Review Summary: It's like Lil B but with commercial viability.
Think of the most hardcore rap record you’ve ever heard. “Straight Outta Compton” and “Fear of a Black Planet” probably come to mind – maybe even “Rhyme Pays.” This doesn’t seem like a genre that would provide an opening for a suburbanite Jew, but Lil Dicky isn’t here to play by the rules. This is a guy who’s rapping about white crimes (i.e. smuggling excessive amounts of Twix and Snapple into the theater) and pillow talking. Basically, this is an inversion of everything we’ve come to expect from hip-hop: irreverent towards rap’s irreverence and polite in the face of scathing slams. It’s out-rap personified. Mileage may vary per person, but there’s no denying that Lil Dicky is a breath of fresh air. With “Professional Rapper,” Lil Dicky lays down his credentials with off-kilter swagger and a chart position only white privilege could explain (Lil B could never reach this level of commercial viability). But is Burd’s transition from comedian to “professional” rapper any good? Surprisingly, it’s not bad.
It’s clear from the first few tracks that Lil Dicky’s greatest strength comes from his punchlines. Numerous songs throughout the album are liable to split sides with clever or shocking lyrical turns. Choruses like “I am rap game Walter White, you might get killed thinkin’ he all polite / Get up off my dick, ho / that’s an unassuming dick, though” permeate the record. Here, Lil Dicky wields self-deprecation with lethal force. It’s a smart tactic – likely to earn much-needed goodwill with a skeptical audience. Elsewhere, tracks like “Bruh…” work well to showcase Burd’s flow. Spitting lines as ridiculous as “only thing I got left is find a good ass wife, but yo, I gotta hit these hoes first, don’t tell mom, but in a year I’m ’a bend over Michelle Obama” may have turned off a multitude of listeners if not for the blazing, crack-shot delivery. Even so, “Professional Rapper” doesn’t quite reach the level of the fabled “classic” rap debut due to a myriad of issues.
The most glaring flaw in Lil Dicky’s gem is his album’s length. At 90 minutes, there’s just too many songs with too little quality control. Angling as a professional rapper makes for some good comedy, but there’s nothing funny about wasting the listener’s time with unsalvageable slogs like Molly – a complete waste of Panic! At the Disco’s Brendan Urie’s guest spot doesn’t help, either. Elsewhere, “The Antagonist” and its sequel track do absolutely nothing but pad-out the runtime. These tracks sound like B-sides that have been sequenced with the A-sides through some tragic accident. Don’t take this the wrong way, though; Lil Dicky’s debut may be a bloated mess, but it’s an exciting, entertaining mess.
Critics and listeners alike have condemned Lil Dicky as “rap for people who hate rap.” I don’t doubt that David Burd appeals to this audience, but I’m not convinced of that statement’s essentialist truth. Dicky’s flow is surprisingly nimble, and his lyrics are surprisingly clever. The punchlines hit more often than not, and the production work is adequate. It’s a perfectly palatable hip-hop album. Even so, there’s a unique quality to Burd’s suburbanite, Jewish outsider identity that promises to build bridges: perspective. This guy thinks keeping it real is saving as much money as possible and having great pillow talk. It’s not your average rap record. That’s refreshing, and it’s something hip-hop needs more of. Lil Dicky, and all of his out-rap, comedy cohorts, are vital and necessary for hip-hop. “Professional Rapper” may not be one of the year’s best rap albums, but it’s arguably one of 2015’s most important.