Sep 16, 2010, 08:00AM

The Distillery: Duce Wayne's Punchlines and Polos

Highlights from the Baltimore MC's debut mixtape.

The experience of spinning Punchlines & Polos is almost enough to make one want to take a theoretical controlling interest in Duce Wayne’s career. You’ll want to counsel him, take him out for a lunch of fried lake trout at Lexington Market, beg him to slip some repurposed Batman iconography or adlibs into his designer flows or suggest that he maybe drop “Duce Wayne” as a handle in favor of, say, “Bmore Slick”—the name he almost obsessively Twitters under. You’ll want him to improve, to evolve and ascend, and live up to the promise of Polos‘ choicest cuts. (By contrast, a lot of Baltimore rap mixtape debuts only boast one. Note: I‘m not over the moon for “Give‘n‘Go,” Duce‘s mic-pass lunchin’ session with Al Great, but they made a YouTube video for it.) His sharpest rhymes offer the playfulness, dexterousness, and confidence heads expect from modern rap, projecting hardness and intellect without acquiescing to the genre’s often solipsistic, nihilistic tendencies.

(Do I wish that Duce—or his producers—would sample that “stately Wayne manor” crack from The Sopranos then relentlessly hammer it home, ala DMX and those growls and barks that used to litter his hits? Yes, I do. I do.)

Let’s consider a few of them.

03. “Bmore Streets.” Ah, Baltimore streets. Cracked. Trash-strewn. Congested. Lined with badly parked, secured-on-bad-credit automobiles. Legions of homeless folks. Detroit-lite. As you might have guessed, “Bmore Streets” is Duce’s paean to Bodymore’s crumbling latticework of thoroughfares and avenues, and even if he doesn’t shout out your block or ones that occupy a special place in your personal mythology, the tableau he’s working from will trigger City That Bleeds expats’ nostalgia reflexes. The accompanying production—a jowly gospel soul vocal, looped and festooned by semi-somber horns—almost simulates the experience of guiding a vehicle through paved ruts and widening post-blizzard potholes and ill-considered roadway divots while trying to keep an eye peeled for kamikaze cyclists and daredevil kids darting in and out of traffic. “Riding through my city, it’s the opposite of pretty,” Duce laments, but it’s still his city, and there’s as much lived-in, journalistic detail as there is lovingness to how he describes it and its particulars, its lingo (“Some love the streets, guess the bumps make ‘em happy/If you ain’t got a car, catch a hack or a taxi“), its cuisine (“Half-and-half, salt and pepper, ketchup, shrimp fried rice/beef and broccoli, mix ’em up properly”) its territories (“The Feds out on Federal, pressin‘ up on Preston, make you mad on Madison,“ “If you ain‘t from round here, don‘t park on Park Heights“), its necessary-evil hazards (“Detours on every block make you take another path/That’s more miles per gallon if you wanna do the math,“ “Streets flooded from broken water mains”). The president even gets a shout: “Obama had the streets blocked off for six hours,” he marvels. “Now that’s power.”

09. “Cold Out” feat. Daysia Star. An admittedly “gimme” exercise in contrasts, i.e. deciding to rhyme about winter allows the rhymer to play cold themes against warmer ones. But Duce fully exploits every possible nuance of this set up and illuminates the chattering, nattering chipmunk-soul beat with agile, sincere bars about break-ups (“You can keep the tears, go ‘head, cry me a river/Skate on thin ice and bawl, I’ll watch you shiver”), deep-freeze fashion preferences (“Nike boots, thermals, hoodies, in the winter/I‘m cooler than whoever“), and even the astronomical cost of electricity in Maryland in recent years: “Fuck BGE bills.”

14. “Shoot A Nigga.” See, Duce doesn’t actually want to hurt anyone on this track anymore than he was glamorizing drug hustling on “Dope Boy” (really, he wasn’t—rather, he was craftily and effectively using metaphors about dealing to big-up his microphone skills). The incendiary chorus, “Shoot a nigga, stab a nigga, kill a nigga, no/I ain’t here for that, homie/I’m just trying to flow”, is intended to seize your attention so your hose can reiterate, in case the content of the previous 13 tracks hadn‘t clued you in, that homicide and disfigurement aren’t his bag. The beat is Vegas-revue huge, all horns surging and teased for maximum effect, on some sick, irresistible Jigga-banger shit. And the verses! The verses are immaculate, not-quite double-time but coming on at what feels like freight-train speed, like solid little boxing jabs, punchy and effective. Here is one example of many, many zingers: “You couldn’t fuck with me if we was conjoined twins/We met a chick, I hit her, but you her boyfriend.”

19. “Punchlines & Polos.”
Smart, baller-on-a-budget fashion tips that wouldn’t have been out of place in Project Runway phenom Christian Siriano’s kinda-bio/fashionista handbook Fierce Style.


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