Review Summary: No compromise
If there is one thing Alpha Wann does not accept, it's gotta be compromise. His philosophy forbids him to do so, too attached as he is to achieve his own vision of rap. Having built himself a reputation of a rhymes lover, the climb to the top of the rap food chain is put aside in favour of total artistic freedom.
His label Don Dada, co-created with DJ Hologram 'Lo, has indeed positioned itself against any commercial incursion. The collaboration seemed obvious, as the two Parisians, both previously in 1995
, considered that some of the posse's tracks like 'Réel' did not correspond to their perception of rap - too easy, too cheesy. This ideology was disseminated in their label, Don Dada, which has now become a major player within the French rap scene. The common point between all Don Dada artists is particular attention to technique, especially the multisyllabic rhymes inherited from the Sages Poètes de la Rue, as well as a musicality that is more subtle than exuberant. Fortunately, unlike other all-star projects, this isn't a simple compilation of hype artists, but rather the thesis of a certain school of rap. We suspected this from the early days of the label, but the definitive statement is set in late 2020. This
is the Don Dada sound.
If there is one album that can be sonically linked to this don dada mixtape
, it's Une Main Lave l'Autre
- further referenced as UMLA
, as the whole mixtape extends the aesthetic of Alpha's first album. The beats are once again ultra-modern and clean, using dark mechanical intrusions bordering on trap, and sometimes Chicago or UK drill, to impose an urban and nocturnal atmosphere. Even if the bass remains the most important element within the musical spectrum, the melodic layers - although discreet - are sufficiently heady for the album to be more than a succession of bass and hi-hats. The production and mixing are cookie-smooth, as each ingredient is placed right
where it's needed. Some small details are only present to bring a guiding thread to the project - like the furtive laser noises already used on UMLA
. Amid this futuristic sound design, memories from another era nevertheless make their appearance. Several tracks such as 'aaa', 'fahrenheit 451' or 'malevile' use piano loops and background noises so dear to the boom bap, while maintaining the 2020 aesthetic. Fortunately, it never falls into crude revivalism, winks to the past rarely overtaking the modernism of the productions.
The vocal representative of this Don Dada sound, between homages to the past and a fierce desire to look to the future, is of course Alpha Wann. Everyone in Francophonie now agrees - and rightly so - that he is currently the best technician in today's rap game, and he doesn't fail to live up to his reputation by offering as many multisyllables, rhyme schemes, or other homophones as ever. Tracks like 'la lune attire la mer' and 'carrelage italien' reaffirm Alpha's love of technical rap while alternating flows ranging from ragingly political to nonchalantly egotrip. But beyond this technique, he also has extended his arsenal of flows, not hesitating to rap much more slowly than usual on 'apdl', or to try a destructured flow on the intro, 'mitsubishi'.
Although Alpha remains the main rapper throughout the project, he ain't the only one to shine. Deen Burbigo
slays it on 'dirty dancing' alongside Infinit'
- who brings his groovy side to the table with his toplines. The latter rapper is also present on 'soldat tue soldat', accompanied by Kaaris
who also demonstrates his rhyme schemes by adopting a calm flow, yet his delivery is so damn dry he does not need to raise his voice to offer a violent interpretation. Not everyone is on par though: KSA is energetic in acting as a counterpoint to Alpha on 'apdl', but is less convincing on his solo track. Another one that is less convincing than expected is Freeze Corleone: although 'ny a fond' remains a good track in and of itself, it suffers from the comparison with the duo's previous featuring, 'Rap Catéchisme'. But the trve guest star is Nekfeu
. Present on no less than four tracks, including a solo one, he continues on the same basis as his recent energetic features by showing himself much more vindictive than on his previous project Les Étoiles Vagabondes
. We thus end up with multiple feats, and each of the artists is well integrated into the project, adapting to the subject but bringing their own personal touch. The flows are generally fast, there are no catchy choruses - except maybe Nekfeu's on 'aaa', and even that ain't a Drake chorus - and it's all part of this sheer will to offer rap, and nothing but rap.
For if offering cold beats and rapping without concession already constitute a strong aesthetic, it is only reinforced when the message is hard. Nekfeu allows himself to spit a "fuck the police" line, which was previously unimaginable for such a polite rapper. There also are lyrics criticising the French state, France's slave-owning past, as well as lines that send support to states opposing the established order, such as Palestine and North Korea. But the most obvious fight is against the music industry. The clique's enemy clearly is the Skyrock radio, France's #1 rap radio. The radio, proposing rap that sells well rather than good rap, never played any Alpha Wann track. Freeze Corleone raps about doing "ecclesiastical rap", about Skyrock's director of programma quote explaining why Alpha was not on the Skyrock playlist. Alpha then makes an ode to the hustle by tackling this non-presence on Skyrock: if he has succeeded, it is thanks to the quality of his music, not because of some mainstream support.
The quality of his music is his only strategy, and his only fight. The rest is just a frill, vulgar manipulative instruments distracting the listener from the intrinsic quality of the project. And as he says, it works, as he received a gold certification for UMLA
- after two years but that's still something!. This certification is only due to the incessant re-listening of fans (ie: nerdz like me) erecting UMLA
like an obelisk, a monument built to the glory of sounds and words. This result was achieved because Alpha fought, not for others like a mercenary, but for what he believes in, as a soldier. The king's throne could fall to Alpha Wann, but that is not his philosophy. Let the masses find their champion. Alpha will remain himself.