Earlier this year, San Diego rapper and Deep Rooted MC, Johaz, teamed up with LA's Dirty Science head honcho/producer Exile as the duo Dag Savage for an album heavy on boom bap, dusty beats and rhymes -- a classic rap nod to hip-hop's golden age. Titled "E&J," a play on their names perhaps, or possibly a nod to their late night studio drink of choice?
On the rhyme side "E&J" finds Johaz, at times gruff and aggressive at his warrior-poet best. "Before I pop a pill, man/ I'd rather pop a Nazi", while at other times reflective, almost confessional-like when retelling childhood memories about talent shows and adolescent arrests, "From the walls of juvenile hall to Hawthorne elementary...... rocking talents shows, busting flows at assemblies."
His yin-and-yang of aggression and reflection allow Johaz to showcase himself fully formed and multidimensional. The two qualities provide context and backstory for his songs which give his raps depth, and while he's not preachy or heavy-handed, his songs do carry weight. They also provide insight into who he is as an artist, but more importantly, they provide insight into who he is as a man.
As the album finds Johaz in full block scholar glory, it finds Exile in a golden haze of hip-hop's golden age. There's a timelessness to the production. Some of the beats sound as though they'd be just as comfortable on a Jeru album as they are here. But even with its distinct boom bap feel and vintage glow, the production also has a bit of regional bounce and a SoCal sheen that shines through on tracks like "Twilight," with its Dr. Dre-esque drums and pulse.
Or on "Bad Trip," with its slow rolling, sinister Westside 'G-Funk' bass line. Exile also provides the album with consistency. As the sole producer on the record, he maintains its cohesiveness. While Johaz uses reflection and aggression as two sides to the same coin, it's the beats and Exile that keep it all together. For every pensive mood and reflective line, there's a pensive beat; a reflective sound scape. It all helps in making "E&J" a proper album as opposed to a killer mix tape.
There's a lot to be said for chemistry: Pete Rock & CL Smooth had it, as did Dr. Dre and Snoop; Guru with Premier as Gangstarr became legends because of it; and on "E&J," Johaz and Exile prove that they too have that often elusive quality -- that certain jene sais quoi.
They just click.