Since he won the Boston Music Award for Best Hip-Hop Artist in 2010, M-Dot has released three well-received mixtapes while mostly keeping a low profile. Instead of running the club scene treadmill, he spent the years woodshedding and working up dozens of tracks for this, his debut album.
“Ego and the Enemy” (Own Lane Music), the first of two companion records he will deliver this year (this is the “ego” installment), finds the MC teaming up with a group of high-profile producers, including Marley Marl, Large Professor and Hi-Tek, for an inspired set of introspective hip-hop.
Keeping with the long tradition of Boston rappers, M-Dot (born Michael Januario) refuses to pander to popular trends — don’t look for trap beats or sing-song choruses here. He adheres to the classic East Coast aesthetic dominated by brittle rhythms and complex, heady rhymes. His technique and flow have been refined without a loss of urgency or rhythmic density. Where he once came at a beat with hard charging, staccato energy, he’s learned to settle into the grooves and let his verses breathe.
The East Boston native and Beverly resident still stacks songs with tricky, intricate rhyme schemes, and his love affair with the language endures. On the record’s best cut, “Days Are the Same,” a look at soul-crushing cultural decay, he raps: “Chicks regurgitating thinking they’ll look right/ dudes increase the murder-rate try to live that hood life/ It’s all the same, each day starts with pain, they need us divided till that gun shell parts our brain/ Kid’s depressed cause he got no love on Snapchat/ His mom’s depressed cause her Tinder don’t chat back.”
Throughout these 17 tracks, M-Dot continues to lean hard on bravado while revealing an increasingly developed view of the world at large. He’s more than the hustling MC simply looking to the next gig now — some verses insightfully reflect on fatherhood, relationships, and society.
“Chrissy” flaunts his sharpened narrative skills as he examines a teenage girl’s dark spiral into despair with the cool eye of a documentarian. Even the hooky stab at a pop crossover, “Shine,” with stellar turns from Wu-Tang icon Method Man and a fiery Dominque Larue, has gravitas and cautious optimism.
The stellar producers, fleshing out the music with a deft blend of melody and dissonance, certainly help “Ego” soar, but this is clearly a showcase for M-Dot’s lyrical acrobatics.
ESSENTIAL “Days Are the Same”Ken Capobianco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.