On this fourth solo album, Savannah’s Dope KNife has penned and produced 14 tracks of his most personal and lyrically dense tunes for one of his strongest studio efforts to date.
“Things Got Worse,” out on Brick Records May 17, follows “NineteenEightyFour” from 2017 and highlights a new direction for one of Savannah’s fiercest MCs. On “NineteenEightyFour,” Dope KNife (born Kedrick Mack) wanted to make an aggressive, raw hip-hop album.
“It was sort of a ‘Kill Bill,’ ‘Grindehouse’ feel,” KNife said. “I wanted to make something dirty, like it was made in some bargain bin basement. That’s what ‘NineteenEightyFour’ was supposed to be. For this one, I wanted to do something different but not force it.”
Two important factors inspired the rapper as he set into producing the new album. After touring with a score of underground rappers in the newish movement of art rap, Dope KNife seized on the ethos of the sub genre as an avenue for his new album.
Art rap was coined by Chicago rapper Open Mike Eagle at the beginning of this century as a counter term to the sub genre of art rock and used as a descriptor for rap that was “real hip-hop.” The term is used pretty broadly — and includes avant-garde rap — but it’s essential rap that doesn’t conform to the dance tracks often heard in clubs from Spotify top charters like Drake and Post Malone, and instead takes on the mantel of rappers like Kendrick Lamar who lyrically look at much deeper subjects of social and personal relevance.
Dope KNife charted his new album lyrically with this inspiration in mind, while musically being heavily inspired by early ’90s trip-hop from bands like Massive Attack and Portishead.
“I was listening to ‘Dummy’ every day for like a month,” Dope KNife said. “Especially the live one. I wanted to make a trip-hop album with rapping on it. Even if that’s not necessarily what it sounds like, that’s the direction I was taking. Damn near every song has a female vocalist on it. Because all the trip-hop stuff I was listening to had.”
The first half of “Things Got Worse” is straight-at-you hip-hop, in the typically battle rap style of ‘I am the greatest,’ but the second half opens a personal box of vulnerability and honesty that sets this particular album apart from Dope KNife’s previous albums in a number of jarring and powerful ways.
The title track is where these ideas really converge. A mellow, trip-hop vibe sets the musical foundation, and Dope’s typically aggressive vocal style settles into a calm delivery, tapping existential questions that extend far beyond the typical boasting lines prevalent in so much hip-hop historically. Savannah singer/songwriter Britt Scott joins on the hook with simple, nigh angelic lullaby notes that create a sweet balance between Dope’s whiskey-rough vocals.
“Basic Instincts,” like the movie of a similar name, exudes sexuality. Featuring Bero Bero, David Murray on drums and Veronica Garcia-Melendez with steamy backup vocals. But the track breaks the mold from other sex infused hip-hop songs of the past, which tend to just point out female assets through the male gaze. KNife literally stops himself halfway through a line to ask if what he just said was misogynistic. Through honest lyrics, Dope strikes the balance of his own sexuality as a human without the heavily misogynistic overtones and even violence towards women that hip-hop has long imbued.
“Spotless Mind” waste no time getting into it staring with “Sometimes, I really wish my pops was here.” And then, KNife traces into a very personal, vulnerable feelings towards his relationship with his father and lost loves.
Dope KNife produces his own music, bringing in local musicians to record live samples that he mixes later and raps over. Kylesa’s Laura Pleasants is featured on the track “a Let Down,” which premiered on dosavannah.com. Hotplate drummer Patrick Hussey is featured heavily on the album, along with Garrett Deming (Broken Glow) and Tony Bavaro (Omingnome). Outside rappers guest on a few tracks, including Boog Brown from Detroit and TKO from Orlando.
Everything lyrically starts with a title for Dope KNife. “Things Got Worse,” seems to echo the national state of things over the last two years, and in some ways, for Dope KNife each album has reflected not only the state of things on a global scale, but also in his personal world.
“Well, that was the obvious thing,” Dope KNife said of the title. “When I started working on my next joint, ‘Iconoclast,’ it just lined up around the 2016 political cycle. All of this political theater just heavily influenced the album.
“Even my first album, when I was barely out of high school, was in the midst of the Iraq War and because I was a military brat, it heavily influenced it. ‘NinteenEightyFour,’ the first beat I started on that song was when Donald Trump was coming down the stairs. ‘The Mexicans are rapists’ speech, that’s when I started working on it. It was a little bit before Charlottesville when I started working on this one.
“All of those things — I also like coming up with the title before I start working on the songs. 'Things Got Worse' sounds like a dope title for an album, but I also I felt I could capture that mood musically just from instrumentally, and the tone, that title fits perfectly.
“I was making this from a different angle,” he continued. “I am a signed artist, even if it is an indie label. There’s a group of legitimate people out in the world who know who Dope KNife is and are waiting on the next thing I am doing. I get at least two fans messages asking me a day when the new joint is coming out. I didn’t want to make it so insular. Accessibility is such a tricky word. I definitely wanted to make something that you don’t necessarily have to be a rap junkie to find something to enjoy on it.
“From a compositional standpoint, I’ll put ‘Things Got Worse’ against any band. All the beats are composed through live instrumentation. I’ll take my musical compositions against anyone. And I’ll put my rapping up against anyone, too.”