Whether the music behind it is soulful or gritty, Philadelphia Hip Hop has always been about aggressive emcees. Forcible bars are delivered with a sincerity that’s distinctly 215, and that’s the common element found in music from Schoolly D to Freeway, Black Thought to Vinnie Paz. One of the artists that’s achieving this well in the underground is Doap Nixon. Perhaps best known for his role with Army of The Pharaohs on Ritual of Battle and Unholy Terror, Doap steps forward with a sophomore album in Gray Poupon that asserts his voice and perspective, outside of his lyrical cartel.
While listeners are still familiarizing with Doap, “Are You Afraid of Me?” asks the question of why. Here, the emcee travels through his catalog, listing credits and collaborations, and compares them against other emcees ascending into the public eye. Joined by Block McCloud, the song is a highlight within the mustard-album. A built-upon ’80s Pop sample gives the record energy, and the recurring yelled question allows the song to retain its brawn. “Silent Murders” explains bluntly why Doap deserves to be here. Like his AOTP brothers Apathy, Celph Titled and Paz, Nixon demonstrates a fundamental knowledge of what and who came before him. Within the verses, the emcee describes his youth infatuation with Hip Hop, and chronicles the storied KRS-One and Just-Ice bumrush-the-stage takeover against P.M. Dawn. That’s a worthy point to illustrate, as it feels very parallel to why Doap is out to do with the mainstream: assemble a mutiny. As Doap delves through the moments in time, DJ Kwestion cuts classic lines up to make the chemistry as tight as possible. Interesting enough, the emcee that Doap may sound most familiar to is a City of Brotherly Love native: Kurupt. The rappers share a powerful cadences and a way of exuding vocal confidence without raising their voice into the microphone. Influences aside, Doap is his own man, and Gray Poupon allows the listener to come to recognize that after AOTP mic-time has seemed so limited.
Gray Poupon is about more than just Hip Hop though. Perhaps less political than Jedi Mind Tricks, Doap joins Reef The Lost Cauze for a knack for writing every-man verses that make his songs deeply tangible to its market. “You Need To Know” is first-person storytelling about a relationship that came undone, and a regretful tone makes the writing all the more personal and intimate. “Darkness” captures a city-imposed depression. The song looks at the ills of North Philadelphia, and polls every hung head found at bus-stops, stoops and “Chinese stores.” This is where Doap really stands out. His closeness to his subjects makes the music real and diary-like. Moreover, the emcee refuses to have a pity-party for himself, but uses moments like these to lament the conditions of the greater neighborhood, not just a hungry rapper looking for love.
For a self-released sophomore album, Gray Poupon is a strong success. Within the JMT-offshoot, this joins Reef’s Feast Or Famine as one of the most versatile and personal releases. Doap Nixon gave himself a persona, or rather – used this album to let the listener know who he is, not just who he wants to be, which is what 2008’s Sour Diesel appeared to be more concerned with. The elements used to blend that diversity aren’t always successful. Doap’s subjects cover a lot of real estate on this album, and with a lot of different producers and sounds, each moment may be surrounded with two others that are totally different. However, a collection of entries, thoughts and opinion, Doap sets himself as a man apart. One of the things that has made Black Thought’s verses so iconic is their ability to tell the world that it’s not always sunny in Philadelphia. Similarly, Doap Nixon’s latest offering plays like a gritty underground Rap version of What’s Going On? for all those who wonder.