The Deadly Scribes were a klatch of Squirrel Hill kids hungry to get it on in the hip-hop game, progressing far enough to assimilate into the underground show and hire a J Rawls beat for their EP. But the high school years don't last very long, and youths must seek a modicum of maturity or wind up flipping McDonald's burgers. So it went with ex-Scribe MC Dos Noun (a.k.a. Daniel Muessig), who now lives in Philly and has issued a doozy of a solo debut on a new New York label.
Dos and partner-in-beats Mr. Burns (a.k.a. CMU student Jules Krishnamurti) pose on the 12-inch cover as swank discerning gentlemen with high-class threads and stiff drinks, lending an impression similar to Dan the Automator's Lovage. Burns' meticulously crafted instrumentals on side two bear this out, sampling Audrey Hepburn and a '60s chanteuse on "Monte Carlo 1962" -- music to make love to your old lady by, if she happened to be Grace or Jackie. His other two entries are deep, smoky foot-shufflers with acoustic bass, soundtrack strings and ethereal flutes that create a haze as thick as that of DJs Shadow or Krush.
So the production is strong, no doubt, but the shit really hits the fan on the first side -- surprisingly, Dos Noun is a wicked skilled emcee! On "Release the Hounds," he comes out fighting with seriously charged, angry lines like "fuck all the underground artists who've officially fallen off" and concludes "hip hop is mine, don't even think you could pry it from my cold, dead fingers," ending with a deejay scratch exhibition. The central gem is "Confessions of a Teenage Wafrican American," a cut so rife with lyrical insight that it could be a cultural anthropology dissertation. (Even the term "postmodern urban aesthetic" pops up.)
Dos recounts how, as a little tyke in Manhattan, later moving to Pittsburgh, he grew up nursed by hip hop ("Run DMC and the Fat Boys") and then, as a youth, passed through both coarse gangsta-thug and cypher-hugging backpacker phases. From "not being accepted by blacks and hated by whites" to "being called Eminem by infinite black kids" whenever he held his own in an emcee battle, he finally resolves "some of my friends and fans are black, but all my favorite rappers are white" (referencing the likes of Atmosphere and Aesop Rock). Though culturally he yearns to be black, in the end he stands up for himself alone ("rich, Jewish, Caucasian ... dope emcee"). The final track, "Inversion," then takes the art of flipping scripts to a new level, further obfuscating the search for true identity Dos seems to pursue.
It would be wise to pay attention to the next Pittsburgh emcee who could be playing indie rap on a national stage, even if Dos Noun's rhymes can be a riddle inside of a conundrum wrapped around an enigma.