Harlem native Dave East has been quietly circulating the hip-hop blogosphere and New York radio channels of late, delivering gritty freestyles, lyrical singles and a strong mixtape in Black Rose. However, when Nas announced taking over Mass Appeal with Angie Martinez and that Dave East “was a new signee that he couldn’t really talk about,” the murmur around East turned into a roar. As his buzz gained momentum, Dave East gave hip-hop an early Christmas gift with Straight Outta Harlem. The mixtape came in perfect timing, as all the questions of ‘who this emcee was’ and more importantly, ‘why Nas picked him,’ were answered.
Straight Outta Harlem is mixed by Scram Jones and features a mix of solo tracks and freestyles over some of the year’s hottest records. It opens with hip-hop journalism’s pillar figures asking artists who they have their eye on. The answer is unanimously, Dave East.
Dave East delivers honest lyrics that reveal struggle and perseverance. “How Bout Now” is intimate and feels almost too personal to open the project. “Then she had that abortion” is three lines in. But as the story progresses, it is clear that these struggles were instrumental in Dave East’s journey and need to be comprehended in order to understand him as an artist. The warped beat pounds under East’s aggressive bars that ooze with Harlem swagger.
Tracks down, the Authentic produced “Gift of God” feels refreshing and the lightness of the piano keys balance Dave’s forceful flow. True to his Harlem roots, “Gift of God” addresses the never-ending debate among New York hip-hop. The Harlemite definitively spits while making declarations about his own skill in confident and boastful New York fashion.
The “Chiraq,” “Seen It All” and “Hot N*gga” freestyles are satisfactory. But East’s version of “0-100” goes harder and stands stronger than the original. As one of the closing tracks on the project, “0-100” is powerful. Dave’s bars command respect and evoke traditional Harlem, while juxtaposing the contemporary beat. Throughout the mixtape, East continues to bridge the gap between old and new, showcasing his timeless flow over novel production.
Dave East reps Harlem, stands up for New York hip-hop and brings nostalgia to the rap game. Straight Outta Harlem is a solid mixtape demonstrating lyrical aptitude as well as embodying an era in hip-hop. In the wake of a rap game that feels saturated by either turn up records, an abundance of features, or the blend of singing and rapping, Dave East’s rap project feels innovative. This new emcee has room to grow and more risks to take, but with a mentor like Nas, the world is his.