REVIEW: Reggie B – “DNA” [Tokyo Dawn Records, 2013]

DNA art Cash Money was an army, better yet a navy. Reggie B is more like a non-profit organization. When he sits down to knock out an album as only a one-man band from the Top whose funk is always on the one can, he (without fail) writes a mission statement. In the case of DNA, his latest offering to the denizens of Planet H and the legion curious uninitiated, that statement is “Do You Wanna Ride,” all Zapp bedrock courtesy of G-Funk torchbearer B. Bravo wherein the titular question floats stylishly and introduces filaments that will weave through the contained compositions – ancient Egyptology, progression as priority, the import of past on future, and the sum equation comprised of influence and innovation that Reggie has been refining for decades (future music, in the parlance of).

The classic components – your cytosine, your adenine – aren’t really relevant here. The breakdown on DNA can be parsed thusly: collaborations, solos, and re-works (the reader/listener will note some categorical crossover). The collaborations skew towards twinship (however fraternal) with hip-hop, belying Reggie’s early work for rapping peers.

Tracks where he is paired with a rapper (or a producer known primarily for hip-hop a la “Martian Man”) serve as niches for Reggie’s most adventurous and interesting lyrics on the record – from taking a look at the bleak function of today’s radio stations on “Where’d The Music Go” to soliloquizing about isolation and its effects on the aforementioned DJ Spinna assist to Onra’s light-cycle whipping, at Aladdin’s Castle on the OutRun machine BPM work with harmonic mouth jazz and an exhortation to travel within when it gets real on “Light Horizon.” Even without lyrics, the message (or at least the place) is clear as Reggie and frequent cohort Lenny D get all Tubbs and Crockett on “Addictive.”

“Brown Paper Bag” kings even the aforementioned – Chocolate City son, 00genesis, combines swaying electric wind chimes, stuttering junkyard percussion and a dirty filtered bassline (you’d swear he dipped a fishhook into RZA’s basement still flooded from ’93 and tweaked his catch on D.C. go-go rhythms), and Reggie does the Charlie Brown defiantly, finessing an act of betrayal into a seething shuffle only to pass it off coolly. That coin’s flip side is the lush “Love Me” (another Lenny D joint), as Reggie explores what happens when relationships go stale – the frankness and clear care with which he addresses the subject is a perfect parallel to the absolutely joyous production.

Then there are the re-works – not likely something the casual fan would recognize as previously dropped loosies now festooned with choral (and somehow ill-fitting) horns (“Every Pharoah Needs A Queen”) or swapping Brother of Moses raps for playful shit-talk and key lines (“Hypnotized”) – but new dogs up to old tricks nonetheless. This sort of post-placement is an interesting comment on Reggie’s most recent evolutions, but it works no better than on “Poison Candy,” a track that needed the context of a Reggie B full length to truly shine.

The solo excursions engage most as a subset, appropriate since Reggie helms every note. Club story to love story “Her Own Way” details the charms of an independent woman with a subtle nod to Prince in the synth-drenched string stabs on the chorus, “Databan” is another engaging instrumental that will make even January’s I-35 feel like July’s PCH. Title sureshot “DNA” features Reggie’s most stretched-out, breezy vocal performance on the album, a re-iteration of its motifs and an assurance that codes writ as continents can be framed in the space of a song.

When the album closes with “Orion/The Return,” a jam beginning on the corner of loose and meandering that crashes into earth (or say subsoil) at the 3:17 mark with some impeccably executed 6-string pyro courtesy of Kevin Pierce, finally released back into strata by a fluttering, dramatic build, one envisions a soul fully at home. The final tympani hit seems to mimic the openness of life in the face of an eventual ending, a future both limited and limitless.

Much like the Orion of myth Reggie once again proves a hunter of sounds, and like a genetic strand both his musical origins and visions are wholly apparent in this blueprint, mutated into Reggie’s truest musical portrait to date by making neat splices of his musical kindred. As DNA closes, all questions are answered by completing the cipher back to that which it originally posed: “Do you wanna ride?” The last link in the circle, not the termination of a strand – coincidence that opus begins with O? Reggie B’s latest is also undoubtedly his greatest; the songs within prove that betting against this Kemetian son’s further rise into unknown galaxies is unsafe at best.

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Phil Torpey
Phil Torpey
In the street we walk as beggars, in the alley faithless kings.

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