Harlem’s resident rapper Smoke DZA appropriately teamed up with the Bronx’s Pete Rock in order to produce “Don’t Smoke Rock,” a subtle love letter to hip-hop’s origins in New York City.
“Don’t Smoke Rock,” which is a clever take on both artist’s names, rightly does East Coast hip-hop justice. Not only is the album heavily influenced by 90s hip-hop, but it also connects and transitions into the current era of rap through new artists such as breakout Harlem rapper Dave East, Mac Miller and BJ The Chicago Kid.
Veteran hip-hop artists Jadakiss, Cam’Ron, Royce Da 5’9, Rick Ross, BIG K.R.I.T., Dom Kennedy and others also take the time to bless a track with a verse.
The track titled “I Ain’t Scared” also features a vocal sample from the legendary Nas.
While Dom Kennedy is a West Coast rapper, his verse on “Dusk 2 Dusk,” alongside Mississippi’s BIG K.R.I.T., stands out as one of the best on the album. The flow is not only dynamic and flavorful, but it’s also the perfect song to bob your head to.
Dave East’s feature on “Limitless” showcases his work as an underground Harlem rapper while Smoke DZA throws relentless amounts of shade, making listeners remember his rightful place in hip-hop.
He raps about out of body experiences, saying that there is no ceiling for him. Smoke DZA also says in his first verse: “Don’t ever mention other cats to me, they came and went,” which is a clear shot at new hip-hop today.
The first half of the album is laced with generic, simple yet properly placed East Coast beats. No song exactly screams to be skipped. One downside is that no song particularly stands out until the last half of the album, unless a little background research is done into the songs to better understand their narrative.
“Moving Weight Pt. 1,” featuring a verse from Cam’Ron, talks about growing up in New York City. Smoke DZA and Pete Rock use this album to not only speak about national and personal issues, but they also use it to bring to life both Harlem and the Bronx. The mix of lyrics delves between meaningful, thoughtful and the usual hip-hop topics of women, alcohol, guns and copious amounts of pot.
“Last Name” gives a shout out to the late Sandra Bland while talking about hustling in New York City. Sandra Bland was a black woman who died in police custody under strange circumstances.
Her death sparked outrage over police brutality in the U.S., which is still a problem that African-Americans face every day. Her mention in this song makes sense, since he is talking about not wanting to get caught hustling.
Smoke DZA throws more people under the bus by calling out others for having “fake chains” and a bunch of Jordans’ while still being broke. He mentions how everyone is a rapper, but no one is actually as “far up the ladder” as he currently is. Once again, this man knows his place in underground hip-hop.
In “Black Superhero Car” featuring Rick Ross, the late Eric Garner is given a shout out like Bland in “Last Name.” Garner, who was from New York, was killed by a chokehold for selling loose cigarettes on the street. Like Bland, the case was eventually settled, but it left a permanent scar on the African-American community.
“Milestone” is another verse that talks about how life was like growing up while having to hustle and sell drugs. Styles P says in the second verse: “To not get arrested is a milestone,” while Jadakiss raps about how all he knew before his current life was selling cocaine.
The rappers then talk about making it through obstacles. Styles P mentions that instead of being selfish, he became selfless.
This album strays from what is popular right now in hip-hop entirely, which is what sets it apart from other albums released in 2016. There is no trap music here for kids to bang their heads to, and there’s no mumble rap present from artists like Future. The heart of the work lies in the simplicity behind the production and the lyrics that grace the beats. “Don’t Smoke Rock” is worth a listen or two, especially for listeners who love East Coast hip-hop.