Everybody knows a product is nothing if you can't distribute it. Purple City knows it. DK knows it. That's what mixtapes are for.
In Season One of Chappelle's Show, Dave Chappelle performs a comedy sketch about a rapper named Fisticuffs, whose record label, in an effort to create a mixtape buzz the way 50 Cent did, sends Dave a mixtape with the rapper's song "Turn My Headphones Up". Basically, the rapper (portrayed by Chappelle) shows up at the recording studio, waits for a beat to drop, and then starts demanding that the volume in his headphones be pumped up. Funkmaster Flex hypes the rapper up, "His lyrics are so tight, they don't even have to rhyme! And the word on the street is, late night, one night in the ghetto, my man got shot in his ear like eight times!" Meanwhile brothas in the street are going wild over "Turn My Headphones Up", claiming the song "ain't goin' platinum, it's goin' double uranium, Son!"
That's a funny caricature of hip-hop's mixtape culture. Even the idea of calling a CD a "mixtape" evokes a smile. Plus, it's getting to the point where fewer and fewer of us even own a cassette deck. Somewhere down the line, a new generation of music fans will be looking at a computer, complaining, "You mean I gotta wait while it 'downloads'?! You don't own a think-pod? All you do is imagine the song you want to hear and they charge it to your credit card!"
There's some truth in Chappelle's humor, especially the fact that mixtapes are significant avenues for hip-hop promotion. An artist using a mixtape sometimes has a better chance of growing a fan base and earning credibility than an artist employing more "conventional" and more expensive advertising methods.
DK's King Me is bound to be another. And just so you know, "DK" doesn't stand for "Don King", it stands for "the Don and the King". See, even though DK's only about 20 years old, the rapper from Baltimore, Maryland is convinced he's all that and a bag of skittles -- he's the best, he's the greatest. Though he doesn't refer to himself as the hip-hop Muhammad Ali, he sure does talk himself up like the Champ.
But there's a catch. So if DK's King Me CD crosses your path, there's one thing you need to remember: it's a mixtape. This one fact cannot be overstated because it impacts your view of this release.
Before we get to the album, though, you've got to be current on recent hip-hop history.
Okay, you remember Cam'ron, right? In 2002, he had a hot radio song called "Oh Boy" from his Come Home With Me album. During this time, Cam'ron collaborated with friends like Jim Jones, Juelz Santana, and the Diplomats. The Diplomats released the two-CD set "Diplomatic Immunity". Among this crew was Purple City, the group whose name sounds as if Prince decided to expand his Paisley Park studio into a sprawling kingdom to rival the colorful township in The Wizard of Oz.
Now, Purple City, also called Purple City Productions (or PCP), consists of Agallah "The Don Bishop", Shiest Bubz "The Emperor", and Un Kasa. These three gents deserve an induction into the Small Business Hall of Fame, after selling what appears to be hundreds of thousands of their "mixtapes". In fact, they've sold so many mixtapes, they were compelled to release a mixtape of their mixtapes called Road to the Riches: The Best of the Purple Mixtapes. They've even implemented a foreign exchange program, inviting rappers from France into the mix on the aptly titled Paris to Purple City. Some of us visiting the purple domain didn't know a croissant's crumb of French, but it was still a great concept. Did I mention they achieved all this without major label backing?
That's where young DK comes into the picture.
NY Hot 97's DJ Kay Slay & Purple City's Shiest Bubz are presenting DK's debut like that scene in Jerry McGuire where Jerry (Tom Cruise) strolls loudmouth pro football player Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) through a lobby of scouts, coaches, and reporters. There, the purpose was to showcase the player's personality and style. Here, the object is to showcase DK's flow.
And "flow" he does, with more bars than a jailhouse and more punch lines than a season's worth of Last Comic Standing. The total package ends up resembling a series of free-styles.
On "Go Crazy", DJ Kay Slay explains that DK was first signed to a deal with the Carter Factory (a now-defunct division of Roc-a-fella Records) at 17 and, from there, "worked with Jay-Z" and "recorded with Kanye West". Although his voice is deeper than Jigga's, you can hear the Jay-Z influence in his rhymes, right down to claiming he's the "greatest rapper alive". As for his involvement with hip-hop's famous College Dropout, King Me contains a West-produced track in "If Not Me Then Who?"
DK's flow, well situated over a variety of beats, becomes the mixtape's focal point, which presumably is calculated to garner interest and attention in the rapper. According to MVRemix's interview with DK, Babygrande is releasing DK's forthcoming "debut", Words of Art. So, like a boxer sparring in an exhibition round, DK uses King Me to show us what he's got.
Truth be told, his main asset is his confidence. Aside from loyalty to your homies ("Ride 4 Me, Ride 4 You"), the organizing principle of this release is DK's belief that he's lyrically untouchable. You can't blame him for that. If recording tracks boasting of your own greatness could be a crime, we'd have to convict truckloads of emcees for the crime of "narcissism with intent to distribute". The judicial system would shut down due to the sheer volume of new defendants. Besides, "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" by the Charlie Daniels Band -- admittedly a member of a different musical genre -- would be nothing without its bluster and bravado.
Just listen to DK on "Testify". Before he even starts rapping, he brags,
Forgive my arrogance, I'm the best rapper alive, ni**a.
I don't get paid for my humility, ni**a.
Likewise, there's his dialogue at the commencement of "Westside":
They say being humble's for broke ni**as. Pay me to rap 'humble', I don't give a f**k now. Nice guys finish last. If I was working at McDonald's y'all wouldn't be so mad if I said I was the Employee of the Month. But why cuz, just because everybody raps, you know what I'm sayin', I say I'm the best rapper alive, you got a motherfu**in opinion.
Let's jump over to "Step Right Up", where DK drops several lines about knockin' boots with Martha Stewart and simultaneously trading stock tips with the domestic maven while he's making her scream, "Hip-hop!" You can't get more audacious than that.
Probably, it would do you good to hear it again -- King Me is a mixtape. And kickin' up dust is exactly the kind of stuff you do on a mixtape. You swing wild, you record songs with no hooks, you kick a verse that lasts two or three minutes before you come up for air, you dis famous and lesser-known rappers, you create wild scenarios with celebrities. But, remember -- whatever you do, you're doing it to get attention.
Knowing that King Me is a mixtape is: your North Star, your key to the Kingdom, that one weird-colored crystal that Kal-El (you know him as Superman) threw in the icy lake to build his house. As you make your way through DK's 22-song release, you might wonder at the end of those 70-plus minutes, "What was this all about?" When that question pops up, the key, "It's a mixtape", will magically appear to save the day.
Yet, none of this is an excuse to say DK is playing around. As many times as DK refers to himself as "the greatest rapper alive" or "the best rapper you never heard", could he really be joking? (Actually, he really could be, but he certainly sounds like he believes what he's saying.) Further, where some "mixtapes" offer verses from rappers who are stretching the Fair Use exception of the U.S. Copyright Act to include someone else's beats, DK's joint features serious production from the 730 Commission. Granted, there's a "Jigga What, Jigga Who" moment on DK's "Mercenary", and there's also a spoof of the Fugee's "Fu-gee-la" on "Smoke La", but those are exceptions and, in any event, DK's hardly a biter. King Me's status as a mixtape simply explains the purpose of the compilation.
And there you have it. King Me is a mixtape. It's not a bad thing; it is what it is. Understand it. Appreciate it. Better yet, respect the ability of mixtape culture to deliver sonic product to the people who want it, pure and undiluted. The mixtape undercurrent also exemplifies one of the values we in the United States treasure, if only in our rhetoric -- that's the virtue of hard work. For their work ethic and commitment, DK and Purple City get all the props in the world. King Me might not be the best release of all time, but you sure can't knock the hustle.