January 15, 2014

Max Bell also wishes a happy birthday to Slick Rick the Ruler.

Doe B was gunned down outside a Montgomery club in December. A twenty-two-year-old gone too soon, still relishing the success of his first mixtape and on the verge of releasing his Grand Hustle/Interscope debut. As his last retweet revealed, he felt “GREAT.” All caps. The proverbial wings clipped just as he’d begun his ascent.

With the violence surrounding Doe B’s demise, his latest posthumous release, “Why,” is the most meaningful.

The beat is as banging as it is melancholic – twinkling keys and crisp claps backed by heavy bass and angelic vocals – and Doe B opens with an honest, unadorned thesis: “I got a lot of questions, but no answers, man.”

Meditating on the loss of family, friends, and fellow street soldiers, he adopts a melodic cadence that borders on crooning. It’s near perfect throughout, and his singing on the hook proves he was capable of carrying a tune better than many consigned for such duties.

More than anything, Doe B’s lyrics are direct and cut deeply (“I don’t know why I can’t get no sleep / I don’t know why the pain runs so deep”). These are the words of the modern Montgomery blues, the narrative of a world where, unfortunately, Doe B’s absence may have saved another Montgomery native (“Gotta kill these niggas/ I can’t see them killing me”). Homicidal survival tactics notwithstanding, the inherent pain and fear in embedded in Doe B’s voice here points to the harrowing possibility that he desperately wanted out of the life. We’ll never know just how close he was to making a clean break.

“Why” closes with T.I. He delivers one of his best verses in recent memory, confirming that he’s best suited for the role of reflective rubber band man rather than swaggering trigger man. The last minute features his short and heartfelt eulogy, his pledge to keep Doe B’s name alive.

With all the above said and meant, whether or not Doe B would’ve realized his potential is not for me to say. There’s currently no way of knowing whether Doe B would’ve become Montgomery’s Kevin Gates – a street rapper far above par with an uncanny ear for pop melody – or been creatively stifled and watered down by the machine, fractured .ZIP files of his catalogue spread across the far reaches of the rapidly-declining blogosphere. Baby Jesus is damn good, but not great. The banging, trap anthems admirably uphold the Southern tradition, but don’t reinvent the Vogue wheel.

That said, songs like “2 Many” and “Return of Da Mac [Remix]” (below) are worth a lifetime supply of Gucci eye patches. And any man who has the sense to make the cover his debut mixtape look like a cross between Biggie and Slick Rick was definitely on the right track.

There are ostensibly two hundred unreleased Doe B tracks in the vault. They may be great, or they may be generic, lackluster trap fare. I’m hoping for the former, a future where Doe B becomes Montgomery’s Mac Dre. Only time and those who hold the rights to his music will tell. For now, as Doe B hoped when he wrote “Why,” the wings of his twilight remain bullet proof.

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