As people anticipated The Great Gatsby hitting the silver screen, many swooned at the thought of elegant jazz tunes from the 1920s. Jay-Z and his right-hand man, Jeymes Samuel, aka The Bullitts, thought otherwise, and infused the film with momentous hip-hop bangers that matched the hype for the film rather than the mood.
The Bullitts’ debut album, They Die by Dawn & Other Short Stories, has a similar issue, teasing unique developments without delivering. The first track, “They Die by Dawn”, dresses the album’s foundation with classic western whistles and narration about “the darkness and the light” of the west. The production meshes this theatrical introduction with contagious hip-hop drum kicks and slick rhyme flow, illustrating the bad-assery of living as a true cowboy. Guest rhymer Jay Electronica’s call for “high noon to make the shadows dance” is confident and addictive enough for high replay value. The following track, “Murder Death Kill”, echoes this theme with smooth acoustic down-strokes and lyrics that break down the violence of such a universe.
The western theme is intriguing, but when Samuel attempts to break into pop-fueled fare, the overall effect is diminished. Samuel takes on cheesy anthems about walking amongst rainbows in “A World Inside Your Rainbow” and being “Supercool”, both tracks coming from a completely different universe than the impressive commencement and not coincidentally easily forgettable. The instrumentation coasts along the surface level and the vocals sound like bland chants, failing to capitalize on the successful hip-hop rhyme schemes. The special guest slots, including spoken word commentary from Lucy Liu, give the record some appealing sustenance, but they’re overshadowed by extraneous production tricks, like the dubstep wobbles in “Wait Until Tomorrow”.
While Samuel calls this array of developments a collection of short stories, it feels more like a series of contradictions. Honing in on a concise theme would’ve made They Die by Dawn much more memorable, especially because it’s evident that the potential is there. Hopefully, future releases will grow into full-feature projects rather than an incoherent pastiche.
Essential Tracks– “They Die by Dawn”, “Murder Death Kill”