“Web 2.0” has been the single most influential factor in the music industry today. The democratization of hip-hop that’s occurred in its wake is a mixed blessing however. On the one hand, anybody with Pro Tools, Fruity Loops, and a halfway decent mic has the ability to put their joints out and potentially get a name (looking at you, Soulja Boy and Kitty Pryde). Conversely, there’s a plethora of sub-par wack material to sift through to get to the realness. I’ve been a lurker on the message boards of Okayplayer for over ten years and I remember vividly some cat by the moniker of Dumhi posting the fruits of his labor in The Lesson. Truthfully, his initial efforts left a lot to be desired but duke’s come a long way. He’s teamed up with fellow Philly native Ethel Cee for a joint project, Seven Thirty, and the results is easily one of the best EPs of 2012.
Seven Thirty is a prototypical piece of work in the spirit of Guru and Premier, with both the emcee and beatsmith putting a lead foot on the gas pedal of the engine of creativity, refusing to relent until the wheels fall off or the listener begs for mercy. As a producer Dumhi is light-years more advanced than his fledgling offerings on the OKP boards and Ethel Cee’s pen game permanently cements her as not just a femcee to check for, but a lyricist period. Around these parts comparisons to Jean Grae are inevitable, but Ethel Cee’s timbre and go for broke onslaught of punchlines are more comparable to Invincible, albeit with a supremely natural propensity to ride a track and style it out in inimitable fashion.
“Coke and Yoga,” the first single, is a captivating creation. Dumhi does things on the boards that every head dreams about. He sets the mood and tone quite ably, as disparate as the two concepts are, and Ethel Cee tells a tale of moral ambiguity documenting an experience with the devil’s dandruff. “Lost” takes the listener on a surreal, barely lucid journey. Dumhi lifts the harps from the soap opera snippet at the beginning of the track throws it over some boom bap while EC spits with clarity about the unhappy side of love. “Valentine” is solely a Dumhi endeavor and homie gets looser than escapees from Alcatraz. While a man breathlessly whispers the lines of “My Funny Valentine” (a song made famous by Frank Sinatra and Miles Davis) Dumhi layers no less than three acoustic guitar riffs and jazzy upright bass over a straightforward break. Lyrically Ethel Cee goes for the jugular on every track but “Last Hurrah” is the living embodiment of the Grim Reaper coming to take souls. Dumhi is up to the challenge of meeting his cohort’s standard, blessing her with a joint showcasing what they both do so well, effortlessly employing multiple subtle aspects of their respective crafts that, combined, separate the good from the great.
Sure, hip-hop ain’t what it used to be, but under the old paradigm an EP like Seven Thirty wouldn’t exist. A female emcee who refuses to cave in to the misogyny, swag, and style over substance steez along with a producer given a chance to literally grow before our eyes could never have been fully realized. Whether Seven Thirty is a one-off or the beginning of a fruitful artistic relationship, the music and culture as a whole is better than its ever been due to the fact that if hip-hop fans are willing to dig a little bit, they can discover gems like this.