Is Dave East more than your Man Crush Monday?

by Quincy Cotton

While Dave East has been making mixtapes for the past seven years, I wasn’t actually made aware of him as an artist until recently. Even as a featured artist, I kept hearing his name in conversations because a lot of my women friends always talk about how attractive he is, so I wanted to see if his music was up to par with his status as a Man Crush Monday. His most recent EP, Paranoia: A True Story is a refreshing project that revisits an era of rap not seen in a number of years. East’s mentor and the man responsible for his record deal is none other than Nas himself, and this influence is immediately recognized in this project. It harkens back to a grittier era of East Coast rap, complete with a raw style of production and a subject matter that is far more bleak than its Southern and West Coast counterparts. Paranoia describes the perils of betrayal, staying true to oneself and the issues that follow newfound fame.

The line “Paranoia gettin’ the best of me” echoes through the EP’s title track, and sets a dark and cynical tone for the rest of the project.  808 Mafia’s production serves as a maliciously well-suited accomplice to East’s flow throughout, especially when sampling Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller movie Psycho in “Phone Jumpin’.” East has a very unique viewpoint to rap from in this tape, as he has just crossed over into the mainstream rap scene. He rhymes as though he’s still got one foot in the underground scene, painting vivid pictures of the struggle he endured while growing up in the Queensbridge projects of New York. With this knowledge in tow, it is even more interesting to hear his ability to switch from this narrative to boasting of his newfound superficial pleasures, such as expensive jewelry, clothes, and gourmet restaurants.

Aside from wrestling with his newfound notoriety, East also copes with the loss of his loved ones. With two cousins murdered a well as an aunt that passed away, East paints a narrative where he must constantly watch his own back. This is no more apparent than in the EP’s first skit, “The Hated.” East’s crew is quick to smile in his face and accept him with open arms, but behind his back they talk of how they’re plotting to show him the same fate as his cousins. They accuse him of not remembering where he came from, living a lavish lifestyle, and leaving the Queensbridge projects behind. He tackles the theme of integrity and staying true to oneself in the following track “The Hated,” featuring Nas’s signature stamp of New York storytelling. Later, once East’s problems and concerns about his newfound lifestyle are laid out, he begins to describe how he indulges in his wealth and fame. His wealth allows him to eat at five star restaurants daily, sport expensive jewelry and drive lavish cars. He also draws attention from women, completely smitten with his looks and status. He entertains this dialogue in theme moreso in “Perfect,” which features Chris Brown’s infectious vocals, another hip hop heartthrob.

While this is a solid, varied project, possibly most impressive is how East describes this EP as an “appetizer,” a primer for his upcoming studio album. It serves as him testing the mainstream waters, knowing what direction to take his sound in the near future, and how his underground roots will fair commercially versus a more modern approach. Paranoia represents a lot of what the East Coast rap scene used to look like, with a more contemporary touch in the form of its production and stylistic choices. It’s an interesting direction for East, and definitely leaves more to be desired. I would recommend it to any fan of old school hip hop, fans of the A$AP Mob or Flatbush Zombies.