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Matson on Music

Music news, concert reviews, analysis and opinion by music writer Andrew Matson.

September 10, 2009 at 9:54 AM

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D. Black: 22-year-old rapper, father, husband, record label co-owner, preacher

Posted by Andrew Matson

(c) locked photography dblack 06-14-09 189.JPG

In the promo shots for his last album, Damian Black smoked cigars and scowled in alleys. Now, see above.

I wrote a piece about the upcoming Crocodile show for Black's new album "Ali'Yah," and was filmed interviewing him at the past Bumbershoot. After the jump, witness the evolution of Black, in words and video.

For those playing catch-up, here's a piece I wrote while ago about the five-year anniversary of Sportn' Life Records, the company of which D. Black's not only a member, but also the president.

Photo by Locked

Local 22-year-old rapper D. Black (Damian Black) -- Seattle hip-hop's first son, the mini-wrecking ball with a golden voice -- is back with "Ali'Yah," the first album he's written since he was 18.

It's his "Black Album," a la Jay-Z's fake-retirement record a few years ago. D. Black is hanging it up after this one, he says. It's also his Christian album: "Ali'Yah" is Hebrew for ascent.

The retirement talk might be hype. The godliness, we've already been dealing with.

Since his song "God Like" showed up on Seattle's best and highest-profile hip-hop album last year, producer Jake One's "White Van Music," we've known Black's a changed person. The song was about how he's God-like as a rapper, and aspiring to the same level as a person. Though it unwisely drew a black & white creationism vs. atheism line, "God Like" was sincere soul-searching from a young man in need of final answers, quickly. With a new wife to love (Jamie) mom to mourn (Mia) and child to raise (Ja'miah, seemingly a mix of the two names), Black started wearing tassels on his belt and a yarmulke on his head, leading Torah study with label-mate Fatal Lucciauno at his apartment on Fridays, and talking a lot about God and Yeshua.

"God Like" proved D. Black was a slick orator of weighty topics, undeniable whether or not he was making sense. It also proved him an adapter. A changeling. The new D. Black stood in confrontation to the old D. Black, the one whose previous album "The Cause & Effect" had a chorus that gleefully went into overkill jerk-mode for basically no reason: "You ain't f____n' with me/ Nah, you ain't f____n' with me/ I wrote a whole hook on how you ain't f____n' with me." Now, it seemed, life was f____n' with Black. And instead of pretending he was too cold to care, he was becoming a whole new person.

The presence of religion in the lyrics on "Ali'Yah" is simultaneously near-constant and not obvious. It comes through mostly in vague messages about letting go of materials and bad pasts, remaining nonviolent, and committing to mental growth. Whatever Black himself might say, the listener gets the impression his Jewish-seeming Christianity is more about day-to-day stability than philosophical Truths with capitol Ts.

Refreshingly, there's no "it's all gonna be alright" talk on "Ali'Yah." "Yah Have Mercy," a song about girls with moms on drugs and deadbeat dads, has a singularly hardcore kiss-off for the streets in its chorus: "We say goodbye to the game cause it's lame now/ The type of thing that make you wanna blow your brains out."

The retirement, though, seems plainly impossible. How can Black walk away from the God-like flow, and the God-like show?

For all the stupid "there's hip-hop in my veins" talk that goes on in rap, Black's pedigree is genuinely significant : he grew up in the most important recording studio in Seattle rap in the '90s, a house in the Central District called "The Pharmacy," and is a scion of a member of the Emerald City Boys, arguably our area's first rap crew, circa 1978. It would be a shame to have that backstory and turn one's back on the music, but he says he wants to quit. And then there's his naturally likable rap voice, a grainy tenor that pronounces words thickly, but more sharply the louder it goes, and unteachable breath control. His verses are anti-clutter, syllable-wise. Short and built like a block, there's a certain weightlessness/effortlessness to him on stage. He darts, like a tiny sumo dancer. He's a rapper, period, and if he's not, the world's not right.

But today, he says he's rapper. Today, the world is right. Wednesday, he'll perform at the Crocodile to celebrate "Ali'Yah."

D. Black "Ali'Yah" CD release party, with Dyme Def, They Live, Darrius Willrich, Spaceman and DJ Vitamin D, 8 p.m. Wednesday, The Crocodile, 2200 Second Ave., Seattle; $10, 21 and over ( or

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