It is all too easy to write off a musical comedy act, especially in the usually brooding and excessively serious genre of Rap, as a temporary novelty that works on no other level than amusement. With one of the latest entries in this relatively superficial sub-genre of Hip Hop, twenty-five year old Cheltenham, Pennsylvania representative David Burd, who goes by the moniker Lil Dicky (or “The Time Traveler’s Wife” as he humorously calls himself early on in the catchy anthem of sorts, “Who Knew”, from his twenty track, and at a massive eighty nine minute run time far too long, debut album, released on July 31st of 2015, Professional Rapper) proves that with a lighter attitude, and subject matter which switches to more mundane events than the usual club and partying clichés you evoke more personality in one verse than most emcees who strive to be taken seriously would be able to conceive.
This isn’t to say that Lil Dicky doesn’t showcase much to defy the odds that his career would have much of an extended shelf life. His two mixtapes from 2013 So Hard and Hump Days were only intermittently successful. A second listen through of his latest work already proved to be far less amusing than the first spin.
Despite this, his perspective is undeniably fresh and the jokes (especially in the first half of the LP) are some of the funniest bits I have heard in some time.
There is a palpable charisma to his willfulness to embrace his inner-nerd and try to make events such as “putting trash up in other people’s cans” and such truly sinister acts of defiance as being “at the stop sign but never really stoppin’ though” an exuberant display of hilarity and singularity. Both of these events he details in one of the album’s most uproarious moments with the impressively produced to sound menacing and hardcore, for added comical effect, “White Crime”).
It may be all in the name of keeping things light and airy, but it never feels artificial and, by default, I would be foolish not to admit that he gains a lot of extra ground from simply rhyming (his lyric skills are actually surprisingly sharp especially provided his general attitude toward music) about topics most people would find too trivial to waste a line about. By doing so, it just makes the spirit he instills into his sonic turns, and his general aura, all the more likable.
The album begins with a phone conversation between Lil’ Dicky and his parents on “Meet the Burds” (which is a set-up for the imagined interview Snoop Dogg conducts with him on the clever in conception, and as a general introduction, “Professional Rapper”, which is also an often funny and surprisingly strong rhyme fest between The Dogfather and Burd).
These mother/ father dialogues are extended to two other skits throughout, “Parental Advisory” and “Parents Still Don’t Understand”, and though it sounds like filler it is entertaining nonetheless. It comes off like a heightened attempt at bringing his listeners deeper into his life and its charmingly off-key events.
“Lemme Freak”, and its less Hip Hop and more generically R&B oriented counterpart “Lemme Freak for Real Though (a proposed ‘Outro’ that plays like a four plus minute song) is Lil’ Dicky at his comical best.
The tracks parody the conventions of the sound and style of far too many modern love ballads but take it to such absurd extremes. For example, at one point he goes to the year 2074 to talk about his increasing wait for some type of sexual encounter with the woman in question.
These songs mirror him after Eminem’s early work under the Slim Shady persona (as does the rambling, but impressive in terms of sheer flow “Bruh”, where Lil Dicky again makes us of another good enough but ultimately unremarkable melody), or a more vulgar version of Weird Al Yankovic at his wittiest. Nearly every punchline heard herein is humorous, engaging and, whether you want to or not, orchestrated to find yourself singing the wonderfully overblown refrain.
There is plenty of other material which goes into the well-worn relationship angle, such as “Molly”, the funny and well-produced “Personality” (where the general idea is that Lil Dicky and cameo artist T-Pain try to win women over with the title attributes) and the staggeringly drug out, but never excessive, eleven-minute long opus “Pillow Talk”.
All three titles seem to have a perfect divide between the mockery Lil Dicky has put to the forefront of his music and a more serious and introspective side to him that displays itself in short, but surprisingly powerful, bursts throughout the duration of Professional Rapper. He starts the serviceable melody that is “Molly” off by saying, “This is the softest thing I’ve ever done”.
Regardless, with a genuinely gripping, sentimental hook which states that “You can find another me tomorrow/ And that’s the hardest pill to swallow” it is hard not to see the truth of his emotions behind the jovial façade created in the tune’s early moments.
“Pillow Talk” is a brilliant, if long winded and a little slow getting where it’s headed, concept song which details a discussion of God, veganism, dinosaurs, aliens and Pangea (of all things) which comes to light when Lil Dicky and a woman he is trying to be involved with try to discourse (and find out they can agree on nothing but a shared hunger for pizza).
The beat is low-key funk, like something you would find in a mainstream Crunk variety (the undeniably infectious chorus mirrors this idea and it works far better than one may think) but the focus is the lyrics and Dicky (and his super slow flowing brain which provides an ‘illuminating’ guest spot here) often go off on tangents that are some of the most intriguing, sentimental turns in the whole endeavor.
“Personality” is meant to be a less heady, entertaining distraction with a more artificially pop driven sound and it works pleasantly as such.
The aforementioned criticism applied to “Personality” goes for the tune before it on Professional Rapper’s tracklist: “Oh Well”.
Featuring a solid turn from Jace of Two 9, but production that is not intolerable but relatively dull and lackluster, the ditty concerns Lil Dicky’s scant concerns for what most people consider dire facets of life and the personal importance, in his mind, for his phone and reality tv.
It is all agreeable, low-brow fluff. Still, it provides another reason why his focus on otherwise bland content makes for a shockingly interesting listen.
Preluded by a skit, “Hannibal Interlude (featuring Hannibal Buress) which is as droll as the ditty which preceeds it, this emphasis also elevates the wonderful take on anti-materialism, “Save dat Money” (featuring Fetti Wrap and Rich Homie Quan in two turns where they both try to conform their usually un-smirking styles to that of Burd with mixed results).
The production on this work is serviceably grimy. It is the type you would find on almost any of the umpteen tunes dedicated to moneymaking available nowadays, but what the artists do with it makes their parody all the more effective.
“Pregame” and “The Antagonist pt. 1 and pt.2”, seem far less inspired and rather dull filler songs. The beat on all three is forgettable and they weigh down the pace of the album which seems to noticeably drag, along with the overall energy, before the final pair of jingles, “Work (Paid for That)” and the ten minute concluding note “Truman” (where “L.D”., as he often calls himself, compares his life to the 1998 Jim Carrey film The Truman Show) bring the LP rousingly back to life.
It is in these ending bits where his comedic persona and his more cerebral half seem to be at war with one another, fighting each other over the dying bits of album space available to make their presence known, and it makes up for the missteps of tracks sixteen through eighteen.
Lil Dicky may not prove to be the next Hip Hop legend, or be able to experience more than the length of another release or two under his name before the novelty of his style wears out and his career deflates, unless he embraces his more reflective side and evolves, but Professional Rapper is far better than you would expect.
It is multi-layered, with an emphasis on lyrics over beats to create a solid tune, and his content and disposition are so vibrant and new that he is instantly more listenable than the vast majority of today’s always brooding, find different ways to say the same thing as all others emcees of our time.
This, and for the sake of sheer interest alone in the oddity which is Burd, makes the at least twenty minutes too long Professional Rapper worth a listen or two (even though by the end of the second outing it already proves to be providing greatly diminishing returns). Such is the differing qualities of the approach Lil Dicky utilizes here: he breaks down walls but, simultaneously, is also held back by them.
It will be interesting to see where he decides to go from here and if he decides to stay behind these boundaries and do what he can as they close in around them or come at us with something wholly new and different and shatter all foreseeable constraints.
His next full-length effort will be the career determiner and this question if he will continue to go for cheap amusements or grow and move forward to give this strong, but ultimately limited, start more mobility is when such thoughts of future actions are at their most vital and pivotal.
The choice is his. Either way, for what it is, Professional Rapper is a largely exciting, if excessively protracted, work.