Northwest cat Dawhud put out this debut album in 2008, but it could have easily been from 20 years previous. Written, performed, and produced by the man himself, this 27-track record, for those reasons alone, is quite an accomplishment. But the Basement Sessions is more than just a collection of songs: This is a cohesive document from start to finish, that plays out like a well-scripted screenplay, seamlessly combining Dawhud’s personal experiences in the world of hip-hop with the more universal sounds and concepts immediately identifiable to those of us tuned in to what hip-hop was at its arguable apex.
To say it’s a unique project doesn’t quite describe how I feel about this record… It is an album unlike any other, but when a term like “unique” is thrown around one might think of Divine Styler’s Spiral Walls or Boom Bip, or something else self-indulgent and perhaps difficult to listen to. Not so here. Although in its hour-length duration Basement Sessions rarely visits anything remotely similar to today’s mainstream hip-hop, it is far from difficult or alien listening; and although it’s Dawhud’s personal story, it manages to be masterfully very un-self-indulgent. The reason being is that with Basement, Dawhud has peeled back the layers of hip-hop down to its core elements, to something universal, and keeps the language basic, pure, and easily understandable (and quite likable) to anyone familiar with the art form. Combining the story of his musical upbringing with an appropriate musical backdrop, and using the novel/film Fight Club as a fitting metaphor to weave the albums’ many songs, skits, and spoken word fragments into a cohesive, flowing monologue, this is his story of a man lucky enough to come of age at the same time hip-hop did and therefore speaks to a huge cohort of listeners who can immediately feel where he’s coming from. Basement is a colorful patchwork of breaks, funk and jazz loops, classic hip-hop samples, and storytelling; with the inclusions of the afore-mentioned skits and historical audio documents to illuminate the story further. He says it plain early on: he’s not out for money, he’s out for respect. It’s a reoccurring theme, and it’s an attitude that can be applied to his feelings about the commercialization of hip-hop in general. But with Basement Sessions he razes all the extraneous garbage that has infested hip-hop culture in recent years to the ground – no dilution here, no watering down of the pure essence of hip-hop. The 4 Elements are present, and that’s really all that matters. Dawhud paints a picture of himself that throughout the record comes into focus: That of a young man frustrated with the bullshit in life and in the garbage found in hip-hop, and throughout the narrative this man strives to better himself and through him, the art. Other reviewers have heard echoes of the second golden age of hip-hop when describing this record, but to me, I hear more evocation of the first: I hear Premier’s beats in the forefront, Ced Gee and Kool Keith’s cadences, KRS’s message, Eric B’s loop-digging. Like I hesitate to use the term “unique”, I also don’t want to say this is “old school”, as that implies something tired-out and nostalgic. But as much as the music and lyricism evoke and pay homage to the golden age of hip-hop, there is nothing tired about this record. This is fresh and vital music, as youthful as the man depicted in the story. It’s vibrant with energy, and that energy flows through the space between the drum breaks, the lyrics, and the loops. This is true school, that’s what it is, and so it never gets old. There are no tricks here, no gloss, no lasers. No choruses of “Make money money,” no glorification of drug use, no violence, no misogyny, no hating. At the same time, this isn’t some vapid party soundtrack, either. This is a testament to personal achievement, through hard work, constant refinement, and long, sleepless nights. This is taking it back to one mic and two turntables – and the holy Akai. This is strictly beats and rhymes. Dawhud does it almost completely alone, and as a personal testament, it should be that way. He is more than capable of handling all the chores here. Dawhud has other releases out there which I will present shortly, but this is the place to start. Download it, then put it on a tape, if you can find one, then put it in your walkman or boom box, if you can dig it out of storage. Turn it on, then listen; remember the past, and use that memory to build a better tomorrow. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)