Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Perfect Timing: A Review of Donny Goines' 'Minute After Midnight'

Donny Goines is an up-and-coming emcee who has earned a fair share of love and support from the online community. His motto is “if you don’t know my name I’m not working hard enough”. Rightfully so, Goines is often considered one of the hardest working, self-promoting emcees in the game. In the past, I’ve expressed my respect for his strong will and hustle. Well, Donny recently hit me up to pass me a copy of his new album, Minute After Midnight, to preview it. I’ve listened to the album several times over, and I must say that I’m very impressed with what I hear. Minute After Midnight is definitely a step in the right direction for Goines, improving on his lyricism from past mixtapes and his series of Bars segments. Here’s my track-by-track synopsis of the album:

Intro (Produced by Dub Z)

Gotta love the horns on this track. Straight from the get-go, Donny Goines lets you know that he’s a focused emcee who’s got some ish he wants to get off his chest. Quotable: “It was a graveyard, bullets hit their mark/ And I remember growing up, thinking ‘I hate G-d’/ Blasphemous, but can you blame me?/ You don’t know what it was like growing up in the ‘80’s/”.

The Triumph (Produced by M Phazes)

This is Donny’s most fiery and energetic offering on the album. It’s some straight-up braggadocio flow. Just check out these quotable bars: “This is the threshold, next-known, best flow/ Nothin’ this exciting since Esco/ Forget those/ Nay-sayers from great majors who chase papers/ Wouldn’t say that they’re haters, but I’m not in their favor/”.

Ghetto U.S.A. (featuring Tess) (Produced by Beatnik & K Salaam)

Like I stated in my discussion post for The Tape Deck Volume #32 and #33, this track is nuts because it uses the same sample as one of my favorite Dipset tracks, “Losing Weight, Part Two”. After listening to this track, it’s safe to say that what “Dead Presidents” was to Reasonable Doubt, “Ghetto U.S.A.” is to Minute After Midnight. Quotable: “These are my testaments from the corner of Lexington/ Where run-down tenements are places that I resident/ Where +Dead Presidents+ the only thing that’s relevant/ So they’re the only politicians people out here represent/”.

What I Am (Produced by Apple Juice Kid)

Damn, who woulda thought that the usage of an Eddie Brickell(?) sample would sound so… gritty. Apple Juice Kid’s thunderous kicks bode well with Donny’s gruff vocals as he drops some humorous audiobiographical “heart-on-my-sleeve” steez. Quotable: “I wear a lot of hats, nope, not because I'm bald/ The truth is I've got a peanut head, that's all/”.

What Happened (Produced by Dub Z)

Produced by Dub Z, the soulful sample on this joint is well-placed as Donny kicks some more retrospective bars, eulogizing the classics records from the good ol’ days. Quotable: “What happened to the culture of hip hop?/ Now it’s about a wristwatch flooded with big… rocks/ Been a while, but you know I still miss ‘Pac/ Records that B.I.G. dropped, but the music is flip-flopped/ Now the artists all tryin’ their hard-est/ To sell the ringtone, but their alums are gar-bage/”.

Ricky's Story (Produced by Statik Selektah)

They say art imitates reality, but sometimes reality imitates art. Donny dissects this idea in narrative form, describing Ricky, a ghetto youth who aspires to live the lifestyle of his favorite gun-busting, drug-pushing rappers. Like many such paths, the final result is either death or incarceration, to which Goines can only conclude with this great quotable: “Ricky threw his whole life away, potential was wasted/ He was fooled by these rappers, and I wish I could change it/ But the moral of the story is it’s just entertainment/”.

I Am Moving (Produced by Dame Grease)

Donny comes as close as humanly possible to putting out an underground equivalent to “Maybach Music”. This is a cruise tune at its finest, the kind of track you can bump in the ride at night: a minute after midnight to be precise. Quotable: “I travel at the speed of light/ They say great minds think alike/ So I hope when I speak through mics/ It’ll help the grounded reach these heights/”.

MLK (featuring Tess) (Produced by Dame Grease)

Donny channels his inner Dr. King to describe his unflinching focus on becoming an emcee. “MLK” has a nice “if you put your mind to it, your dreams will be fulfilled” type of message (emphasis on the importance of a “dream”). Quotable: “From the drugs and the liquor to the visions of death/ So the music is vivid and my descriptions are best/”.

Can't Fit in My Shoes (Produced by DJ Snips)

At first, this beat reminded me of “Biochemical Equation” by RZA and MF DOOM. But I’m also reminded of another track I know I’ve heard before that uses the same sample… ah, it’s driving me crazy. Regardless, I really enjoy the bouncy, soulful rhythms on this track as Donny stays focused, discussing real-life issues and concerns. Quotable: “I feel like the walls closing in/ And even if I wanna get a job there’s no openings/”.

Can You Hear Me (featuring Tess) (Produced by Dub Z)

This track is about as ‘80’s as you can get, with its stringy synthesizer sounds and steady, lightly-reverbed drum breaks. “Can You Hear Me” is Goines’ letter to G-d, a very personal track that digs deep into the emcee’s conscious as he spits: “It’s not that I hate or doubt you/ … I really can’t complain with mouthfuls/ While other people livin’ day-to-day without food/”. Believers and skeptics alike can respect the frustration in Donny’s lyrics. Quotable: “How can you watch your children dying?/ Or listen to a million dying/ I make mistakes, but still I’m trying/ And yet you wonder why I’m still defiant/”.

The Look (Produced by Dame Grease)

The end of this track is almost as anti-climactic as “Niggas Bleed” by Biggie Smalls. Donny describes his desire for a promiscuous P.Y.T. over some silky-smooth Dame Grease production. Quotable: “Her credit cards are never declined/ And it’s always First Class whenever she flies/ Limousine and chauffeurs whenever she rides/ And she never really dates any regular guys/ Just CEOs and business men…/”.

As the World Turns (Produced by Dub Z)

Friedrich Nietzsche once said that “without music, life would be a mistake.” Donny kind of follows that reasoning by appreciating music – beautiful music to be precise – describing it as a water-like life force that can be found all across the globe. Elegant production by Dub Z makes this track one of Minute After Midnight’s finest. Quotable: “New Orleans in the French Quarter/ Saint-Tropez, swimming in fresh water/ It’s in any place I find/ The music is everywhere it’s just a frame of mind/”.

Heaven is With You (Produced by DJ Static)

Donny closes out the album with perhaps his most personal track on the album, an ode to his premature son who passed away. Quotable: “Even though he’s not a round, when I go to sleep I can see my child/ ‘Cause when I dream, ever second I’m with you/ Born premature but I’ve accepted the issue/ And just know that I’ll never forget you/ No matter what son, +Heaven is With You+/”.

Final Thoughts:

The title for Minute After Midnight is derived from the Cinderella story, as Goines explains: “I started to think about how the principles in that story paralleled to hip hop.” Elaborating on this connection between two seemingly polar ideas, Goines went on state: “for instance, the magical carriage is like the fancy cars, the ball is like the clubs, gown is like the jewelry, so on and so forth. What happens after midnight though? All those things disappear because they were fantasy and that's what the title means. This album represents the truth – what's in my heart and reality. Not the fantasy you see portrayed in this game.”

On paper, Donny Goines seems like the emo-est of all emo rappers. And to be fair, yes, lots of his subject matter is very introspective, personal, and… emotional. He’s found the perfect balance or convergence of rugged, street poetry that somehow retains the essence of emotional vulnerability and candor. But he doesn’t gently tug at your heart with his thoughtful delivery; he hits you over the head with it. Featuring no emcee guest spots, Minute After Midnight is Donny’s personal statement, and perhaps an introduction to a cluster of new fans. Many “blogger rappers” come along, but few of them are able to maintain with the lightning-fast speed of updates and burying of the lede. And even amongst the ones who do keep up and do put out a gang of music on a consistent basis, there’s always an elite group of emcees who you really oughta check for. Donny is one of ‘em.