Kurupt & J Wells
As much as "New York is dead" talk floods rap message boards and blogs, the east coast isn't the only area to suffer from the South's seemingly forever reign over Hip Hop. Aside from The Game's emergence in 2005, it can prove difficult for many everyday rap fans to name a notable new artist coming from the west coast. Snoop reenergized his career with Tha Blue Carpet Treatment last year, but other Cali veteran emcees weren't fortunate to make as much of a dent with their most recent releases. It's perhaps fitting, then, that Kurupt and J Wells release Digital Smoke, an album that plays as an ode to Los Angeles rap.
If there's one thing that Kurupt and J Wells know, it's how to represent their area. Kurupt has established himself as an LA rap icon with his history with Tha Dogg Pound and Death Row, and producer/emcee J Wells has put in work as a member of Tha Likwit Crew. As far as subject matter is concerned, Wells and Kurupt don't falter from the trademark Cali topics of blunts, gangsterisms and more blunts. But the duo doesn't seem to be aiming for originality; it's focusing on execution, and they accomplish that with flying colors. Digital Smoke shines because of its full, head-on embodiment of the LA rap that Kurupt helped pioneer and that J Wells has studied. While Wells is a capable emcee, the album moreso plays as a showcase for his skills behind the boards. Wells' polished productions throughout deftly pay homage to his west coast forefathers, equipped with knocking bass and busty chords on tracks such as "Get It," but with lush, feel-good grooves on offerings like the aptly-titled "Summertime." Kurupt shows up for work as well, fitting Wells' beats like a glove and ably handling his verses, whether he's laying back on "All We Smoke" or threatening foes on "I'm Too Gangsta."
Another important element of Digital Smoke is its extensive guest list. Formatted similarly to Dr. Dre's classic The Chronic that was released more than a decade earlier, nearly all of the emcees and singers who show up on the disc help further establish the album's California feel. Other west coast vets Knoc-Turn'al and Tha Liks flourish in their element, and younger emcees like Styliztik Jones and Kurupt's brother Roscoe help show the promise that the area still has to offer. Historic LA crooners Kokane and Butch Cassidy continue to bring the same Fundadelic-inspired vocals with their hooks, also important elements of West Coast raps. Even when acts from other areas show up, like Atlanta's Goodie Mob, they don't throw things off; Big Gipp even shows up for a separate, 27-second skit to give props to the duo.
Some may see flaws in the disc's limited subject matter, and the abundance of guests on the disc (only one non-skit track on the album comes without a "featuring:" tag attached), Digital Smoke succeeds with its accomplishment of its mission statement. While Kurupt and J Wells may not gain many new fans with this offering, it's bound to remind people of just how dope west coast rap can be--and that may be just what the region needs