Tabi Bonney scored a regional hit in 2006 with “The Pocket,” a slinky song that showcased the D.C. rapper’s unique skill set. He’s not a standout lyricist who will wow you with one-liners, nor a forceful shouter who barks and bullies his way to being heard. Instead, Bonney has an knack for finding the feel of a song and adapting his flow so that his voice and words mesh with the beats.
Half a decade, a few albums and a handful of mix tapes after his biggest hit, “The Summer Years” arrives as the local hip-hop landscape continues to expand. It’s harder than ever for MCs to capture, let alone maintain, listeners’ attention, but Bonney seems unfazed. He’s still the same laid-back rapper who happily moves at his own speed, which happens to be slightly slower than the rest of the pack.
“The Summer Years” is largely produced by veteran Ski Beatz, who worked with Jay-Z on his earliest albums and the likes of Curren$y and Camp Lo more recently. He provides Bonney with the kind of beats that suit him best — casual, sunny and unobtrusive. “On Jupiter” is a reggae-flavored head-nodder, on which Bonney stilts his cadence to match the rhythm. “Hip-Hop & Love” finds him in nostalgia mode, an everyman with relatable memories (“Take it back to the hip-hop summer nights / Tribe Called Quest, MC Lyte and put me on the mic”).
Bonney is at his best when he’s in his comfort zone. “Groupie Gridlock” and “Top Notch Material Girls” sound like unnatural and halfhearted attempts at club songs, nowhere near convincing or imposing enough to gain traction in that overcrowded market. “Feeling More,” though, is vintage Bonney. Over an airy, jazzy beat, he repeats one word that he’s taken to heart over his career: relax.
--David Malitz, July 20, 2011