Review: Dolla Black balances the line of success and lingering ambition on “Still Black”

Its one of the oldest sayings in the proverbial book that if you love something you have to let it go. The thought is that if you take a step back from what you’re so deeply in love with both you and it can grow, then return stronger than ever. This of course is only if the love is real. Sometimes as a musician a similar step away from creating music is a necessity at times if you expect to grow and reach higher heights.

Jackson’s Dolla Black tested this theory himself over the past few years. Save for his 5-track “Black Friday” EP, the joint EP with Savvy “Blk Crwn” and a few one-off freestyles things have largely been quiet for the accomplished indie MC. The time seems to have served him well as he has taken the summer by storm with his newest project “Still Black”. The collection of tracks tell the story of a man who is focused on his mission. All of the trials, successes and betrayals that have occured on his journey are addressed throughout the course of the project.

“My slowing down or lack of presence and music was pretty much due to trying to figure out how to provide whatever is needed to make it to the next level, and that tainted my creativity and my flow. I had a lot on my chest and shoulders and it was time for me to lighten my load and put it out. That’s exactly what I accomplished, and I think that’s the only intention I had when it came down to closing out this project.” – Dolla Black

The set begins with “King Done Come”, which serves as the true announcement that Dolla Black has once again arrived. The first voice heard is that of his own son, who anxiously asks “What happened to the music?” Aware that he has been away, Dolla then comes and address that question in a way only he can. Lyrically this record finds him in a position to let go of some of the humble traits that tend to shine from him on most occasions. He makes it his point to let it be known Dolla Black is still a name to reckon with.

A similar vibe is portrayed with AMB, another track in which Dolla Black is unabashedly honest in his position of the indie landscape. Production on this one is a bit different than what one may be used to from him, as it notably carries more of the vibe of 90’s boom bap. The mixture of the retro-feeling production and Dolla’s signature baritone vocals works well. Certainly a strong track, albeit not one of the strongest of the project in my opinion.

The distinction of my personal favorite song on this project comes with “Switch”. Here Dolla Black is joined by fellow Jackson-born MC J. Skyy in a collaboration that just feels perfect. The honest rhymes that revolve around the stress in Dolla’s life and how it causes adverse effects to some of the people around him hit close to home. Skyy balances this with a hook that is equal parts catchy and an informative warning for people to heed to. As far as features go, it’s tough to top J. Skyy here as he delivers poignant and insightful bars that make it feel as though you are truly inside of his brain.

We start to approach the mid-point of “Still Black” with the project’s current single “Money”. If the title isn’t a dead giveaway, this banger revolves around the money chase and how Dolla will stop at nothing to attain the riches he feels he deserves. It’s the first collaboration between him and North Mississippi crooner Fred Nice. Between Dolla’s witty verses and Nice’s bouncing production/infectious hook this is one of those songs that seemingly does not get old.

The first single, which came before “Still Black” was a full fledged project idea, comes next with “Wait For It”. More so than any, this song and the one prior to it represent a bit of a break from the EP’s overall moody and introspective tone. “Wait For It” is another song that is more catchy than it is meaningful in its lyricism, which allows for Dolla to bring some diversity to the overall palette of music being presented. This one is a bit of an older release, but it still thumps so I understand it’s inclusion.

The tone shifts back to reflectiveness on another personal standout, “Better Days”. You’d be hard pressed to find a rapper with their guard let down more than Dolla’s is on this song. He speaks earnestly about how the day-to-day grind of not only being an artist but also juggling family, friends and his day job. Often times MC’s lack a sense of vulnerability but Dolla Black embraces that here. Generally speaking I don’t think people always realize the weight a man can carry but it’s obvious what Dolla deals with after listening to this. Another added layer to the track’s appeal is the features from his own wife and child. It’s a unique approach and one that will touch a listener.

“Venting” follows as the next record and Dolla does just that. Here we hear the perspective of a rapper who has accomplished a good bit – all while dealing with the burning urge that still longs for much more. His frustration can be felt as the sparse production from Rashad Street lets his vocals take center stage. The stress of chasing his dream is the topic as Dolla reveals some of the more insecure thoughts that come across an artist’s mind. Thoughts of quitting, wondering if people truly support you, asking yourself should you really be pursuing this, these are all topics that are addressed. It’s another strong entry on “Still Black”.

We reach the project’s conclusion with “Pray For My City”. If you live anywhere near its safe to say you know Jackson, Mississippi has its fair share of issues. While I personally love the city, it’s a stretch to say it’s perfect. Dolla Black takes a look at some of the worse occurrences in the city over the past year and packs them all into a touching ode for his stomping grounds. Added melodies from Roc and Hollywood Luck help to round out the emotional single that closes the 8-track project.

What I admire more than anything about “Still Black” is the unabashed honesty carried throughout it all. From the time you hear Dolla’s son as the first voice, til the last note it feels as though you’re having a one-on-one conversation with Dolla. Though he of course has some moments where he will get the party started, he largely just gets a lot of things off of his chest. You cannot always find projects that leave you feeling as though you know the artist better after listening to it but “Still Black” certainly fits the mold.

The quality of this EP should also be commended. All of the mixing and mastering is flawless and it is sequenced well throughout. Merc B. Williams provides comedic release with multiple well-timed skits helping to lighten the mood. It all makes a perfect storm and a strong EP. If you ask me, this project stands toe-to-toe with all of the major releases that have come in Summer 2018. It should certainly be in your rotation.

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