David Dallas: From South Auckland to the world
Hip hop artists often follow the same narrative arc. You’ll recognise it: the rise from living in the projects to a bling adorned superstar. 50 Cent summed it up: Get rich or die trying. Extra gangsta kudos if you served jail time, got shot, or dealt drugs along the way.
I feel that Auckland rapper David Dallas has followed a similar, albeit more realistic path. The term “rags to riches” is an exaggeration, but DDot is undoubtedly an underdog. In the past he has discussed growing up in South Auckland, trying to pick up girls, please his dad, getting told off by mum. He has always foretold that he would make it big, but in the meantime he’s just a regular South Auckland Pasifika Kiwi trying to get by.
Dallas arguably has made it. Scribe tapped him on the shoulder to feature in the “Not Many Remix” back in 2004, and things have been on the rise ever since. He signed to US record label Duck Down, toured the world, and befriended rap heavyweights like Freddie Gangsta Gibbs. Eminem and Run The Jewels.. His last album, Falling Into Place won two Tuis at the NZ Music awards, with lead single “Runnin” going platinum. And after a long wait, we now have a new album, Hood Country Club.
Don’t Rate That
I’ll give Dallas top points for lead single “Don’t Rate That” based on the topic alone. The song tackles racist discourse and rips into loan sharks that prey on people from low socio economic backgrounds – the likes you may find in an area like Dallas’ home of South Auckland.
The dude has balls for calling out Rugby League players who would likely flatten him in a second. Maybe that’s why the song resonates so well with me – because he’s flipping the power balance and attacking those who use intimidation tactics. In this Spinoff interview Dallas boasts that one such lending company pulled their ads from an RnB radio station Mai FM that cater to largely the same target demographic as the loan shark parasites. And that’s why Dallas is such a hero in this underdog narrative – because he worked his way up from a nobody to being a somebody using his influence to fight evil.
Follow up single “Fit In” dropped almost an entire year after “Don’t Rate That”. Musically, I love it. The hook roots itself in my head like a stubborn earworm, and I often catch myself humming the tune throughout the day. The message of the track seems redundant, with Dallas trying to prove how little he cares about fitting into the scene. If you don’t care, then why dedicate the effort to writing a song about it? However, despite this, the track is a banger.
I first discovered Dallas in 2011, with his album The Rose Tint. The key reasons that it stood out to me were the laid back style and the musical tracks. I’m not a huge fan of hip-hop based around rigid DJ beats but this really ticked the right boxes for me. The music found on The Rose Tint featured Dallas’ backing band The Daylight Robbery, which added that extra element that elevated it above the rest. The following release, Buffalo Man EP , featured remixed Jamiroquai songs, which continued the trend of using great music to rap over.
2013’s Falling Into Place stepped away from the full band sound, but still achieved great success due in part to the beatmakers Fire & Ice helping with production. The more musical tracks were the ones that sold. Pop singer Ruby Frost lent her voice to two hit tracks, and “Runnin” dominated the airways due to gospel sample of a nun singing.
On first impressions I’m less enthusiastic about Hood Country Club . Dallas still has mad talent as a rapper, but without the band or vibrant backing beats his sound has lost a huge boost. He even re-appropriates Supergroove’s “Can’t Get Enough”, but manages to lose the vibrancy of the song he’s name checking. “Fit In” stands as my album highlight for the time being, purely because of the catchy vocal hook.
Hood Country Club
I saw Dallas play an O-week event at Victoria University last year, where he previewed a few of these tracks live. I especially remember “Get Off” for it’s venomous content. It’s caustic, direct and PNC’s guest verse on the studio track is downright vulgar – worlds away from the laid back Dallas from a few albums ago.
I’m not saying the aggression is necessarily bad. As you read above, I applaud the righteous anger of “Don’t Rate That”. The way I read it, Dallas has come to a point where he wants to address issues head-on, paving the way to this more urgent tone found on some of these tracks.
He challenges the glorification of materialism and celebrity. He rips through peer pressure and mob mentality. “Don’t Flinch” explores the ingrained Kiwi mindset of “harden up and be a man”. David Dallas no longer has any time for your shit and he’s gonna call it as it is.
Wealth and status are major themes that threads through Hood Country Club. Years ago we heard Dallas rap “My mentality is money orientated”. Now he is batting his ego down and re-evaluating what is important in life. Money lenders and financial élite come under fire, suggesting that Dallas no longer subscribes to the goal of getting rich and famous to fit a stereotype.
If Falling Into Place was a teenager, then Hood Country Club is the adult – more serious and not as fun, but still a progression. Dallas is more informed, experienced and confident now. These days he raps about life realities, rather than wishful dreams.
My criticisms about the backing tracks and aggression don’t apply to the entire album. Many do use samples to keep the songs musical and we still hear Dallas’ trademark chilled out flow, it’s just not as prevalent as found in his previous works. Musically, I don’t enjoy it as much. But lyrically and thematically Dallas is at his prime.
David Dallas made global but realised that the value lies in taking it local and keeping his content relatable. He is a hero for becoming a success without selling out. And his music, as always, is outstanding. Lyrically and thematically, Dallas still shines. Hood Country Club won’t receive regular play on my stereo to the same degree as his earlier albums, but it’s still a worthwhile addition to my collection.
David Dallas links:
Buy or stream Hood Country Club: https://umusicnz.lnk.to/HCCFP