I was first introduced to Dudley Perkins’ music, in 2005. My best friend had gone to Japan to propose to his, then, fiancé. When he returned, he brought me back a mixtape of Dudley’s songs, and explained to me that in Japan, this guy was pretty popular. We popped the disc in and listened. I won’t pretend that his music floored me at first listen. I mean, it got my head nodding a bit, but I wasn’t curled up, spasming due to lyrical brilliance. But I was intrigued.
After some research, I found he rapped under the name Declaime, and I went and dug up some of his older albums, like Illmindmuzic, and Andsoitisaid and those were the records that hooked me to the Dudley Perkins movement. His sort of, off-kilter flow, and his altruistic positive sensibility, all laced with Madlib production definitely won me over, and I became a fan.
On his new album, Self Study, Declaime (Perkins) gives us more of what we’ve all grown accustomed to. Heavily funked-out tracks, weird, but always honest flow about positivity, life purpose, and the state of music. The release of the album was coupled with Interplanetary Peace Talks 2012 A.U., a documentary about Perkins. Though the title of the album seems drenched in self- righteousness, and the title of the film is trite and grandiose, they both are actually opposite of what they infer. There are moments in the album where Declaime is airing out angels and demons he’s dug up from some deep inner pit, but for the most part he’s calling out, perhaps, for other people to take part in some self study. For instance, on “Coonspiracy,” a song undoubtedly aimed at emcees who rap about opulence and destruction, he makes it clear that phoniness must come to an end and should no longer be tolerated. Then, on “Dirty Dude,” he calls out crooked cops, but he does it in the voice of a blood thirsty police. The one song that was explicitly autobiographical is the title track, “Self Study,” in which he literally tells his life story, and how he transformed from geek, to gang member, to avid emcee, to, I suppose, messenger. It’s my favorite song on the album, and it’s perfectly complimented by Georgia Anne Muldrow on the hook.
“Self Study,” the song, and the album as a whole makes more sense when you watch the documentary, Interplanetary Peace Talks 2012 A.U. It shows the story of Dudley Perkins, a boy from the ghetto of Oxnard, childhood friend of Madlib and Oh No, short-term American soldier, odd-jobber, father, obsessive music-maker and collaborator, and last but not least, beacon of light. It outlines the fact, that to Dudley, his career has always been bigger than music. Instead, his life, his rhymes, his voice, is about spreading hope and positivity, and perpetuating change and unconditional love.
Sure, this all sounds super hippy, and maybe even slightly corny, but I promise it isn’t as cliché as it seems. This isn’t some coffee shop lecture to a crowd of spaced out potheads. Nor is it just Dudley pontificating on spiritual change. The documentary also shows Dudley just having a good time with his kids, cooking and playing drums. It shows him laughing with his friends, getting high and drunk. It shows him being as “normal” and as raw as anyone. But it also shows him walking the walk, when it comes to the belief that music is power. There’s a scene where Dudley went to the record store. He walked around and literally checked to see what people were buying, and told them that if the music was “dark” to put it back. He chanted, “No dark music.” He even told one young woman holding a Too Short record, to put it back, because it degrades her.
I know that to many folks, this type of behavior can come across as high-falutin, or soap-boxy and if that’s what you think, well, you aren’t totally right. Sure, there are moments on Self Study that can be construed as preachy, but when I watched Interplanetary Peace Talks 2012 A.U., and then went back and listened to it again, I realized that all I’ve been hearing and seeing for all this time, since my friend brought that mixtape back from Japan, was an honest, evolving, awkward emcee, with an abstract mind and a massive heart, just trying to justify his blessings and his time here on earth. He just happens to be passionate enough to air his conviction of change, despite trend, relevance, or judgment. It’s not the first time we’ve seen it, and hopefully it won’t be the last.