In a midrange-spiked spoken word intro that feels more like voicemail than a standard prologue to a modern hip-hop album, donSMITH welcomes us into his new album Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From, the ensuing slow-motion jam forming the basis of “PRADA,” one of the more melodically-stimulating tracks on the whole of the LP. Radamiz will stop in for a collaborative performance in “Table,” but even with the white-hot chemistry they spark in this track, the spotlight remains transfixed on donSMITH himself above all else.

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Having a good flow is one thing, but being able to sew as much soul into a verse as he does here is something much more profound than what the status quo normally calls for. In Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From, our leading man calls out the shadows from the crooked places on both coasts, but he isn’t looking to cast judgement on anyone but himself. There’s a self-awareness to his poetry in “Piragua” that is almost heart-wrenching to experience in contrast to an increasingly boastful cloud rap beat, the better part of which is starting to diversify sonically with little interest in developing lyrical themes any further than they have been. His is a unique story, and thus, a unique sound to match. 

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“Link In Bio” thunderously takes us into the midsection of Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From against the backdrop of a generous sample sizeable enough to give donSMITH plenty of ground to cover vocally. His versatility is something to marvel at on its own, but when coupled with the calculatedly exotic arrangement in a song like “Group Chat,” it takes on an alternative rap identity that has far more in common with his New York predecessors in the Wu than it does anything on the modern east coast beat. “All I Got” flirts with a Ronnue-style groove but remains true to the hard-hitting hip-hop persona of its tracklist neighbors – the best part of its running time coming in the form of a virtuosic lead from donSMITH around the ninety second mark. He’s got mad swagger in these sessions, but it isn’t producing a negative bleed in the lyrical narratives at all (the opposite, truth be told). Collaborations with Radamiz in “Table,” ANKHLEJOHN in the psychedelic-tinged “Local Train” and his own mom in “NYCHA” set a high standard, but in every solo run here, he demonstrates a level of skill you just don’t come across very often in this game. 

Whether it be the cerebral tensions of “donDADA” and “Local Train” or the forward-thinking grooves of “Table,” “Link In Bio” and “NYCHA,” donSMITH’s incomparable efforts in the new LP Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From create a Saturday-morning hip-hop listen that has the potential to make your entire day a little sweeter. Stylized to feel like a melodic smoke session-meets-dreamscape-meets-hybrid soul dialogue, Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From is a hard record to put down once you’ve picked it up for the first time, and to me, it’s one of the more intriguing indie hip-hop albums to drop in 2020. 

Nicole Killian

About The Author

Nicole Killian

Nicole loves to go cross country skiing, swimming, reading and critiquing books, listening and critiquing music, some culinary arts, pottery, spending time with my daughter, cheesy horror films.

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