After a non-starter debut mixtape, Alpoko Don releases something that capitalizes in on the promise shown in his viral video hits. And it’s fucking glorious.
Years deep into a rap cycle which puts premium on production far more than on actual rapping, Alpoko does something almost unthinkable – release an EP featuring production so minimal, the songs might as well be performed acapella. There’s nothing more to back the rapper here than some minimal percussion and harmonizing. The entire EP is a throwback to lunchroom freestyles done with accompaniment of a friend rhythmically banging a quarter or a lighter on the table. The ‘pen & table’ tag marked on Alpoko’s bandcamp is telling. Albeit here that old familiar routine is performed with much much more virtuosity than it was in your 8th grade memories.
Beyond the novelty of his unique minimalism, Alpoko is a very very talented rapper. That’s really why the EP works so well, I doubt that an artist of lesser talent could have managed it. Alpoko has all the characteristics needed to hold the listener’s attention – lines for days, a voice that’s preternaturally suited to his style, great hooks, sincerity, pathos, the ability to impart street wisdom with conviction and credibility, etc. He would sound great over ‘normal’ production. The fascinating thing here is that he doesn’t need it. A recent TSS writeup for the ‘Street Life’ video aptly likened him to a Southern Baptist minister: “Guttural soul and earnest devotion leaped from his chest and escaped from his mouth into the hearts of listeners.” That sums it up rather well.
Just for the sake of argument, I started thinking of producers who could give him beats that would contribute to his singular approach instead of over-riding it. The first name that came to mind was Tree. Even though their musical styles are not exactly alike they seem like kindred spirits, both rap versions of blues men. If Tree makes soul-trap, Alpoko makes trap-spirituals. And if the two combined, the result could be a whole new genre altogether.