As much as “New York is dead” talk floods rap message boards and blogs, the
east coast isn’t the only area to suffer from the South’s seemingly forever
reign over Hip Hop. Aside from The Game‘s emergence in 2005,
it can prove difficult for many everyday rap fans to name a notable new artist
coming from the west coast. Snoop reenergized his career with Tha
Blue Carpet Treatment
last year, but other Cali veteran emcees weren’t
fortunate to make as much of a dent with their most recent releases. It’s
perhaps fitting, then, that Kurupt and J Wells
release Digital Smoke, an album that plays as an ode to Los Angeles

If there’s one thing that Kurupt and J Wells
know, it’s how to represent their area. Kurupt has established
himself as an LA rap icon with his history with Tha Dogg Pound
and Death Row, and producer/emcee J Wells has
put in work as a member of Tha Likwit Crew. As far as subject
matter is concerned, Wells and Kurupt don’t
falter from the trademark Cali topics of blunts, gangsterisms and more blunts.
But the duo doesn’t seem to be aiming for originality; it’s focusing on execution,
and they accomplish that with flying colors. Digital Smoke shines
because of its full, head-on embodiment of the LA rap that Kurupt
helped pioneer and that J Wells has studied. While Wells
is a capable emcee, the album moreso plays as a showcase for his skills behind
the boards. Wells‘ polished
productions throughout deftly pay homage to his west coast forefathers,
equipped with knocking bass and busty chords on tracks such as “Get It,” but
with lush, feel-good grooves on offerings like the aptly-titled “Summertime.” Kurupt
shows up for work as well, fitting Wells‘ beats like a glove
and ably handling his verses, whether he’s laying back on “All We Smoke”
or threatening foes on “I’m Too Gangsta.”

Another important element of Digital Smoke is its extensive guest list.
Formatted similarly to Dr. Dre‘s classic The Chronic
that was released more than a decade earlier, nearly all of the emcees and
singers who show up on the disc help further establish the album’s California
feel. Other west coast vets Knoc-Turn’al and Tha Liks
flourish in their element, and younger emcees like Styliztik Jones
and Kurupt‘s brother Roscoe help show the
promise that the area still has to offer. Historic LA crooners Kokane
and Butch Cassidy continue to bring the same
Fundadelic-inspired vocals with their hooks, also important elements of West
Coast raps. Even when acts from other areas show up, like Atlanta’s Goodie
, they don’t throw things off; Big Gipp even shows
up for a separate, 27-second skit to give props to the duo.

Some may see flaws in the disc’s limited subject matter, and the abundance
of guests on the disc (only one non-skit track on the album comes without a
“featuring:” tag attached), Digital Smoke succeeds with its accomplishment
of its mission statement. While Kurupt and J Wells
may not gain many new fans with this offering, it’s bound to remind people of
just how dope west coast rap can be–and that may be just what the region needs