Disclaimer: All views presented in this review are those of the reviewer and not of DJ Wade-O.
I miss the good ol’ days. The days when albums were released like movies. They were all released on the same day of the week and the release date was known months ahead of time. I remember when I frantically flipped through my newest editions of The Source or XXL, looking for the full-page ad telling me what albums to be expecting in the future. It was a small pleasure, but one I looked forward to every month nonetheless. The anticipation and excitement that would build for an album almost made the records more special.
Things change so fast in entertainment. Now it’s hard to follow all of the releases. Records could drop at any day during the week. Thanks to Beyoncé, Drake and few other, they could literally drop at anytime. No one in CHH has done the surprise album yet, but the release dates have changed. Whether it be because fans don’t consume music the way they used to or that information is so easily accessible (or both), this is an area of music that has forever changed.
On November 27, Dre Murray released his second solo record with Collision Records. It was a bit of a surprise to fans because we are trained to follow patterns. There are other artists on Collision that seemed due up, and Dre already released Southern Lights this year with label mate Alex Faith. Also, promo for the record started two weeks ahead of the release date. Either way, building excitement for an artist as accomplished and established as Dre wasn’t hard. He’s on an incredible run as a member of Collision, as he has had multiple critically acclaimed records over the past few years. This is on top of an already stellar resume. So the surprise for 34 quickly turned to anticipation, and for good reason.
Dre Murray has been one of the most consistently great artists in our genre for over 7 years now. He has continually put out great music and is consistent in what he brings to a record. 34 is almost an ode to that. It has a combination of Dre’s best elements as an artist. Musically, the record shines brightly. It is a record that you can run on repeat all day. It has the classic Collision elements in it. It is a creative take on a southern sound, but it also has an element that every Dre Murray record needs; it’s smooth. 34 is smooth like honey and just flows out of the speakers beautifully. There is no better example of this than on “Turn It.” From the soft intro to the hard drums and tantalizing claps, this track is smooth. This is a theme that is carried through the record in a way that only Dre can do.
One of the things that Dre does that has made him so good, is that he marries his flow to the beat seamlessly. When you hear a Dre Murray track, it’s hard to imagine the beat without the vocals and vice versa. 34 is no different. Each track is tied together with his flow perfectly. If we go back to the aforementioned “Turn It,” another element that made the song so smooth was the melodic hook and Dre’s silky flow. He rides this beat with restraint and works his flow with the beat, instead of trying to overpower it. He does exactly what the beat needs.
Dre shows off this skill again on the very different but equally as smooth, “Play Me at Your Wedding.” The production here is a little harder with the drums and the bass being the most present elements. The soft whistle and (similarly) melodic hook mellows it out, but it is his flow that smoothes the track out. That’s the sound that this record brings continually. It is a smooth record with hard drums and beautiful melodies. It’s an easy record to listen to, but it is also something that will constantly have your head nodding.
The music on 34 takes the forefront because it is that good. There is also some great lyricism on this record. Dre Murray is one of the stronger lyricist in CHH, so it’s not much of a surprise that this record is worth it’s weight in gold lyrically. On 34, Dre Murray is like a poet, in the sense that he rarely just gives you what the track is about. There is interpretation to be had. You have to pull the themes out of the lyrical gymnastics that he performs. This is not a negative. On the contrary, it gives the record a supreme amount of weight. You have to listen to tracks like “1989,” “DWB,” and “Paintriot” a few times to feel comfortable with the themes of them. But when you finally remove the veil on a track like “Paintriot,” you are blown away. The struggle he describes throughout the track is fascinating. Going through the struggles of blacks in the inner cities to the struggles that blacks have of trying to expose the prior struggles, is elegant and thought provoking.
34 is a showcase of what intricate lyricism looks like. Dre doesn’t waste a syllable. He uses storytelling, punch lines, entendres and metaphors to paint pictures. You can just sit with this record and let Dre bring you new little nuggets with each listen. “Family Tree” is a track that just grows better with each listen, as does the more intense “American Death Triangle.” Dre also softens up a little with “Play Me at Your Wedding,” where he takes time out to address his daughters. From the beginning of the track, the love and pride he has in being the father to his daughters pours through the speakers. His honesty is beautiful and relatable to those in similar positions as him. Overall, the lyricism on 34 is nothing short of stunning, which helps to make this record so great.
There were a few other things that helped to make 34 the project that it is. The flow of the album was great. The tracks transitioned into each other well, which help make for a smoother listening experience. There were only 10 tracks on the entire record, but it felt the proper length. The well thought out and perfectly placed features (David James on “DWB” and “Family Tree,” and Tragic Hero on “1989”) helped to enhance the project and not overwhelm it. All of these elements come together to make a great overall product. 34 isn’t the best album Dre Murray has in his catalog, but it is definitely one of the better projects of 2015.