Mass Appeal Records
Mass Appeal Records

After suffering an extended drought of star talent, New York City could very well be a superpower in rap once again, with a string of prospects with the potential to put the city back at the forefront of hip-hop. While a number of New York artists have crashed the party with some of the biggest rap songs of 2017, Harlem rapper Dave East has found success taking the road less traveled, where radio play hasn't been the foundation but instead his gritty, cohesive projects that shine a light on his gruff lyricism and intense delivery.

Landing a spot on the 2016 XXL Freshman cover and inking a record deal with Def Jam, Dave East has seen his stock rise quickly over the past year. Many critics and fans alike touted him as New York's best shot at producing a street-savvy spitter with the appeal to move the needle and emerge as the city's next king in waiting. A year removed from his last solo project, Kairi Chanel, Dave East returns with his latest offering, Paranoia: A True Story, on which he looks to prove himself as a songwriter while acting upon his aspiration for mainstream success.

Kairi Chanel may have begun on a subdued note, but Dave East applies the pressure from the outset on Paranoia with the EP's title track, a frantic opener on which the former basketball player channels a bit of aggression over production by Nonstop Da Hitman, who delivers a reverberating backdrop. "Paranoia gettin' the best of me/I don't want nobody next to me," the Harlem native barks in a brash tone, before spilling off a verse delivered in his usual cocksure manner.

Featuring an appearance from Atlanta trap lord Jeezy, who turns in an effective contribution in his own right, "Paranoia" finds Dave East in a success-induced stupor, sneering at the competition while remaining weary of any lingering backstabbers. With all of the accolades garnered thus far in his relatively short time in the public consciousness, it's safe to say that Dave has become a marked man of sorts. His standing as one of New York's next to blow doubles as a target on his back and a catalyst for disdain, which is exhibited on "The Hated (Skit)."

"Phone Jumpin" follows the selection, showcasing the Def Jam signee's storytelling chops. Produced by Reazy Renegade, Dave takes a page out of the book of Busta Rhymes, which samples "Prelude" by Bernard Herrmann and includes a guest verse courtesy of Wiz Khalifa, who puts forth an admirable performance that stands as a return to form for the Taylor Gang general. "Hear ’em talk but I don't believe him/New car so I'm gonna leave him/Talk down but they wanna be him," Khalifa boasts. East reports live from the trenches with a pair of dominant stanzas, resulting in a watershed moment on Paranoia.

Despite proving himself to be capable of commandeering a track off his own strength, the MC is equally adept in the art of collaborating, with the Paranoia standout "Maneuver" being an apt example. Harry Fraud complements bleak horns with delicate percussion, providing a deceptively festive number that captures Dave's matching wits with fellow Uptown rep French Montana. "If it's ’bout a bag, I maneuver," East drawls, while French flourishes with witty couplets like, "The bitch ballin' like Cooper, German Sheppard, German Ruger/Baby all my Vs stupid, but I put you on the Uber."

Collaborations are aplenty on Paranoia, but the project also allots time for its chief master of ceremonies to get his thoughts across without regards for sharing air time, which Dave East makes the best of on the brooding, Joe Joe Beats-produced cut "Wanna Be Me." Lamenting the toll his newfound fame has taken on his psyche, the usually braggadocios rapper puts his bravado to the wayside for what is among the EP's more sobering compositions.

On paper, Dave East is comparative to many hyped MCs that failed to parlay their underground buzz into sustainable traction beyond radio mix shows and subterranean acclaim. However, the rapper's budding reputation as the genre's newest heartthrob has begun to rival his stock as a rhyme animal—he's already garnered more than a little interest from the fairer sex, a demographic that most rappers of his ilk fail to penetrate. With flattering mentions from the likes of supermodel Tyra Banks putting the focus on his career as a model, Dave has begun to embrace his status as a sex symbol, infusing Paranoia with a few female-friendly offerings to balance out the proceedings.

Chris Brown's vocals on "Perfect" help make it Dave's most blatant, yet tolerable stab at radio airplay to date. However, the song that could actually score the rapper traction on the airwaves and beyond is Da Sanchize and Joe Joe Beats-produced burner, "My Dirty Little Secret," which has quickly emerged as a fan-favorite from Paranoia. Waxing poetic about a potential addition to his harem of women, Dave raps, "I'm growing up/No more Keisha's nigga, I'm blowing up," slipping in a slick reference to his standout Kairi Chanel single, "Keisha," a testament to his attention to detail and the value of continuity.

All of the hype surrounding Dave East, from the Nas co-sign, to appearances on magazine covers and television resulted in the stakes being higher than ever with the release of Paranoia: A True Story. With many curious to see if he is in fact the real deal, or just the latest homegrown talent to be propped up prematurely, Dave's approach on Paranoia differs from that of his previous project, Kairi Chanel, in intention and scope.

Kairi Chanel shed further light on his genesis and was a bit more autobiographical in nature, but Paranoia plays more as a time stamp for the rapper's current spot in life, as he adjusts to his newfound fame and riches. While this results in a lack of emotional depth and feels languid in comparison to past offerings, Dave East exercises his ability to impress on various fronts on Paranoia: A True Story.

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