2020 has barely begun, and plenty of new hip-hop music has already dropped. Lil Wayne, Mac Miller (R.I.P.) , Eminem, Denzel Curry, and more have started off the new decade with fresh albums. While some of this new music has left something to be desired (Looking at you, Eminem), one album brings a fresh sound that will please any rap fan looking for a new artist: Black Habits by D Smoke.
Some may recognize D Smoke from his victory on the Netflix series Rhythm + Flow. Hailing from Inglewood, CA, D Smoke is a high school teacher/rapper that has a mature approach to his music, focusing on lyrical content and incorporating jazz instrumentation into his beats. He is also fluent in Spanish, and raps bilingually in many songs.
Black Habits is the first studio album from D Smoke, following his EP Inglewood High and a couple of singles from Rhythm + Flow. For his first album, D Smoke shows a level of maturity and intelligence for music that is rare among artists just beginning their career. It is also a fairly large album, consisting of 16 tracks with a runtime of a little over an hour. Features include SiR and Snoop Dogg, as well as some other smaller artists.
D Smoke is clearly inspired by Kendrick Lamar. Everything from the poetic lyrics that dominate the album, to the jazzy fills of brass and piano show the influence of the modern great on D Smoke’s style. However, this is not to say that D Smoke is not creative in his own way. He can rap with energy and confidence on more aggressive songs like No Commas and Gaspar Yanga, while showcasing his smoother, poetic side and instrumental prowess on slower, sonically rich tracks like Sunkissed Child and Seasons Pass. Spanish is sprinkled throughout the tracks, giving a more unique and culturally potent atmosphere to the music.
Perhaps the biggest thing to take away from Black Habits is the brightness that the album brings. Despite taking on darker issues like systemic racism and mass incarceration, D Smoke is able to artfully introduce themes of spirituality and hopefulness. In such a turbulent winter season, it is nice to hear some happy music.
Of course, this album is not perfect. Some of the songs seem a bit out of place or half-baked, and the album is probably 10-15 minutes longer than it needs to be. However, these minor flaws do not get in the way of the sheer enjoyability D Smoke has brought with this freshman album. He has certainly established himself as a competent artist, and I look forward to hearing him as he progresses. For anyone looking for a fresher, happier sound in hip-hop, check out Black Habits.