Two days ago, if you had asked me who or what Steel Tipped Dove was, I would have guessed it to be a new flying/normal type Pokémon. When I heard that he was actually a Brooklyn-based producer, I was both a little disappointed that he wasn’t a monster that would rekindle my love for Japanese role playing games, yet very excited to hear what his work would sound like. Steel Tipped Dove had previously worked with some underground hip hop artists, such as Big Baby Gandhi, but had never delivered a project that would showcase his varied skill set until the release of his debut mixtape, & A Whole Bunch of Crazy Motherfuckers. Dove leaves nothing to chance, using thirty five tracks across two volumes to display his diverse sound. While I rarely had a complaint about his production itself, several of the MCs that he employed gave lackluster performances, which brings down the project slightly.
I want to call Steel Tipped Dove a hip hop producer, but that might be selling him too short. Yes, a majority of the songs on this mixtape are rap tracks. However, there were moments when he strayed from the genre, dabbling in music better classified as indie or pop. These forays, when successful, really stuck out and were memorable. When “Good Night Lover,” a collaboration with New York based vocalist Bebe Panthere, started to play, I was floored. On a mixtape with a title including the words “Crazy” and “Motherfuckers,” the last thing I expected was a dark and slow dream-pop song about leaving someone. The piano driving the beat is absolutely gorgeous; Dove then lays it on top of speedy hats and a lazy moving kick snare combination to reinforce the anxiety of the narrator’s loss. Bebe’s vocals are a beautiful compliment, and they really add to the entire sad and dreary ambiance of the song.
A few tracks later, Dove surprised me once more, on “Top of the House.” This time he collaborated with Scrambler Seequill, also from New York. Steel Tipped Dove really knows how to make a female vocalist shine, this track is undeniable proof. Production wise, Dove samples some dusty vinyl, Dillaesque drum sounds, while the band provides lush and atmospheric guitar chords on top. The result is a distorted yet eerily gorgeous sound that definitely held my attention. This track ended up being on my short list of really memorable songs on this long mixtape, it’s definitely one to check out, even though it’s not hip hop.
However, it was immediately evident that Steel Tipped Dove is in his element when he is doing hip hop production. He clearly has a deep understanding and a vast amount of music knowledge. Stylistically, there is a track for every type of rap fan, but what really impressed me was how creative he was in his sample usage and selection. “Broken Drum” featuring Bill Ding, begins with a pitched down vocal sample singing “Beat that Broken Drum” over a violin sample. It has a Harry Fraud trap vibe, especially when the drums come in, but it is unique in its minimalism. There really isn’t anything over the top or grandiose on the track, yet it still sounds dope. Bill Ding helps the overall vibe with an equally solid performance, lyrically. Following right after this track is “Slap Sad Clowns” featuring DC Pierson, where Steel Tipped Dove layers a piano sample and what sounds like a banjo or guitar. Instead of being dark and contemplative, the song is fast paced and really nerdy. I liked both tracks individually, as well as consecutively, gaining a lot of respect for Dove after seeing how indiscriminate he was with his song and MC selection.
After a couple of listens, I could sense who Steel Tipped Dove was more comfortable working with. He had two tracks on Big Baby Gandhi’s No1 2 Look Up 2, so they are familiar with each other, and the MC returned to be featured on three tracks on & A Whole Bunch of Crazy Motherfuckers. I don’t know if Gandhi is still retired or if that was just a stunt, but if he is rapping again, him and Dove need to get into the studio immediately. All three songs (“Sprung,” “Tryna Get High,” and “See Life”) are notable. My personal favorite is “Sprung,” which also features Fat Tony. Steel Tipped Dove constructs a beat out of really interesting synth sounds that remind me of distorted oriental sounds mixed with flashy 1980′s music. The song has sing-songy moments, including a reworking of the T-Pain “Sprung” chorus. You got me open / soon to be broken / put it on me Gandhi rhymes, which I found to be a clever use of placement descriptions to describe love and relations. Steel Tipped Dove layers the vocals interestingly, using both Fat Tony and Gandhi to harmonize on the hook. It sounds strange on the first go, maybe even lazy, but it grows on you pretty quickly.
Kool A. D., from Kool & Kass and Das Racist fame, shows up twice. I prefer the bluesy vibe of “Christina Ricci,” which also features Safe, over “Owlsley” (which is also good). Steel Tipped Dove samples some really smooth Blues guitar riffs, and the flute that comes in at the end just adds to the overall cool smoky ambiance of the track. Bronx-based wordsmith YC the Cynic also shows up twice, most notably on the track “The Mantra,” with MC Elijah Black (who also is on the tape twice). Steel Tipped Dove samples an interesting vocal sample, which at parts sounds like sheep bleating, and at other times like he is desperately begging someone to help him. The piano and guitar sample give the track a really traditional, but cool, hip hop vibe. My favorite line has to be Trying to find that something that something is hiding in, which is perfect description of youthful ambition and angst.
I have to stress that this tape is thirty five tracks long, so there are a lot of good songs that I’m not able to discuss at length, so here’s the lightning round.
The first track, “Mad Men” featuring Kassa Overall, is smooth and definitely the smoker’s song on the album. Epic’s “Changes” is one of the more interesting songs; the chopped vocal sample is perfectly raw, and interestingly juxtaposed against the pretty string sample also used. Tone Tank’s “Ellen Degenerates” is a deep and conscious song that questions many of the things that society takes for granted. Vulkan The Crusader and Steel Tipped Dove create a dark ethereal atmosphere on “Last Prayer.” Downswayze proves that he is a great storyteller, albeit an unconventional one, on “Real Talk in the Park.” It’s a hilarious tale of a lost puppy that ends in the narrator regretting being high in a park.
Perhaps the most unique of all Steel Tipped Dove beats is found on “You Don’t Wanna Know Us” featuring Warren Britt & BS. The way he pans and fades out the hats on this track, always on the first kick drum hits, creates a dope bounce. The piano sample adds to the upbeat feeling, it is the most danceable song on the mixtape by far.
Unfortunately, thirty five tracks don’t only lead to really long reviews. There were several tracks that really did nothing for me, they could have been left out. Volume Two suffered from occasionally poor lyrics and cliché conscious hip hop subjects more than volume one did. I had perhaps the toughest time digesting “Ugly Duckling” by Corina Corina. She seems to be torn between whether she wants to sing or talk, succeeding well at neither. To be fair, this particular beat didn’t really help her at all. The lyrics are simplistic It’s so hard to be girl / my heart bleeds for girls all over the world… To me, it’s just not there. Following this track is “Hitler Bad,” featuring Chaz Kangas, which begins with Hitler bad / Kangas good, but often, it’s more like Kangas awkward. Last, and dead last at that, is “Simmer Down” by Albert Rhymestein. I have no problem with more “conscious” rap, but I have a problem when a conscious-minded rapper just plugs social issues without really holding my interest. That’s what happened on “Simmer Down.” It comes off a bit boring, and only filled with political views that are so mainstream now that it’s not exploring anything new.
Luckily, there are more good tracks than poor ones, and production-wise, Steel Tipped Dove really impresses on this project. I highly suggest you give it at least one listen. Admittedly, thirty five tracks does take a lot of effort, but there are several songs that will keep you coming back for more. With such a varied sound, it makes me want to follow his development and hear more of his music.