Dino Brown is a San Diego MC who’s just starting out in the rap game, and he already seems to have an ear for great production and catchy hooks to craft his ‘90s inspired sound and vision. He also possesses a deliciously smooth, deep voice to augment his already solid approach on the mic and his tight, aggressive flow, giving off the impression of someone who not only has confidence, but has his eyes set on something bigger for himself. His debut mixtape has just been released on datpiff, and since he already shows great promise (and since I also grew up with the guy) I think he earns a review here.
Brown is a witty and oftentimes funny MC who shows a great deal of personality on this tape. He’s not too concerned with making himself out to be an intimidating gangster, and he’s not really trying to inflate his ego with braggadocios self-praise. He simply comes off as a young guy who’s passionate about his craft and seems intent on spitting the best bars he can. With lines like “Deploying my boys on the latest Playboy” and “I got looks that can pierce through Teflon” we may not see anything terribly innovative, but we do see someone who wants to put a smile on his listener’s faces, and that he does several times over on this tape with references to everything from masked metal crew Slipknot to hand puppets and Catholics, of all things. He’s consistently delivering fiery verses that reveal his passion and recall the old-school days when MCs were much craftier than many are are now.
Dino’s lyricism isn’t the only thing old-school about this tape; much of the production harkens back to the ‘90s boom-bap sound. “Sleep Walks” in particular features a classic bassline and gritty drums fit for a Wu-Tang record with eerie organ sneaking around in the background. “Out to You” is another standout with its soaring strings and shots of piano and staccato keyboards thrown into the mix to create yet another instrumental worthy of the Golden Age of Hip-Hop, and “R.E.M. Sleep Freestyle” has Brown rapping over Madlib’s classic “ALL CAPS” beat from the equally classic Madvillainy album. Not all of the production hits the mark, though. The opening track “The Dream” as well as the interludes “Midnight Munchies” and “The Beginning of the End” are merely atmospheric washes of generic keyboards and they could have really been fleshed out into something greater. There’s also a little bit of inconsistency in the recording quality. The second track, “Dino’s First Words”, while it features one of the best instrumentals on the whole tape, is obviously an early recording given that the vocals sound incredibly cheap compared to the rest of the album, and perhaps a different take should have been used as well. Thankfully, the rest of the album sounds crisp and clear, but the first two tracks may leave a bad first impression on some listeners.
In all, Dino Brown has created a very worthwhile mixtape for anyone seeking out something with a nice old-school flavor and clever, humorous lyrics. More consistency in the production and engineering would be appreciated, but for a first try this is more than adequate. If Dino keeps up the fire present on this tape in the future, there is no doubt that his trajectory will be a very long one, hopefully leading to success for him. “Dino’s First Words” was a fine beginning, but I’ll bet his next words will be spectacular.