Jordan Pedersen plans to name a mixtape after an obscure Omar Epps movie.
There’s blood in Chicago. The question for Chicago rappers is not, “Do we deal with it?” but rather, “How do you deal with it?” Chief Keef and the Glory Boyz have taken to recreating it, their catalog an Apocalypse Now evocation of what it feels like to duck strays south of I-55. Tree has settled on serving up sweet soul trap, certainly not escapist but decidedly comforting. And the Treated Crew take refuge in fashion, in the hope that if we all just dress for the good life, we can escape the real one.
The Save Money crew dreams up their own worlds, parallel to our own and similar in key ways, but still fantastical. Chance the Rapper’s miraculous, transporting Acid Rap almost feels like magical realism in the way it drowns details from Chance’s life in a wash of color and blotter acid.
Fellow crew member Dally Auston has opted to hide out in his own bars. This isn’t to say he eschews medication; his excellent debut mixtape The Wood certainly comes to us through a kush cloud. The uniformly excellent production favors dreamy stabs of piano and ghostly vocal loops. Even C-Sick, who can do wonderful things with a few hi-hats and some gaudy synths, falls in line with the muted cool of the project. Dally himself rarely pushes his crackling husk of a voice above a murmur.
But the haze functions less as a crutch than it does as an enhancement, ornamenting his sound the way the feedback embellishes the melody on a Jesus and the Mary Chain song. It also creates an admirably coherent aesthetic, which is impressive considering this is Dally’s debut. It’s clear already that he dictates his sound rather than letting his sound dictate him. Part of that may also have to do with the input of producer Smoko Ono, who contributes maybe the four strongest beats on the tape. His flair for off-kilter rhythms jibes well with Dally’s penchant for jumping in at the weirdest place he can find.
His lyrics function less as opportunities for storytelling than they do playgrounds for his distinctive flow, a double time teaser followed by a backpedal tag. Taking a page from fellow Chicagoan King Louie, Dally fashions “Hol’ Up” as an opportunity for him to see how many phrases he can rhyme with the titular one. And “Big Mike” is more than another stock invocation of MJ; it’s a verbal And1 mixtape, Dally’s couplets the equivalent of crossover dribbles.
And while he proves himself adept at crafting memorable hooks, Auston seems to have the most fun when he’s packing as much dense wordplay into a two minute song as he possibly can, as he does on “Taxi Shit” and “99 Cent.” Don’t let his sleepy voice fool you: this guy is trying to impress the fuck out of you.
Favoring flow over lyrics does result in a lack of quotables – except on “99 Cent,” for which he seems to have saved all of them – and, as previously stated, there’s not much in the way of storytelling here. At a certain point, the lyrics all blend together into a samey melange of boasts and put-downs.
But one can’t really complain when they’re packaged so thrillingly. Dally here has created his own universe of flows, positing that it’s not re-creation, nostalgia, fashion, or acid that will save us, but words.
His words aren’t those of the tortured street poet. Dally has more in common with the cleverest guy in your group of friends, the one who dazzles everyone with a perfectly timed quip or a cutting observation. While his city struggles to recover from a 500-murder nightmare of a year, he rolls a blunt and tosses off another great line. Salvation one bar at a time.