Rap fans, listen up: It’s time we cut the Dom Kennedy slander. With summer ‘17 approaching, we have tons of hip-hop releases from this year to add to our rotation for cookouts, lounging by the beach, and cross-country roadtrips. Drake, Future, Big Sean, Kendrick Lamar, and Wale are all good contenders, but let’s not forget what Dom has done for us when the sun shines brighter. Consensus says there can only be one song of the summer, which is a difficult task to call. I’d argue, too, there can only be one MC ruling from June until the end of August. I’m betting on a sleeper prediction —
In 2016, after taking a break from press and touring to focus on his songwriting and the production aspects of his sound, Dom had some high marks for loyal fans: the debut of his Half-A-Mil group with Inland Empire’s own Hit-Boy and his own new full-length album Los Angeles Is Not for Sale, Vol. 1. Released in December, both projects went largely unnoticed mainly due to the spotlight on new albums from Childish Gambino, Ab-Soul, Post Malone, Gucci Mane, Kid Cudi, and Run the Jewels. It also didn’t help Dom’s cause that fans were skeptical from the get-go after Best After Bobby 2, a follow-up to his stronger first installment that had him stumbling on instrumentals by Dr. Dre, Jay Z and Beyonce, and really, just sounding uninspired.
Sometime after Dom Kennedy dropped Get Home Safely in 2013, a huge shift in his public perception began to creep up. He was no longer seen as the next big rapper to blow out of LA, but someone who had already peaked at their potential. It started with the headlines: ‘By Dom Kennedy’ Lacks Certified Bangers, But Dom Is Still the King of the Summer; Dom Kennedy Hasn’t Lost a Step, But Did He Miss His Chance?; Dom Kennedy Flatlines Again With ‘Los Angeles Is Not for Sale Vol. 1.’. As the years have gone on, he faced common criticisms — from losing his spark to rap on “My Type Of Party” levels, and uninventive rhymes, to his redundancy in his songs about partying and bullsh*tting in LA. Maybe it’s the abundance of music lately that’s to blame, but listeners tend to get bored easily if they’re fed the same product every time.
Dom seemed to recognize the frustrations with his music earlier this year. During an interview with Billboard in January, when he was asked about quitting music, he said, “I had the most downtime between this new music, and that’s probably why it sounds the way that it does. It’s important for me to say that. After Get Home Safely, I realized you have to challenge yourself. In athletics, you play against a different team. In music, you play against yourself.” He follows that up, saying that he’s seeking to make music that’s timeless because “rap is one thing, and I’ve been rapping for a while, but making great songs is something else. That’s the challenge for me now.”
As Jeff Weiss, an esteemed music journalist and LA Weekly contributor, stated after the positive reception of Kendrick’s Damn., this is a golden age for Los Angeles hip-hop right now. Outside of TDE’s reign, guys like Vince Staples and Boogie who are leading the pack with complex ideas and thought-provoking reality raps. AD and G Perico are authentic street rappers who shared their unique perspective growing up in gang culture.
For Dom, whose swagger and laid-back style cut through when Kendrick, Nipsey Hu$$le, Casey Veggies, and others were coming up in the blog rap era, he’s an OG forever in debt to the city that made him. With seven solo mixtapes, an Other’s People Money compilation, and four albums all released independently, you can definitely make a case that at least four of his projects are still getting plays in 2017. (My picks: From The Westside With Love 1 + 2, Yellow Album, Get Home Safely.)
I’m a big advocate of second chance opportunities. If Dom chooses to stay in his lane as the rapper who can deliver feel-good West Coast anthems in the same way as DJ Quik, Kurupt or Warren G have done in the past, why fault him for that? So far, The Original Dom Kennedy has given us “Watermelon Sundae,” “1997,” “After School,” “South Central Love,” “Dominic” (and its Pt. 2), “When I Come Around,” “I Love Dom,” “Still Callin’,” a “My Type of Party” remix (Tyga and Juicy J snapped on that by the way), and many others.
Dom has collaborated with the West’s brightest stars like Ty Dolla $ign, Jay 305, and RJ, as well as rapped on a silky DJ Quik beat again on Rosecrans standout “Bad Azz” that made us wish for a Quik and Dom album. “Life Jacket” is too good.
Despite major publications overlooking Los Angeles Is Not for Sale, Vol. 1, the album isn’t actually as bad as some have made it to be. You can’t deny the potency of “California,” perfect for posting up and smoking out to, the mellowness of “96 Cris” and “Passcode” (with HBK Gang’s P-Lo), or even the elegance of “323 Go Crazy,” which is Dom at his best. If anything, give Dom credit for pushing himself to be a better storyteller and making a substantial body of work for his standards.
Another big component of Dom’s comeback is Half-A-Mil. Producer-turned-rapper Hit-Boy is an underrated lyricist, and together they deliver more thrills for LA late nights. Just imagine the gaudy aesthetics of hip-hop taken to the extreme, delivered by two rappers who are the purveyors of cool — that’s Half-A-Mil. When they nonchalantly teased their arrival on social media and dropped their first EP last year, it immediately got a favorable response: “Get It Off Ya Chest,” “Betty Shabazz,” and “100 Rounds” are all highlights. The second EP, released in February, is a treasure trove of new material featuring gems “Tupac,” “Avirex Leathers,” and “Top Floor.” A lot of these records get rid of traditional song structure — there are rarely any hooks — just Dom and Hit rapping back and forth like they’re the new Jim and Cam.
I’m banking that Dom’s Los Angeles Is Not for Sale, Vol. 2 and his upcoming Half-A-Mil album are enough to bring him back into rap’s good graces. Two singles from the albums are on streaming services and iTunes now. “Word Around Town” is a glitzy, Turbo switchin’ lanes record, and “The Hills” featuring Quentin Miller, sounds ideal for a windows down, dial up type of day. Again, there’s plenty of other music from artists you can consume come this summer, but Dom’s been quietly grinding, sharpening his skills until his moment arrives. All you have to do is press play.