Wednesday, June 21, 2017

LIVE FAST: Review of King Dice's Shalu Avenue

“Live Fast. Die Young. That’s the song that the choir sung.”

It’s been a couple years since King Dice dropped a full length LP so I had to take my time digesting when he dropped the sequel to Red Mahogany Drive- “Shalu Avenue”. Many of us have brushed with the harsher realities of Inland Empire life, myself included but cats like King Dice have lived it. All his work speaks with the voice of someone who has been there. This experience leads him to warn other youth about the path they choose and to instruct kids in music when he’s not working on his own. Dante’s Theme finds Dice talking about how real death is in Moreno Valley over a sampling of the melodies from “Gangsta’s Paradise”.

“Reminisce. Feelin’ tipsy. Doin’ 90 on the sick-sick-sixty. Highway to Hell. “

Moments like the above lyric from the same song make this the most novel-like Dice album I’ve yet to hear- he’s not just going to give you surface level narrative, he’s trying to share his feelings and inner life in these works too.

Like Red Mahogany, there are many songs which are like sequel update cover homages to older songs: "Dante’s Theme" for "Gangsta’s Paradise", "Top Dawg" for "Who Am I?", "Heavy Crown" for "What’s So Different?"
On Red Mahogany, “What’s Going On?” was an homage-update of the Fugees “Fugee-La” and Dice continues this practice to an even higher degree on Shalu Avenue. I realized recently that part of what is appealing, deep and timeless about his interpolations is that it is like the jazz tradition- to attempt to master the classics and show your audience your familiarity with them that they may follow you into your original ventures. Dice almost always distills what was musically appealing about the original, modernizes it and then makes it his own.

“Oroku Saki” and “Kaiju” are this album’s superb contributions to the canon of nerdcore hip-hop, one from the point of view of Shredder from Ninja Turtles and the other a reference to the monsters of Godzilla and Pacific Rim. "Oroku Saki" and "Heavy Crown" have been the ones I’ve seen Dice perform in the lead up to the album’s release and the time since and they both are great encapsulations of the album’s spare, precise, addictively melodic and deceptively chill vibes. These two songs, along with Top Dogg all sample songs from the 90’s and to me this is an extension of the nerdcore aspect of his work: we reflect what we studied as we grew into our own. For many of us in the I.E. that was just as much 90’s hip-hop as X-Men and Ninja Turtles and other nerd media.  In his master-crafting of love letters to the eras that shaped so many of us, Dice claims the mantle and promises to rock.

"Oroku Saki" is also a great example of Dice's mastery of limerick and evolving style as a poet and MC. He could easily be a 4/4 killer like a lot of cats out there. Instead he experiments with stop and go double time for much of the album, putting pregnant crime-boss pauses between his statements, adding ominous emphasis. On "Oroku Saki" he plays with this swing of triplets that is distinctive and deft. His aphorisms on "Dante's Theme" are haunting and timeless. His growth as a writer is to the extent where his songs say more while having seemingly less words than before.

Dice's tight production and the crisp sound to this record highlight the balance Dice has found. “She’s Wavy” is an erotic exploration of a lover like an ocean, “Rain” is a gorgeous R&B 90’s throwback. He brings this plus his warnings to the youth, his homage to 90’s nerd culture and his benevolent reign in the Inland Empire. The record has lots of replay value, I've been addicted to it lately. Dice's lyrics are deep but unpretentious, revealing their layered meanings with each listen. All this and the record bangs, addictively, smartly and musically. To invert a phrase, when the King comes at you, ya best not miss.

My previous thought on King Dice’s nerdcore style here.

Tristan "Tanjint Wiggy" Acker is a staff writer for JooseBoxx, youth hip-hop writing instructor with CHORDS Enrichment Youth program (chordseyp.org) and member of the Inland Empire nerdcore hip-hop group the West Coast Avengers. Catch more of their work at westcoastavengers.com, follow Tristan on Twitter @Tanjint or e-mail him at tristanacker@gmail.com.