Dudley Perkins: A Lil’ Light

Dudley Perkins: A Lil’ Light

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Dudley Perkins

Album: A Lil’ Light
Label: Stones Throw

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The Dudley Perkins side project originated with "Flowers," a stoned lark of a single on which Oxnard rapper Declaime sang spontaneous-sounding lyrics over a dusty Madlib soul groove. The track turned out so well that the duo decided to make an entire Dudley Perkins album. The problem is that, even when Declaime is produced by the greatest hip-hop beatsmith this side of DJ Premier, the result still sounds like a stoned lark. Of course, nobody expects perfection or technical polish from an impromptu part-time soulman, but Declaime's off-key warbling and half-baked songwriting makes ODB and Biz Markie sound classically trained by comparison. Listening to him croon over Madlib's beats is a little like watching an art student spray-paint over a Picasso, and while there's something strangely fascinating about A Lil' Light's mixture of masterful production and shower-level songcraft, it's tempting to imagine what the album would sound like if Declaime's vocals were replaced with new rhymes from Quasimoto. A strikingly original presence as a rapper, Declaime has the benevolent rasp of a friendly dragon, and he's refreshingly unafraid to come across as vulnerable and emotional, especially on "Lil' Black Boy," a raw and passionately unhinged tribute to his son. He even sounds positively girlish when he's hitting the high notes. Declaime's off-kilter charm and lack of self-consciousness resonate throughout Light, but his lyrics often sound remedial and made up as he goes along. Of course, freestyling is an integral part of rap, but soul singing requires a different set of skills, and is far less amenable to all-out improvisation. Madlib's elegantly busy production whirs and buzzes with sound effects, movie dialogue, and vocal effects transposed onto eclectic, deftly chosen samples, which makes it all the more frustrating to listen to Declaime stumble his way around half-melodies and makeshift choruses. Madlib's brilliant work makes A Lil' Light impossible to dismiss as a failed experiment, but even fans of Declaime's rapping are likely to occasionally wish they'd waited for the instrumental version.

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