was a total success. Both albums share distinct qualities of political discontent, funky life-affirmation, and spiritual exploration — highly addicting material for anyone with a funky soul. That said, it’s also very paranoid which could be a bit of a turn off for some. Perhaps across 24 tracks the message gets a little repetitive, a little too uniform. But if you’re funky, psychedelic, and down for the cause, brother, by all means climb back aboard the closest thing we’ve seen to a Mothership in quite some time.