The Cali MC swaps lyricism for cool-out tunes
Everybody is talking about West coast rappers. Either Kendrick is flaming opponents, Problem is squawking over DJ Mustard beats, or Nipsey is flipping mixtapes for $100 a pop. One rapper who’s consistently stayed in discussions is Dom Kennedy, known for his smooth summer soundtracks that come fully equipped with impeccable beats and a feel for crafting excellent long players. Now he’s back with the highly anticipated Get Home Safely, which looks to set the bar even higher for Dom, if not the rest of the rap world.
It’s been a long time coming for Dom Kennedy’s first physical retail album to drop. His debut mixtape 25th Hour dropped in 2008, and by 2011 he was iTunes-certified with From the Westside With Love II on iTunes. But his new album Get Home Safely will mark the first time that the independent artist is being sold in Best Buy. No middleman, no record label. Just Dom and his team. That alone is a crowning achievement.
Dom has a gift for elevating everyday events and making them sound majestic, or at the very least, effortless. He’s not a gaudy show-off, preferring Mickey D’s over five-star restaurants (“Dominic”) and being on the block instead of shopping in Rome (“17”). At a time when rappers are dropping names of foreign countries that they’ve never even been to, it’s a fresh change of pace to hear a rapper saying he doesn’t want to leave his people. He doesn’t have to talk about traveling to Europe to sound like royalty—Dom can make a Häagen-Dazs sundae sound like a What Would Yeezus Do?-style stunt.
Yet Dom has never tried to be a rappity-rap spitter. Eminem’s “Rap God” proved that surgical talent doesn’t always equate to enjoyable music, and Dom excels in making the latter. Lovers of 2012’s The Yellow Album are the first to admit that Dom makes strictly “summer music” that can accompany a lazy day of lounging and partying. The project isn’t exactly headphone music to zone out, but more like background jams that sound great while you’re sipping margaritas or playing basketball.
On Get Home Safely, Dom’s sound has become something of a dream world that can’t be fractured or interrupted. His music transports the listener to his sunny side of the world from beginning to end. Don’t get it twisted, though—Dom can spit when he wants to, like on “Black Bentleys” and the end of the first half of “The 5 Year Theory.” Still, Get Home Safely has its fair share of lyrical duds (“I had the Craig Mack tape with that one single/Lotta niggas back then had one single”) that would stand out if the album wasn’t inundated with complacent bars throughout.
Rather than verbal intercourse, Dom’s words are a part of the bigger picture that is the sensory experience of listening to his music. There are interludes that emphasize dreamy, jazzy production, and “Tryna Find My Way” lacks any rapping at all, leaving Dom to sing instead. He’d rather you play his music at the beach all day than dissect his lyrics at night, and it’s all in service of a greater good—the complete piece of music, not just the raps.
To that end, Dom is respected as much for his verbal skill as he is for his beat selection. While The Yellow Album mixed the sounds of DJ Dahi, THC, and Poly3st3r together for a varied palette, Get Home Safely is helmed by The Futuristiks, a duo of J Keys and Money Mike who uses the pseudo-live instrumentation of J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League as a jumping-off point. Their aesthetic is fit for dropping the top, with crawling drums and warped samples that never push the tempo up too high for Dom’s coziness level. “Erica Part 2” and “After School” best capture their peaks, but the album takes an obvious turn on the boards after track 12, when production whiz DrewByrd takes over for “Dominic”, “Still Callin’”, and “Pleeze”, all of which become glaring highlights when juxtaposed against the rest of the album. Twitter has been abuzz about “The 5 Year Theory,” which is bookended with lively production by DJ Tech and whose title hints at an ideology that’s never even referred to in the song.
That’s just the thing about Get Home Safely—look too deep and you might get what you wished for, which isn’t a whole lot. Even the album’s name sets out the mission of the music: to return you to your secure cocoon. Dom doesn’t want to challenge or confuse you; he just wants to make you happy. Those looking for a little flare and intensity to their music might want to opt for West Coast cousins like Nipsey, YG, or Bad Lucc, but if Dom’s music weaves a web of serenity for you to kick back and relax to, then Get Home Safely will take you right to your door. —Max Weinstein