Back before the blogosphere erupted over Black Hippy and Odd Future, before every socially conscious release was weighed as “post-Kendrick Lamar,” West Coast Hip Hop was lyrically and aurally easy to digest. Dr. Dre, Snoop and Too Short put California on the map with weed-addled raps over melodic synthesizers and oozing bass, and the G-funk movement was rooted in a certain effortlessness that every listener wanted to emulate. One era’s not necessarily better than the other, but every time something new drops out of LA these days, it seems the two are arbitrarily juxtaposed. Those trying to imprudently trumpet the “return of the West” with each critically acclaimed album won’t find Dom Kennedy’s Get Home Safely anything out of the ordinary; those looking for any remnants of early ‘90s Hip Hop in today’s California scene will have the project in rotation for weeks to come.
Dom Kennedy is the genre’s ambassador for not trying too hard, and Get Home Safely stands out in 2013 for refusing to force anything. It also doesn’t challenge itself much, and the album’s potential is stunted by casualness eventually blending with complacency over the course of 16 songs. If Pusha T just came out with My Name Is My Name as the “conscious dopeboy,” then Dom’s the conscious hedonist—his strengths lying in candor and an unfiltered stream of consciousness that makes him a storyteller not over-telling his story. At times, Get Home Safely is conversational, like when he easily dismisses the haters and divulges into his daily lifestyle on “Dominic,” and other times it’s cliché, like when he rifles off tried-and-true lines about hoes on “All Girl Crazy.” But both songs—and the other 14 tracks on the album—are buoyed by plush, cohesive production that’s a Parliament sample and Nate Dogg hook away from bringing it back to 1992.
Despite dropping in October, Get Home Safely is brimming with summer jams, and the Futuristiks (producers of the album’s first 12 songs) arm Dom to the teeth with sunny soundscapes. “Honey Buns” has him spitting game over creeping bass, while “South Central Love” is a breezy cut dedicated to local ladies. Few tracks are without platitudes; there’s no excuse for lines like, “Niggas know how I do, bitches know how I do,” on “After School,” a song with nostalgic themes that has Dom musing over an old friend and the view from Heaven. And perhaps the line, “I talk about hoes ‘cause they be on us like that” from “Lets Be Friends” would’ve cut it on an early Death Row release, but in 2013, an emcee of Dom’s caliber can’t be regurgitating Hip Hop’s most hackneyed sayings.
That’s not to say Get Home Safely isn’t without its moments of brilliance. On “17,” Dom praises his father’s work ethic and slights The Beatles for Jodeci while claiming, “Before the president was black, shit, I wasn’t votin’.” The album’s last song, “The 5 Year Theory (Real Shit Last),” shows him packing his densest multisyllabics, reflecting on his career, longevity and independent hustle over triumphant horns. And the album’s shining moment, “Black Bentleys,” is loaded with introspection and quotables.
“I’m proud that I stayed up until 6:30 in the morning to do it to get it all out. It’s probably my favorite song I’ve ever written,” he told HipHopDX back in August. It certainly lives up to the hype.
The album’s focus on hyper-locality is as present in the lyrics as it is in the production, and name-drops of Taste of Soul, El Pollo Loco, Kenneth Hahn and Crenshaw do Los Angeles as much justice as the thick, Chronic-style basslines. There are certainly times when something is left to be desired, but even when it doesn’t feel like Dom’s saying much, he’s touching on a visceral component of Funk that’s been absent for quite some time. One characteristic of the album is Dom allotting the last minute of a song to let the beat ride out, stepping in only to repeat a chorus or give a shoutout. He does it on more than half of the tracks, but it’s strangely not a cop out. Instead, Dom lets the vibe of his project speak as loudly as its hooks and verses.
“Don’t withhold the knowledge you acquire,” Dom says in spoken word as he reads a letter from incarcerated cousin Joey Supreme. At times, it feels like he’s holding back when he could be churning out 16 “Black Bentleys.” But that would be forcing it, something that Dom Kennedy has no interest in doing after spending a half-decade building a fan base off of strictly keeping it real. The final line of Joey’s letter, which reads, “more importantly, keep supplying that dope music,” remains the top priority.