“The interviewer asks me can I write without a beat/ I answer, ‘Dumbass can you dream without being asleep?’/ We know it’s possible but comparable to veggie meat/ Might do the trick but not the same, the feeling’s incomplete,” Sum professes over the throwback hip-hop beats of “Stillwaters”. From the onset of Dragon Volume 1, the MC credits the album’s multiple beatsmiths for constantly challenging his ability as a lyricist. Working extensively with members of his live alternative hip-hop collective, The Milky Way, Sum and co. deliver an album that reduces the bombastic club energy of his contemporaries for a classic flow reminiscent of mid-’90s message tracks.
P.U.D.G.E., The Milky Way’s bassist, helps form the album’s most lighthearted affair, the trumpet-heavy “Assholio”, as well as its most bleak minimal textures (see “Gun”). Computer Jay, the live outfit’s gadgets extraordinaire, produces a series of thick ivory scales and classic string harmonies on the Jak Progresso-featuring “Sandman”. Saturated with a heavy kick and muffled vocals, the track’s dynamics suffer from a rough mix-down, an issue that arises too often throughout the album.
The Blockhead-produced “Oblivion” contours an unlikely combination of back room free-jazz and A.I. radiation warnings for Sum to cryptically contemplate the current trajectory of human existence. This futuristic perspective is shared on the frantic beats of “Absinthe” and “Dragon” that trade the LP’s initial Tribe Called Quest vibe for Flosstradamus-level energy.
Across the album’s 14 tracks, the collection of producers showcases an encyclopedic knowledge of hip-hop’s last two decades but never tests established standards to create their own lasting mark on that timeline. For something more adventurous, just check out what Sum, P.U.D.G.E., and Computer Jay are doing with their fam as The Milky Way.
Essential Tracks: “Absinthe”, “Oblivion”