Breaking a hip-hop act in the District of Columbia has been proven a mounting feat in the wake of Southern bass domination. The region of the East coast that melds Mason Dixon soulfulness with the true grit of a major metropolis identifies with neither too much, creating a unique musical texture that at times is indescribable. Go-go, anyone?
And while a new wave of notables from New York and Los Angeles is nothing to be unexpected, the mantle for D.C., or the DMV as it is called by natives (to be inclusive of Maryland and Virginia), has been shouldered by only a few nationally recognized names. From the outer perimeter of the tri-state, it appears either a lockout, or a lack of rap novelties is responsible for the D.C. lag, yet, those who know the federal city more intimately know that neither speculation is true.
Dutifully answering the call to represent his hometown, Phil Adé emerges with R.O.S.E., a mixtape that challenges just what D.C. has to offer. Distinctive from the colloquial drawl of Wale’s cadence, and Fat Trel’s street-wise lyrics, Adé’s flair is in giving just enough of both to personalize his fifth and most acclaimed effort. R.O.S.E., an acronym for “Result of Society’s Evil,” is inspired by Tupac’s famed allegory of a rose growing through concrete. Adé uses sound bytes from Tupac himself, Dr. Martin Luther King, President Obama, and D.C. community activist Tony Lewis, Jr. to emphasize his social message without actually having to give one. That is, the 17 tracks, laden with music producer Sunny Norway’s handiwork is not a heavy handed PSA for Adé’s campaign. Instead, songs like “The Dreamer,” “Big Mistake,” and “Get Back,” narrate his struggle to both attain and manage success in the foreground of a “money, cash, h*es” culture. When Adé decides to indulge, he only shows his versatility. On “Every Bag” he name checks designers like a high end merchandiser, establishing that even a conscious mind can appreciate couture. Collaborators Bun B, Rockie Fresh, Phil Da Phuture, and D.C. R&B break-out Raheem Devaughn find Phil Adé in good company –further proof of the rappers dexterity to be both a party starter and a problem solver.
Sonically, R.O.S.E. has all the polish of a big label release. Cohesive in sound, this mixtape has commercial promise. Still, the witty lyricist knows firsthand the difficulties that come with being a DMV rapper. After a two year hiatus from releasing music, it is evident that with R.O.S.E. he intends to be a mainstay –a determination that may change the landscape for D.C. artists to come. Phil Adé, and the crop of young rappers that share his zeal, are undoubtedly on the come up. And while DC may not a hotbed for rap superstars that Atlanta or Brooklyn has been, to say that the city is just warming up, is an understatement.