I was first introduced to the Pocket Dwellers when a good friend of mine brought a CD over and said, “You have to listen to this.”
That album was Digitally Organic, the Toronto hip hop act’s first (as far as I’m aware) label release. And, because an underground act like PD can expect only so much press and so much room on store shelves, it took an iTunes search to realize that it wasn’t their only. PD-Atrics, unbeknownst to me, was released in 2005.
Any hip hop act that weaves live jazz into rap will inevitably be compared to the Roots. But if Do You Want More ?!!!??! was hip hop’s Kind of Blue, Digitally Organic was its Charlie Parker: all blaring horns and the sense that nobody has ever had more fun on a stage.
PD-Atrics is not quite bebop; it’s not quite as consistent, in that sense, as DO was. But that’s to its favour. It’s rich, inventive and varied. In just the first three songs, we get classic PD on “Stop”, a K-OS style acoustic guitar rap on “Circus”, and a mix of sax, guitar and world music samples on the superlative “Trust Us”.
MC Nigel Williams has a great, scratchy flow that fits well with the jazz vibe, and the lyrics are consistently excellent – inventive wordplay, strong metre and rhythm, playful metaphors. Listeners who have trouble with explicit language may occasionally twitch, but those who have come to expect materialism, violence, and misogyny in hip hop may be pleasantly surprised at how clean the album is otherwise. It’s conscious rap, sure, but it’s first and foremost about the fun.
Unfortunately, as of this review, Pocket Dwellers have split and aren’t making more music.
Overall: If you like hip hop, get this album. If you don’t like hip hop, watch the Trust Us video, and get this album.