UnderSong Underground: B Dolan

Sadie Walton profiles the biggest and best underground hip hop artists of the moment. This week: B Dolan.

Genre: “Horrorcore” Hip Hop emcee
Label: Strange Famous Records
Upcoming Projects: Album - House of Bees Vol II. Tour - The Church of Love and Ruin (at Bestival in UK)

I thought it appropriate that as I was reviewing the upcoming album House of Bees Vol II (read it here), I say a few words about B Dolan himself, for those who may not have come across this hip hop and spoken word emcee from Rhode Island.

From humble beginnings on the spoken word poetry scene in New York City, B Dolan has developed as a person and an artist into a “master storyteller” (SFR’s words), using his raps to weave his political message and personal experiences into his tracks. Dolan has had a chequered personal and work life – his political activism is at the heart of much of his work, and he and Sage (Francis, founder of Strange Famous Records) bonded over a mutual desire to draw attention to corporate behaviour via the website www.knowmore.org.

Prior to meeting up with Sage however, Dolan struggled with the predictability of the urban poetry scene he was a part of, and floundered for a few years. Examples of the style of this early work can be found on LP The Failure which is a troubled, dark and violent – but incredibly moving - spoken word album. Many of his raps are shaped by his personal experiences. For example, on 9/11, he was working as a doorman on a building not far from the World Trade site, and after witnessing the experience left New York suffering from a “paranoid mental state”. He documents this experience in the high octane track Leaving New York.

After moving back to Rhode Island and hooking up with SFR in the early 2000s, he has toured relentlessly, both within the USA and across the Europe, and released four albums – a combination of spoken word and mix-tape styles, working with a variety of other emcees (including Sage, Scroobius Pip, Sole and Prolyphic) not to mention some of the most talented and cutting edge producers in hip hop (Buddy Peace, Alias, Dan Le Sac to name but a few). All this energy, enthusiasm and talent resource has meant that every note Dolan has touched has turned into a thing of beauty – whether it be the gothic “horrorcore” of The Hunter, or the anti-consumerist pop hip hop of 50 Ways to Bleed Your Customer, or the furious dubstep breaks of Economy of Words.

But B Dolan isn’t all poetry and feelings. Dolan’s political leanings of late cannot be ignored, and shine through his newest release, House of Bees Vol. II. Dolan is a key supporter of the Occupy movement (read more about that here) and much of his new album is influenced by his experiences as a political activist. However, what I like about Dolan is that he is not a preacher. Tracks such as Which Side Are You On and Film The Police have politically inspiring lyrics, but are weaved through the track to inform, not lecture. He raps to philosophise and lay the story down for the listener, but makes no attempt to sermonise. It is this credit given to the listener that makes B Dolan an artist I not only enjoy listening to, but also personally admire.

Dolan raps about events which affect us all – from his feelings towards his beloved father who was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer days before Dolan was due to start a European tour, to anti-war treatises, to questioning religion. But he does so in the kind of way which undoubtedly is making traditional hip hop emcees quake in their boots – with experimentation, sheer balls, and a little help from his friends. HoBv2 sees the introduction of Epic Beard Men on the track 2Bad which sees Sage Francis and Dolan battling each other with tongues firmly in cheeks, which will (with any luck) see a new collaboration album in the future. B Dolan is constantly shape shifting his own style, and bouncing off the talent of those around him and using his own experiences and his own skills to present the listener with one off aural experiences which totally knock the socks off his higher paid and higher selling contemporaries.

As B Dolan himself says, “You can tell a man by the company he keeps.” And B keeps some of the best company out there.

Recommendations:

Fallen House, Sunken City B Dolan, 2010 (Strange Famous Records)

Stand Out Tracks:

Kate The Failure. B Dolan, 2008 (Strange Famous Records)
Earthmovers Fallen House, Sunken City. B Dolan, 2010 (Strange Famous Records)
Still Here House of Bees, Vol II. B Dolan, 2012 (Strange Famous Records)

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Scroobius Pip