Tabi Bonney's 'Dope' Is Grade-A

Packing plenty into his new micro-album,
Packing plenty into his new micro-album, "Dope," the D.C. rapper has talent to support his grand ambitions. (By Joshua Cogan)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Chris Richards
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Trying to single out the best song from Tabi Bonney's sophomore album, "Dope," is like trying to pick the coldest ice cube in the tray. The local rapper is infinitely cool, refreshingly concise and remarkably consistent -- three traits that make him an anomaly in today's information age rap-scape, a climate where countless mix-tape torrents run hot and cold. Coming off the success of "The Pocket," a 2006 hit that slowly permeated Washington's airwaves before splashing down on MTV, he's belatedly returned with a highly listenable nine-track micro-album where the rewards grow exponentially after each listen.

Bonney may take his time, but that doesn't mean he's not ambitious. On "Rock Bammas," he casts a dismissive eye on common street hustlers while daydreaming of a rare gold statuette: "While you was all in line standing at the little club, or all in the streets tryna' sell your little drugs/I was masterminding how to blow up, watching those Grammys thinking how to show up." (If he ever makes it, let's hope the presenters don't mangle his name -- it's pronounced Ta-bee Boh-nay.)

The chorus of "Rock Bammas" transfers D.C. street slang into a puckish refrain and Bonney continues to show his local roots throughout "Dope," unfurling syllables at go-go-paced tempos. Using the same echo-drenched vocal effects that saturate live go-go recordings, he's quick to accentuate his verses with guttural grunts ("Rrrrrrahh!") and octave-leaping yelps without ever losing his composure. His flow is fastidiously neat, organized and orderly -- one rhyme in front of the other.

Over the lilting reggae beat of "Rich Kids," he introduces himself as if he were hosting an episode of "Cribs" in slow motion: "Oh, hello. Tabi. Bonney. Welcome. Ice cold, the heat don't melt him."

And with the hypnotic "Kick Rocks," he amplifies his swagger with a dash of the political: "I am legend, my own version coming very soon/But mine's without the weapons and the costumes/This is real life -- all that gun talk played out like British Knights/Unless you're talking revolution, babe. Sign me up for, like, 12 grenades."

Bonney deserves a thicker beat here. Too often over the album's 30 minutes, synthesizers sound brittle, drums feel papery and thin. These tracks will do few favors for Bonney on car stereos and club speakers.

Other detractors might cast Bonney as a mere foil to Wale, the emerging Washington rapper set to make his major label debut this spring. And while they're chummy, (Wale gets a shout-out on "Duhh"), the two rappers couldn't be more different. Where Wale has posited himself as a sleepless overachiever determined for pop greatness, Bonney hovers on the periphery, practically refusing to break a sweat. With a slew of hungry new rappers vying for space in your iPod each and every day, don't let this one breeze you by.

DOWNLOAD THESE: " Rock Bammas," "Kick Rocks," "Rich Kids," "Jet Setter"

© 2009 The Washington Post Company