More and more it seems like rappers and emcees are changing their style and releasing albums filled with singing instead of rapping. While Lauryn Hill was one of the first to do this (and do it right), many others followed in her footsteps. Q-Tip, John Forte, Cee-Lo of Goodie Mob all began singing instead of rapping. California's own Declaime is doing it too but in a different way. While Declaime hasn't given up on rapping, he has released an album of just him singing and doing spoken word over beats produced by Madlib. "A Lil Light" is that album released under the name Dudley Perkins (his real name). Stones Throw is a record label that has always put out quality material. Wildchild, Lootpack, Quasimoto, The Funky 16 Corners compilation, are all worth checking out. Dudley Perkins' "A Lil Light" is something that we weren't expecting. Even though Perkins released the single "Flowers" (where he sang), I don't think people were expecting an entire album.
While Perkins does have an extremely unique sounding voice, he's not a true singer. Many critics say that there are 2 kinds of singers in the world. First, there are the ones who have stellar voices but they usually sing other people's songs and those songs have a more commercial style or appeal. Second, there are those singers who do not have an amazing voice but they do have something important to say. Dudley Perkins fits in to the second category. Fueled by some incredible production by Madlib, Dudley Perkins has found a way to tackle issues ranging from God, jail, his mother, money, drugs, women, space, and even nuclear war. While many of the songs do not have a typical or standard song structure, most of them work well. Basically, there's a very well produced Madlib beat and Perkins sings his lines over and over again like a mantra. In some ways, he style is reminiscent of Mark E. Smith of The Fall. Vocally, his off-key and high-pitch singing sounds like Damon Albarn's work with Gorillaz. Yesterday's New Quintet is even on 2 tracks but that is not a big surprise since YNQ is just another dimension (or five) of Madlib's persona. Everything Declaime (or Dudley Perkins) has created has been interesting and always tapped into certain emotions. "A Lil Light" is no different.
Many of the songs on "A Lil Light" work because of the emotion and the honesty that is heard and felt from Perkins. "Falling", one of the best songs on the album, is mainly a spoken-word piece over an incredible Madlib beat. The mid-tempo beat just glides along as the very complicated and melancholy orchestra melodies have both a sad and angelic quality. The many different melodies change and integrate with each other. It is the best Madlib beat I have ever heard. Perkins has many deep lines like "I've seen what a lack of knowledge can do to a civilization" and "Only you can lift you up." He even sums up the project with a couple of lines too: "…I hang on the edge of this universe / Sing off key / Talking too loud / Embracing myself to cushion the fall / I shall tumble into deep space…" The song is simply incredible, as it not only shows Perkins' knowledge but a vulnerability that does not come through in much straightforward hip-hop. "Solitude" is the following track that has a very cool rim-shot driven Madlib beat. Perkins does some more spoken-word in the beginning but the singing soon begins. Dudley shows his vulnerability again in a poignant way: "Do you know the way to my home? / See, I'm lost and I'm all alone." It is a side to Declaime that we have never seen before. Another emotional track is the opening "Momma". Madlib's driving beat has the wonderful scratchiness of the sample in the background with some tiny vocal samples too. Perkins sings a moving tribute to his mother as he repeats, "It was you who gave me life, Momma!" Another tribute song is delivered later in the album with "Lil Black Boy". This time, Perkins sings to his son. Madlib's beat is very cool. The vintage sample of the plucking strings and the thick handclap beat works perfectly. Perkins repeats his lines again for the hook: "Little black boy / you give me joy!" In his verses, he half-sings and half-talks his advice to his son. It is very touching and enlightening. Another emotional sounding track is the completely a cappella hidden track after the last song "Gotta Go". While the lyrics are not overtly emotional, the overall sound and feeling is. The hidden track is reminiscent of the 50's doo-wop where men stood on the corner and sang. Of course, Perkins handles all the vocals.
Other good songs are not ones that are very emotional but ones that just sound very cool. "Yo Soul" has a pounding beat with another vintage sounding light guitar sample and strong handclap rhythms. Perkins chants and sings the repeated hook: "…You can feel it in your body / You can feel it in your soul…" The hook becomes like a mantra and has a strong hypnotic quality. Declaime was always known for some great songs about smoking weed and "Flowers" is very cool. While some of it sounds silly in the Ol Dirty Bastard singing way, there is a serious undertone to it too. Madlib's jazzy piano and nice snares make this song a very up-beat and happy song to get high to. "Lord's Prayer" is almost like a conversation or a tribute to God. The vocal melodies work very well as Perkins sings: "…It's time to shut you fake men down / Shut you fake men down / Y'all people just don't know / Y'all people just don't know / Lord, will they ever know? Father! / Father!…" Out of all the cool sounding tracks, "Just Think" truly slams with an intense funky, ghetto quality. Madlib's guitar sample is deep in the background and other string instruments add to the melody. Perkins' voice is very high and off-key for the verses but for the hook, he uses a deep ghetto voice and improper English: "Keep your hand clap, come on!" The handclap rhythm along with the guitars and the other samples at first sound like a cacophony but it all comes together to make a very cool track. Another entertaining track is "Washedbrainsyndrome" where Perkins tells us a story by singing. The narrator of the song is in jail and tells us about how he was brainwashed by a woman and was led to murder. Even though there is a humorous approach to the song and subject matter, the severity of the song is never lost. Finally, "The Light" is a very cool track. Not catchy at all, "The Light" is inspirational in many ways. "Find your light!", Perkins sings in a falsetto manner.
While many hip-hop albums have skits and interludes, "A Lil Light" has these tiny cacophonic tracks. Yesterday's New Quintet is on both "Worship" and "Gotta Go". (Yesterday's New Quintet is a fictional band where every member is actually Madlib.) "Worship" is just a myriad of sounds and instruments playing at the same time as Perkins croons in a high-pitched and off-key manner. It is somewhat useless. The album closer, "Gotta Go" (inspired by Sun Ra), is somewhat of a protest song. Perkins shouts like a man who was driven insane: "…Nuclear war! / It's a motherf*cker! / Don't you know? / If they push that button, your ass gotta go!…" It turns into chaos very quickly (similar to the chaos of nuclear war). Still, it's short, sweet, and actually entertaining. The opening intro track "Do you Really Know Me?" is odd. The album starts off with Perkins coughing into the microphone. "Forevaendless" is another odd but entertaining track that is extremely short. Perkins finds comfort in the fact that the universe is "endless". Disco creeps into the interlude too. It is obvious that his thoughts and his influences are endless. While many of the actual songs do have a somewhat sloppy or chaotic sound and feel to them, the interludes push the boundaries even further.
While the album is actually very well done, some aspects of it can get somewhat annoying. Perkins does not have a voice with range so, when he sings at a high-pitch, it is very off-key. Most of the time it works but sometimes, it does not. "Muzak" is a perfect example. The loud rumble of Madlib's beat pounds into the listener's ears. Perkins uses a voice box as he sings with a very high-pitched and off-key tone: "Music! God bless this music!" While the beat and the sentiments are wonderful, the sheer noise is a little like nails scratching on a blackboard. The song should have been made into one of those interludes.
Dudley Perkins (aka Declaime) has always been a creative force in hip-hop. "A Lil Light" walks the tightrope of serious singing and singing for fun or humor. While many people may be turned off by his high-pitched and off-key singing style in places and the sloppiness of the songs, the emotion and the overall vibe is what makes this project special. Declaime's other side-project "Madmen On Arrival EP" also had that cacophonic and sloppy feel but it was not as well-executed or as special as "A Lil Light". Ol Dirty Bastard is not well-accomplished singer but he is entertaining. When Dudley Perkins sings, he can be humorous at times, but he also can enlighten, entertain, uplift, and heal. Declaime is not afraid to take chances and the varieties of vocal styles are extremely unique. The layered vocals, wide ranges of styles, along with a variety of themes and honest emotion all come together to make this project work. Another major positive aspect is the sense of pure experimentation of the project. Both Perkins and Madlib display quite a bit of courage releasing something like this. There is a strong improvisational feel to many of the songs and it is evident that Madlib and Perkins are always seeing eye to eye. Stones Throw, as a label, is truly releasing interesting and brave material. Unlike much hip-hop, Perkins uses a singing LP to display quite a bit of vulnerability. Lyrically and emotionally, Perkins (or any other emcee) never sounded so confused, sad, frustrated, intelligent, introspective, or astute. The album flows well because of these emotions and the variety of themes. Madlib's production gives the album fluidity. They work perfectly together. For those who just discovered Declaime, his hip-hop album "Andsoitisaid" is much more accessible. His Dudley Perkins persona is not only for fans, but also for people with a more jazzy, improvisational, or experimental approach to music. Madlib and Dudley Perkins truly connected on this project and made something special. Some people will not get it, but some will. While it is not for everybody, it is tight and loose at the same time. It is wonderful that people like Madlib and Dudley Perkins are pushing the boundaries of hip-hop. "A Lil Light" by Dudley Perkins shines a lil brighter than expected.