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Six years with 'Yellow Album': How Dom Kennedy found himself

Trey Alston

 // Jun 21, 2018

Artist

It's mid-2012. A doomsday prophecy that came from the conclusion of the b'ak'tun time period in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar (used by Central American indigenous people prior to the arrival of Europeans) constantly surfaces and resurfaces, time and time again in newspapers (which often go unread, unfortunately) and TV channels that are skimp on things to report on. Oddly enough, the world's mood is surprisingly nonchalant, aside from jokey movies like This Is The End and 2012 (spot-on, right?) that poke fun at utter annihilation. Scientists debunk the prophecy of course, but endless oodles of YouTube channels with blank avatars uploaded faux creepy monologues of Planet Niburu colliding with the Earth and what we can do to prevent it.

Rap is all over the place, mainly in two categories : conscious rap, in the vein of Kendrick Lamar and his breakout album good kid, M.A.A.D. City that would release towards the tail-end of the year; and nonsensical party rap, sprinkled with elements of trap, favored by artists like Nicki Minaj, on a second wind, and 2 Chainz, the revitalized Tity Boi given a second chance to correct his mistakes.

The looming end of the world seemed to be the furthest thing from hip-hop's mind, with so much going on that a crushing end would have probably been the event to bring some calmness to the scene. Somewhere, in the midst of this rap chaos, Dom Kennedy sneakily waltzed in and planted a seed that would grow to redefine the reality of rap music as we know it — that seed being the suave, confident, and mesmerizing Yellow Album.

Back in the day, Dom Kennedy was a quiet, unsuspecting rapper wary of what the game entailed. He lumbered into the scene in 2008 with his debut project 25th Hour, getting a local buzz with its most prominent cut, "Watermelon Sundae." The Los Angeles scene slowly warmed up to Dom's cool guy raps, starting with projects Best After Bobby and Future Street/Drug Sounds that released the following year. Dom had a crisp, visceral flow that radiated his hunger to change his livelihood. Some docile beats, in opposition of what normally comes out of the Bay Area, where what he chose to showcase his talents on. Even his visuals were of a different ilk entirely. His cousin Jason Madison, who he collaborated with for 25th Hour, was a film student at Loyola Marymount University and planted in Dom's head that videos were as important to rap as actual lyricism itself.

From the Westside With Love splashed down in 2010, and the tidal waves that it made proved to be the first real indicator that Dom could be a true titan in the music industry. With consistency being a strong aspect of his modus operandi, he followed with The Original Dom Kennedy and From the Westside With Love, II in 2011. All the while, Dom was evolving, perfecting the cool, calm, and collected style that he'd been cultivating for some time. Six years ago today, on June 21, 2012, Yellow Album hit the internet and shut down the rap blogosphere. The résumé that Dom had been building since 2008 had finally made sense. Now the world was eager to get a chance to understand just who exactly this guy was that was tearing up the streets of Los Angeles.

From the get-go, Dom lets it be clear that this album is the product of his evolving sound — and that it'll continue. "I'm just exploring" he croons on the album's opener, "So Elastic." Even the title itself foreshadows Dom's ability to stretch the parameters of his expectations. Over the course of the thirteen tracks that comprise the album's structure, things get weirder by the track, all the while staying true to the Los Angeles' sound that he created.

The string of shells that connect each track have one thing in common — unpredictability. No two tracks sound the same at all. Dom sounds lost in space, repurposing 80s music that he's been subject to through his iPod while delivering an ethereal look at Los Angeles livelihood. His flow, in stark contrast to the near try-hard variation exposed on previous tapes, had the gas removed from the pedal. He was slow, painfully meandering, purposefully. If you were a rap fan that prioritized bars over anything else, he may have frustrated you endlessly. But Dom's mission wasn't in that vein, and his music wasn't for anyone unwilling to accept change. The eclectic sounds of "We Ball" had an air of tranquility that permeates a trip to the sauna; all the while Dom raps what he's feeling, even if it doesn't make sense. The surprise verse from Kendrick Lamar was a scene-stealer, and one of the earliest signs that Top Dawg Entertainment's luminary could take any beat, no matter what it sounded like, and make it his own.

"Girls On Stage" and "Don't Call Me" offered an icy double-play that focused on the pursuit of extramarital affairs and then participating in one. Hitting women once and leaving them — the epitome of the rapper experience, as frequently lauded by artists looking for attention in areas where it's probably best avoided. If "Girls On Stage" was a barrage of colors, it'd be the deepest of hot pinks and light lavender, flashed through gigantic lights that disorient the brain. "Don't Call Me" added bass where "Girls On Stage" purposefully was devoid of to a certain extent, introducing serial pimp extraordinaire Too $hort to drop some misogynistic flair, claiming to be in the studio while actually out cheating.

As the drawn out, disorienting, dream-like project goes on, we become increasingly detached from our existence. We're drawn to the Los Angeles palm trees, sounds of roller blades treading the sidewalks, and the crash of beach water intermingling with the cries of countless sea gulls. "She just wanna fuck with me / Because she knows I'm living comfortably," Dom Kennedy raps as the soothing female voice gently repeats "yay" rhythmically. It's true luxury rap in spirit, showcasing Dom's comfortability in self versus chasing industry trends, or who he was on his projects last year. The term "comfortable" actually defines the aesthetic that he portrays and which we absorb. Rick Ross props a chair up in the sand and caters his luxurious raps to fit with Dom's effortlessly luxurious delivery. This was Ross at his best ;  instead of selling the rich aesthetic, he lived it, breathed it, then relayed it authentically. His verse begins with the description of car, the seven series, 760, all white, with them beige guts. It perfectly caps off the five-minute discursion from reality that massages our earlobes, before rapidly thrusting us in the opposite direction.

Like a river, Yellow Album has its ebb and flow. It starkly changes from the soothing tone of cuts like "Gold Alpinas" and "My Type Of Party," to something darker and more ethereal — never the violent jerks that comprise common project structures. "PG Click" is the best schizophrenic change on the album, even if it still aligns neatly with the project's themes and the all-encompassing aesthetic it creates. The "pretty girl with the long hair" is the mystical object of Dom's gaze, and 70% of the song finds him endlessly reciting the phrase as the techno drums pound furiously in the background. Featured artist Niko G4 adds the most common-sounding rap cadence on the album, grounding the song and adding some variation to the proceedings. A sure standout of the album for its willingness to break standard conventions and become something different altogether entirely.

The last leg of the album combines the reaches of the album for a smooth, elegant fade out from Los Angeles sheen. "Hangin" with Freddie Gibbs is bold and extravagant while centering around a simple refrain of "hanging, mobbing, posted up, chilling." Serving as the album's grandiose climax, it only grows more peaceful and relaxed from there. "1:25" sounds like an early morning drive on an ATV through the dirt, taking in the cool night time breeze that takes over LA when the sun goes down. Dom returns to old rap form here, confessing of his ambitions and his activities and leaves no stone unturned. The closer "P+H" has some serious soul in its boom-bap backbone. The 'P' and 'H' stand for peace and happiness, and a computer voice reminds us time and time again throughout. Dom's serious raps continue a humorous undertone as he throws in a joke or two between every punching rhyme about life's hardships. When it closes, the album's done. Its message is complete. The trip to Los Angeles has reached its end. As mesmerizing as it was, it felt complete. Also, we can't wait to go back through it again.

Six years later, Yellow Album stands out like a sore thumb, still. At the time that it came out, Kendrick Lamar was leading the charge for meaningful rap that brought back talking about what's wrong with the world around us. He managed to do this while also making party records that sounded…well, just as good as someone who only did the latter. "Swimming Pools" and "Backseat Freestyle" would get a party amped without the people realizing what they were rapping to. Future and 2 Chainz were crafting the type of smashing music that predated rap mosh pits, yet incited a similar sense of anarchy that destroyed car speakers and caused stampedes.

With all of this happening, Yellow Album coolly strode into the world's eye. This smooth, intoxicating array of raps immediately made its case for relevancy. It was the polar opposite of the garish violence of Chicago's drill rap scene that would become the nexus for all rap inspiration over the next few years. Dom Kennedy became a household name that would influence the styles of artists that would focus more on the aesthetic of the music than the actual lyrical content. In 2018, this new style is the number one thing that sells. Many don't give Dom his props for influencing the next generation, but the evidence is captured in those thirteen tracks of carefree greatness.

To this day, I return to Yellow Album whenever I want to escape from the troubles of my surroundings and become entrenched in tranquility. Dom Kennedy's album stands out for me in rap music itself, not because of its peacefulness, but because of its authenticity. He came from a place that thrives on a certain, vibrant sound that still exists in a near identical manner. He grew on each project, with Yellow Album being the pinnacle and measure that would impact each of his releases to this day. I dare say that Dom found himself here. Its innovation shows;  there hasn't been a project that has sounded anything like it sense. I also doubt that there ever will be.


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