Fremo Skillz

There’s a brief scene in The Defiant Ones, the HBO docuseries about Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, where Dre is sitting on a beautiful porch on what appears to be some private island, and he is looking at his computer, listening to “Stay Away” by Nirvana mouthing along with every staaaaaay and every awaaaaaayyy with great enthusiasm. The chorus ends, the second verse starts, Dre does a little shuffle, he lets the camera crew know that he is sweating now and then exclaims, “Nirvana, Kurt Cobain, that’s my favourite rock group of all time.”

Dr. Dre has never been someone I relate to, but in that brief moment, I recognized myself in him. Dre has likely heard, by choice or not, a shit load of rock music. I’m sure he likes a lot of it. I’m sure he loves the best of it, but based on everything he has ever done, rock music just isn’t his primary musical focus. It’s the same with me and rap, and it’s why I’ve never written about it. I’ve been surrounded by it all my life; it’s been the most popular genre amongst my general peer group; I’ve heard a lot of it; my favourite rapper of all time is Kendrick Lamar. Standard answer for a guy who only has a cursory knowledge of the genre but an above-average appreciation for music.

Dakk’One has forced me to change my unofficial policy. One listen-through of his low-key breakout single “Lullaby” and it is hard to deny the Vancouver-based rapper has something special. His delivery is raw but never overly aggressive. It has the emotional vulnerability characterized by a lot of the hip-hop coming out of Toronto, but thanks to the production on “Lullaby” and Dakk’s skills as an MC, it feels fresher, more biting and vital than the deflated sounds of the 6ix.

Lyrically, “Lullaby” lays out the story of Dakk’One’s life so far, from his difficult childhood — growing up without a father and feeling like he was the reason for his mother’s drinking — to his all-or-nothing move at making a real go of music for himself, his daughter and the rest of his family. The chorus feels like a true sign-of-the-times, make-or-break statement; a classic started-from-the-bottom now I’m almost there anthem. “Wanna be rich? What is it costing?” Dakk knows the stakes and knows the amount of work that it’s taken to get to this point; it might take off, but of course, it might not. That tension fills every crevice of every story, hope and boast on “Lullaby” and pushes it from being just another song to a complex and engaging statement of artistic intent.

Dakk’One has promised a larger collection of songs is to come later in the year and if this prelude is any indication, his all-or-nothing approach will pay off. Hip-hop has played an important part in telling the stories of marginalized people over the past 40 years and while acts like A Tribe Called Red and Tanya Tagaq have helped shine a light on the plight of Indigenous People in this country through their music, neither have done so in such a direct and potentially accessible way. “Lullaby” is not a political song per se, but because Dakk’s story has the potential to reach so many people, his push for stardom and eventual achievement of it would be an important moment and would have real potential to change hearts and minds.

I wonder if Dre ever turns his ears north of the border.

Hannah Epperson