The last time we heard from B. Dolan he was writing to us from a bomb shelter as the world ripped apart at the seams. On his newest album “Fallen House, Sunken City” he joins up with legendary indie-rap beatsmith ALIAS to survey the aftermath.
Dolan has already established himself as a master storyteller, but this time through he presents us with a full-throttle, unabashed, boombap hiphop record. You know, the kind of hiphop that was too grimy for mass consumption so it was declared “dead” by the unelected powers that be? With Alias behind the production board, B. Dolan’s aggressive delivery is accentuated by a special brand of bass-heavy breakbeats while the tailor made musical backdrops assist in the mood of impending doom.
As the title of the album may suggest, there is a fair amount of cynical content here, but that doesn’t mean the lyrics are wholly devoid of redemption. That would be too easy. What makes B. Dolan particularly unique as a lyricist is his ability to have philosophical underpinnings to every song without preachiness getting in the way of his art. The opening track, “Leaving NY,” is a great example of this technique. It balances the literal with the metaphorical and never tells the listener what they should or shouldn’t feel. The song has a truth of it’s own. In fact, that truth and message can easily be taken as the mission statement of “Fallen House, Sunken City.”
In 1999 B. Dolan moved from Rhode Island to NYC to pursue his passion. He had been writing and rapping for years, but Brooklyn’s Nuyorican Poets Cafe introduced him to spoken word which is when his career as a stage performer began. Finding himself on hard times he slept on park benches and subway trains before scoring a job as a doorman at a building that happened to be in close proximity to the Twin Towers. Just as he began piecing his life together the 9/11 attacks happened, leaving him in a paranoid mental state which ultimately resulted in his self-imposed exile from the birthplace of hiphop.
The move back to RI in 2002 proved to be a wise one for Dolan. Over the next few years hhe tapped into the local arts community, volunteered for at-risk youth programs, created the consumer activist website Knowmore.org, teamed up with Sage Francis, signed to Strange Famous Records and toured relentlessly from 2005 onward (most notably the Paid Dues Tour 2008 and Rock the Bells Tour 2009.)
It was on Sage Francis’ “Death Dance Tour” in 2007 that Alias and Dolan first conceived the idea of working on a full album together. Although Alias’ production is rooted in 90’s era hiphop, he had never produced a full rap album for anyone. In fact his production style had taken a turn toward more down tempo ambient-driven instrumentals by the early 2000’s. When the prospect of doing a full album with B. Dolan was presented, he took it as a challenge and an opportunity to fire up his MPC and return to a more traditional hiphop form.
It took two years of relentless work to mold the kind of album that not only avoids the spectrum of hiphop cliches, but downright destroys them. The true value of this record, however, is not in finger-wagging nostalgia for a lost golden era. At its heart, “Fallen House, Sunken City” is a record full of focused experimentation that would rather lead by example than romance the dead. “Economy of Words” finds Alias executing dubstep rhythms, “Body of Work” has Dolan exploring the mindset of a sex worker, and “Border Crossing” has a Providence marching band playing throughout.
Unlikely as it is, the two New England natives have crafted a sound rooted with authority in the best traditions of hiphop, with enough irreverence, energy, and vision to deface its tombstone and reanimate the corpse. This is post-rap, psychedelic-hop horrorcore politics.
Welcome to B. Dolan.
Welcome to a new breed of emcee.
Hip Hop is Undead.