REVIEW: Dirty Water – Drowning

Drowning

Artist: Dirty Water

Album: Drowning

Label: Metrospective

Rating: 8.5 / 10

Reviewer: A to the L

Think of East Coast hiphop, and immediately you’ll be talking about New York. Instructed to spit out the names of East Coast acts who DON’T rep the Rotten Apple or the surrounding New Jerz area, and you’re likely to bring up Beans and Freeway or the Roots in Philly, or maybe Ed OG or Big Shug from up in the Boston direction. Strike those two cities from the list though, and you’re likely to start struggling.

Of course, every city has its own local scene, but who’s really repping places like DC nationally? For some reason Washington DC has never really produced a Hiphop act who has made any kind of dent on the industry – it seems to be viewed instead as a hotbed for Go-Go music and largely ignored… and in fact with recent plaudits going to close neighbor Baltimore for its Dirty South / Go-Go hybrid, it seems that DC is destined again to play the bridesmaid role for the forseeable future.

Unless of course Dirty Water have anything to do with it. The duo of Cool Cee Brown and Joe D first met on the campus of North Carolina Central University, where they had already made names for themselves individually. Cee Brown had gained popularity as a spoken word artist, while Joe D was a member of Train Of Thought, a local underground Hiphop trio. Eventually their path’s crosses when they both joined Go-Go group The Marquee Band & Show, and it was here that the Dirty Water idea emerged from a the mire of failed attempts and unrecognized potential.

“Drowning” is their first outing, an album that features an amalgamation of dozen of ideas and influences, but which still possesses a distinct identity of its own. Right from the opening prologue, its clear that this is something special, as Cee Brown and Joe D take the usually cliched tales of ghetto landscapes and still manage to make the topic interesting, as much due to the highly-descriptive lyrical content, as for Joe D’s sick beat.

“In the heart of the ghetto where them niggas is wilin’
Get caught out there like Gilligan’s Island
South side muhfuckas finna get violent
Knock ya ass out to get into your wallet
Take off your shoes and get into your ‘posites
Walk to the stash quick to make a deposit…

…In the heart of the ghetto where them younguns is wilin’
Sleep to the sounds of the four-four firing
Cop car sirens, you pray for silence, you get your rights read,
Your pops an alcoholic and your mother’s a pipehead,
‘Friderator empty ‘cept for butter and white bread”

And this is just the ‘intro’ track!

From here until the final cut, it really is an album of consistently high points and very few lows. From the Roy Ayers-esque vibes of ‘No.28’ where Cee Brown dominates the laidback beat with an incredibly aggressive flow, through the instrumental goodness of ‘Lamentation De L’eau Sal’ and ‘Shit Talkin’ Joseph’ where Joe D rails against fake emcees who follow trends instead of being true to themselves, and onto the eyebrow-raising ‘Hiphop Is Dead’ where the duo simply spit the uncomfortable truth about the current state of the music we love; its clear that Dirty Water have taken time to produce a quality collection of tracks.

from ‘Hiphop Is Dead’
‘They told me say something lighthearted
Something cool for the people to get the party started
They say they sick of all the stress and anguish
They know what pain is, they don’t need you to explain it
You wanna reach your people speak to em in they language
Nigga this, nigga that, is your white, or is you black?
Bring the bling bling, claim the ching ching, no need for ginseng
Got a twelve inch big black ding-a-ling
And plenty of stamina
H2 rims two feet in diameter
My big platinum chain hang down to my thang
My medallion’s a diamond-encrusted ying-yang
Now that I broke the ice so to speak
I’m now campaigning for the flavor of the week
C Brown wanna be your next one-hit wonder
Break even with the labels and pass project numbers
One million, two million, three million, four
Butt naked whores behind closed doors on world tours
Of South Africa, Switzerland, Italy
Japs fit in to watch me act niggery
Until they get sick of me, push me to the side
Retired my video from Total Request Live’

And despite the thought provoking and expertly written lyrics, its not ALL about the rhymes – Joe D’s beats support the verses on every track perfectly. Think of his production style as one which takes pieces from the Roots, pieces from Kanye, and pieces from Tribe and Mos Def, and melds them with little snippets of Go-Go music, and you might be able to get a flavor for what’s going on here. Standout tracks like the above mentioned, ‘Hiphop Is Dead’, ‘Eat My Breakfast Alone’, and ‘Us’ serve as perfect illustrations of the DW style.

Indeed, ‘Eat My Breakfast Alone’ has deservedly received a gang of airplay on Baltimore, N. Carolina, and ATL stations, becoming a popularly requested ‘anthem for emotionally unavailable thirty-somethings across cultural boundaries’. What the hell does the press blurb mean when translated into plain English? Well, over a simple set of orchestral strings, the duo break down the feelings that I (cos yeah I’m getting on in years) and many others have struggled with as we move out of the carefree ‘younger’ days and get saddled with mortgages, long term relationships and all that other bullshit we used to think, as younguns, that we’d be able to juggle easily. The uncomfortableness of taking on another’s man’s kids as part of a relationship with their mother… marriage breakdowns… planning children and relationship issues based on financial details rather than based on it feeling ‘right’… its all covered here in infectiously warm vocal tones.

And even when things don’t go perfectly right, like on ’21 Miles To Chinatown’, where call and response church sermon doesn’t quite blend comfortably with DC Go-Go flavor, you can’t help cutting them some slack, as amongst the normal lyrics, sits a nice little chant of “I want to kill my boss”… resulting in skipping to the next track with a smile.

Despite coming up on this over a year after its release, its hard not to put it up there on the old ‘Album Of The Year’ shortlists. Everything you’d expect from an album on a list like this is here in abundance – lyrics, beats, a high number of quality tracks which keep you coming back… Superb stuff, and really something you need to check for.

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