By: Tommy “T-Rod” Rodriguez
The more I listen to New Jersey hip-hop, the more I am fascinated by its variety. For such a small geographic region, the area has produced some of the most unique voices and sounds coming out of the underground. Az Izz is one of those one-of-a-kind voices.
The New Jersey native began his career as a member of the Jersey rap collective The Outsidaz, working with groups like Wu Tang, The Fugees, and even Eminem. This history seems to have bled into Az Izz’s solo work today, with Dopeliss being a continuation of that gruff, rough, and tough sound borne from the 90s and early 2000s. Az Izz is completely in his element here, giving us some equally scary and hard hitting tunes that are sure to appeal to fans of hip-hop’s golden age and good rap music.
Dopeliss starts with its best foot forward, setting the tone for the unique aesthetic you’ll find throughout its 10 tracks. “Let Me Get That” is a cutthroat posse cut featuring rapper Slang Ton, and Outsidaz members Pace Won, and D.U. The beat itself is menacing, a slow burn of minor percussion, turntables, and subtle tones bouncing throughout. It’s almost like the opening credits to a film: you’re getting a view of the film’s tone and strengths as you familiarize yourself with its characters. The main characters aren’t acting as heroes; they’re playing the villains, and they embrace that nature throughout the album. Az Izz and his crew rap extremely well on this minimalist beat, spitting notable quotables with a hunger that gets the heart pumping.
Az Izz is a fascinating MC, balancing blunt humor and villainy in a way few rappers can. “Crazy” is a perfect example of this, with Az Izz somehow melding Taco Bell quesalupas, stormtroopers, and hookah’s into a well-flowing verse. His sense of humor is in-your-face and nasty, but it works well with his ever-changing flow. “Gunz n Dice Games” works as a concrete example of Az Izz’s more serious nature, referencing crime and the rap game with a foreboding sense of violence. Az Izz is great at walking that humor/danger tightrope only a few rappers can walk, and Dopeliss is full of that balance, making every Az Izz verse engaging and fun.
“Ghetto” is one of the best songs from Dopeliss. The swaggering guitar line, splashes of horns, and crashing percussion paint Az Izz’s storytelling as a mythical tale. The song itself celebrates his upbringing and love for the ghettos of America, representing his background and showcasing the dangers that many wouldn’t be able to survive. His passion for his background is infectious, as is the beat, showing that even a guy as tough as Az Izz still has a soft spot for his past. In contrast to this autobiographical track, “Gettin’ It” is a marriage between crunk and boom-bap that works surprisingly well. The groove here screams Ghostface, but the horns sound like Lil Jon, making for some great instrumental magic to support Az Izz and Drift as they talk their shit. It’s off-kilter, but it’s too damn infectious to ignore.
“Nunya,” the biggest single from Dopeliss, is possibly the biggest experiment Az Izz has taken on this project…and its one of his biggest successes. Its mixture of slick electronics and bombastic horns brings a nice pickup to the album’s back end, with Az Izz providing real heat on the verses. His use of paranoia on the catchy hook provides a realistic gravity to his character, while his confidence on the verses gets the trunk knocking. He’s simultaneously invincible and vulnerable, giving the song a three-dimensional persona. “Interstate” sounds like something MF DOOM would love to hop on, a true villain’s theme with its sour piano chords. It’s a lyrical banger, using brute force to push Az Izz’s criminal background to the forefront. NAM. D.U., and DJ Profluent add to this evil nature, lacing each of their verses with their own exploits while still keeping up with Az Izz on a lyrical front.
If I can summarize Dopeliss in one sentence, I’d say this: Listen to the closer, “It’s Da $$.” Much like the rest of the album, this song brings the attitude in terms of vocal and lyrical presence, with Az Izz bringing the grit that makes the entire album a rollercoaster. The instrumental is off-kilter, loud, and extremely unique in its aesthetic. The features on Dopeliss, just as on this track, consistently perform well, adding their own flavor to each song. Dopeliss thrives off its personality, using a threatening nature and blunt sense of humor to keep the bars flowing over some cool instrumentation.
I think this one is a keeper for fans of hip-hop’s golden age, but I think younger listeners can rock with a few joints here. Give it a spin!
Standout Tracks: “Let Me Get That,” “Ghetto,” “Gettin’ It,” “Nunya,” “It’s Da $$”
Dopeliss has arrived to streaming services July 3rd. Stream it below! Special thanks to Az Izz, New Dawn Records, and Urban Elite Promotions for an early preview!
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