Hip-hop’s funny. Critics will stress the theory that there’s nothing new in hip-hop, that hip-hop is dead and that MCs need to strive to be different, yet when a new MC emerges, critics will jump toward the first comparison they can find to pigeonhole the MC. Granted, emerging DMV (DC, Maryland & Virginia region) MC Phil Adé of 368 Music Group will undoubtedly be compared to DC’s current golden boy Wale and those comparisons aren’t necessarily so far off. The large percentage of that comparison can be attributed to their vocals, but when you come from a place where accents are as strong as they are in DC and Maryland, people are bound to make that comparison, but that shouldn’t bother the artist or discourage new listeners. Wale opened a door in recent years and DMV artists are taking advantage of the opportunity to bum-rush the game, as is to be expected.
Regarding his approach, which seems to reach far beyond the limits of the mid-Atlantic region, Adé explains: “The ‘Metro’ area no matter what anyone says is my home. That’s where my heart is, but being from more than one place is what makes me more of an interesting person as well as an artist. I rap for everybody.” Adé has also spent time living in California, Alabama and Florida.
Phil Adé’s recent mixtape The Lettermandiffers from the pattern of Wale’s career in that the go-go influence is not as prevalent in Adé’s work, though instrumentation is definitely something Adé gets down with. The high production quality on The Letterman shows that Adé has a good ear, showing diversity while also remaining true to the lane he fits into. While Wale went from street-level hits like “Nike Boots” to more mainstream efforts and Lady Gaga assists over time, Adé goes straight for general appeal, which could be viewed by some as problematic off top. The Letterman, hosted by the ubiquitous Don Cannon, serves its purpose, however, of introducing an artist not by merely showing you that the guy can string 16 bars together, but that he has his own unique story to tell. This is evidenced by tracks like the jazzy, deftly-mixed “The Letter” (video below), a thoughtful joint on which Adé bares his soul on this track, discussing everything from family issues to selling out to the industry. “Like Dat” which features fellow DMV-er of African descent Tabi Bonney (Tabi reps: “Nigeria & Togo connected!” before shouting out various DC ‘hoods) is another favorite, a high energy joint that doesn’t reinvent the wheel but doesn’t need to…it’s hot ’cause it just is, from the production to the verses.
In my opinion, mixtapes do a good job of letting artist, fan, and label know (a) what the artist has to offer and (b) exactly what areas can be improved upon or changed for the album. In Adé’s case, the R&B element deeply infused into The Letterman borders on pervasive and at times one can forget they’re listening to a hip-hop artist. Tracks like the somewhat-trite trickin’ anthem “Pay 4 That” and the annoying chorus on “Paid In Full” seem like joints better left on the cutting room floor. However, smooth joints like “Worth Your Time” find the balance between this R&B element and Adé’s rhymes and nobody can deny that the dude knows how to put a track together.
Fortunately, there are more than enough tracks to go around on the project, giving listeners the ability to see Adé go in on a broad range of tracks and prove he’s somebody to watch out for. The Lettermancomes off like a full album, confirming that Adé’s strength is his songwriting ability, giving you full compositions as opposed to just 2-3 verses over a beat. Hip-hop fans know from experience that freestyles don’t move units (see Canibus), so if Adé takes the same approach to his album as he has to The Letterman, he’ll definitely be set up for success. There’s nothing new under the sun, but once an artist discovers his lane, as Adé has, and masters it, there’s no stopping him.
Phil Adé – “The Letter”