Several years ago, with a reputation marked by an all-encompassing spirituality and devotion to God, West Coast rapper Declaime began to blossom into a singer. And in a small way, it’s kind of revolutionary for an MC to make that leap. Declaime is really Dudley Perkins, “the name my mama gave me.”
Expressions may be, for Perkins, as much about antic self-identification as it is about recognizing, in humanity, the things that bind us and the things that destroy us. He alludes to the present as our ‘last days’ and even in his album title, the parenthetical year 2012 a.u. refers to ‘afta us’. His personality is central throughout this record, but it’s a truly unique combination of gravitas and cracked bliss.
“What I go through is what every human being on this planet goes through… Declaime is here for War, a Warrior of the light,” says Perkins in a glazed-over Sun Ra-like documentary clip. But we know that Dudley Perkins is not all gloom and doom. Far from it. The record is playful and loose, and an irresistible head-nodder throughout. Topically, the songs are grounded in the everyday — God, music, weed, money, love, weed and God – but they come from a man with a lot of inner turmoil and exasperation over the state of things, and absolutely nothing to hide. In the opener “Funky Dudley,” he conducts a bleary but tight, funky Q & A with himself:
How’d you get so funky, Dudley?
A little bit of weed is all I need
Expressions arrives not-so-closely on the heels of 2003’s hazy A Lil’ Light. This is his second go-round with the insanely prolific Madlib as producer, handling all musical duties. The sound is quickly identifiable as Madlib’s, with his trademark undulating beats (somehow the beat is both behind and ahead of itself), and a strangely beautiful production. One listen and you know why Madlib is the unofficial veteran figurehead of the Stones Throw roster, and for many, one of the most innovative and revered producers today. The guy lives and breathes music, seemingly permanently holed up in the Stones Throw ‘bomb-shelter,’ releasing a record nearly every month under a variety of monikers (Yesterdays New Quintet, Madvillain, Quasimoto), sometimes with heavyweight collaborators such as MF Doom, and recently deceased kindred spirit, J Dilla.
Madlib’s presence on this album is profound. It always is. But part of the beauty in this record is how much Dudley Perkins reveals himself. And somehow, by the grace of God, he’s holding it all together; barely. Expressions is a real soulful hip-hop type production, with only one ‘rap’ to speak of. Otherwise it’s just Dudley kind of singing, just grooving atop the music. Perkins has a distinctive voice, born of a marrow-deep funkiness and a self-acknowledged, copious regimen of marijuana and cigarettes.
“Testin’ me” is an immediate standout because it’s one of the ‘glue’ tunes that hold the whole thing together. It’s the soulful center of the record. Built around a staccato piano loop, bass thump and clap, noisy crackles and skrees, the song is a testament to human pain and sorrow. His singing is undecorated and technically simple, but packs emotional heft.
The album closer “Dear God” is an absolute triumph. It begins as a half-sung prayer. Atop big sweeping synth strings, low heartbeat thumps, echoed handclaps and general reverb-ed weirdness, Perkins seeks God’s protection – “for my nephew Marvin, he needs it right now”, “for those who rest in peace, look out for my little niece.” Then the song takes the strangest of turns when Dudley says “Dear God,” and God answers: “Yes, Dudley?” God’ voice is funny pitch-shifted and deep, and He talks with Perkins about his expensive weed habit.
The music hangs suspended, the beat shifts a bit, and just explodes into one of the years ‘highest’ moments in music: Gigantic sweeping strings, harp trills, and unidentifiable beautiful noise all over the place, as Dudley chants “I want to get high/ so when the rain comes down I won’t feel no pain/Just let me be free/ got no hold on me/ free, like the mind’s third eye”. It’s at once strange and unsettling, but also sweet, loving, funny, and revealing. It’s like so many of the great moments on Expressions — funky, heartfelt and soulful.