“We have certain formulas,” once said Guru, another emcee with a consistent but limited flow. San Francisco-based Rasco has given you his formula since 1998’s Time Waits for No Man; he’ll bomb on the hater emcees and crooked record executives, he’ll deliver a flow like a drill sergeant, but then he’ll switch up and show a sensitive or intelligent side. With Rasco fitting like an old pair of Reeboks, it’s up to the beats to make up the difference. And just like Guru without Premier, you might argue that Rasco hasn’t quite been the same without Peanut Butter Wolf’s beats to buttress his stolid flow.
Production on The Dick Swanson Theory Part 1 is shared by about six cats (only one with any notoriety: Oh No from the Stones Throw clique), and the lack of cohesion shows. There are tracks with the whirring bass-heavy attack Kool Keith tries to trot out on the boards (with somewhat better variety on the bass lines, admittedly); the post-apocalyptic Kanye attack with vocals interwoven throughout (put to annoying effect on “No Love” and working surprisingly well on “This is How it Goes Down”); the random zaniness represented on “Back Down,” with its quasi-Bollywood jangles and pitter-patter percussion that would’ve played well in a club if it had been released a year early.
Rasco’s idea of changing his flow is to inflect the word “deadly” with an extra syllable, so the guest spots add much needed variety. The collabs mostly work well, save for the ever jagged narcolepsy of Aesop Rock on “World’s Collide.” Planet Asia and Ras Kass are kindred spirits in flow and attack, so their variations complement and add variety to the tracks they bless (“Backdown” and “Making the Rounds,” respectively). Opio shines on his cameo on “This Is How It Goes Down,” pointing the way to an alternate land where high-pitched agile voices can shine on along with imposing baritones, especially when they’re making jokes about making your moms scream like a wookie.
Production by committee usually only works with an all-star cast (think Nas’ Illmatic), and in the case of The Dick Swanson Theory it makes the ride too bumpy, despite the steadiness of the Soul Father Rasco’s cadence. There are moments that transcend the formula: The production on “What Happened to the Game” bumps up Rasco’s energy with its orgasmic funk bliss, mixing a flinty organ, disco whistles and horn singing through the hook; and “Emotions” may not top “Passing Me By” or even “I Need Love” for the most compelling hip-hop romance song, but it makes for a nice, if rare, breather from the nonstop battle antics of Rasco’s lines.
Walking around in those well-worn pair of kicks may be comfortable, but in a world of gators and Tims, Converse and even them Pro-Keds, it’s hard to enjoy wearing the same sneaks day after day.