Fallen House, Sunken City
At first glance, it wouldn’t be too difficult to cast B. Dolan off as Sage Francis Lite. They’re both Caucasian, portly, heavily-bearded members of the Hip-Hop community; not exactly a stereotype. Sage met Dolan years ago, and has released both of B.’s albums on his Strange Famous Records label. The pair toured together last summer doing Rock the Bells shows, and both could be safely grouped in the world of indie-rap, a subgenre that’s lost much of the presence it had about a decade ago.
But, musically, big differences exist between the two. For one, Sage has never done anything nearly as elementally hip-hop as Fallen House, Sunken City. Here, Dolan abandons the poems (both recorded and live) that laced much of his previous effort, The Failure, in favor of some straight-up rapping, all over Alias’s drum-heavy boom-bap-influenced production. The result is an in-your-face, no-holds-bar album of emotion and activism that would undoubtedly scare the living shit out of your CEO father or investment-banking uncle.
Given the MC’s status as co-founder of consumer awareness website knowmore.org, some verbal activism is to be expected. But unlike the carping and complaining that many of these artists who crown themselves “revolutionary” tend to do, Dolan both explains and elaborates. On “Fifty Ways” he raps about getting taken advantage of by the superpowers that be, illustrates said superpowers on “Earthmovers,” and continues to fear corruption on “The Reptilian Agenda.” There are no mixtape-y rap-just-to-rap type of songs on FHSC; every bar and chorus serves a distinct purpose.
Dolan shifts back and forth between two gears on this album: the huge, intense sound that he employs on songs like “Fifty Ways” and “Economy of Words,” and the softer, more intimate voice he uses on records like “Marvin” and “Body of Work,” the latter of which might be the best song on this album. It’s a poetic, moving piece about a female sex worker that brings you right to the story’s scene, as told by the women herself through the words of the MC. On the song, he ditches the in-your-face type raps utilized earlier and settles comfortably into storyteller mode, calmly and soothingly piecing together a fascinating, yet haunting narrative.
It’s an unfortunate reality, but as Hip-Hop as anyone would like to brand this, it’s too hard-hitting to possibly poke its head through the soil and into the over-ground. Fact is, it’ll be much more appreciated by “underground fans” (those still exist, no?) who get their radio rap fix on Hot 97 – but hate having to do so – than by mainstream fans looking for the next hot thing. Still, it’s clear that B. isn’t concerned, and the material benefits from it.