Anyone involved in hip-hop in Champaign-Urbana will tell you the scene is inexplicably marginalized to the point of near non-existence. Dumb luck of the purist kind brought me across Dave Coresh back in 2010 at one of those strange, poorly promoted (but free) Come-See-Live-Music-In-The-Union type situations designed to benefit underage undergrads starved for fun on a Friday night. After seeing Dave tear up a stage I’d only seen used for acoustic covers of indie-pop hits and somber student poetry readings, I knew I’d found an artist to follow in the CU. The addition of a live band, a handful of slick videos, and campus shows at anywhere from his deep Urbana living room to Cowboy Monkey to the pool deck at 308 Green strengthened my conviction in Coreshtianity. Not to mention the dude could play a mean game of FIFA.
When ARTAPE finally dropped after months of hype, I downloaded with high expectations and it more than delivered. The mixture of humor, intensity, and intelligence that sets Coresh apart on stage appears from the jump on the opening track, “Lana Del Ray,” with punishing drums fills, distorted guitar riffs, and slap-in-the-face straightforward verses that dispel any illusion that this will be any sort of standard hip-hop experience.
After the slinky second track “Spaceghost” (with Stefan Ponce production and Chuck L.I. flow reminiscent of Gorillaz/Del the Funky Homosapien banger “Clint Eastwood”), Coresh hits stride on standout track “Easter,” which manages to achieve something rarely even attempted in modern mainstream hip-hop but that is the foundation of the art form itself: critically engaging social issues over a hot beat. Touching on topics from class structure (“hard to see mansions/when you livin’ in a teepee”), media distortion (“this ain’t the shit you seen on TV/cuz homie this is real/don’t fall for the CG”), sentencing disparity (“cocaine snortin’/crack cocaine snortin’/what’s the big difference until you factor the law in?”), government spending (“where’s the charity/for Americans under three?/cuz we can fight for war/but we can’t fight for peace?”), and the industry norms the track inherently shuns (“niggas say they gettin’ money/what they spendin’ it on?/lambos and hoes/Polo drawers/being influential but you’re doin’ it wrong”), Coresh drops more knowledge in less than three minutes than most rappers do on a whole record.
Lest you think ARTAPE is some sort of self-serious lecture, Coresh comes back with bravado on “Bathroom,” spitting athletic lines over a beat so off-kilter that you can’t help nod along with a smile on your face to lyrics like “It’s obvious you novices can’t help to acknowledge it/that on my craft and in class on my college shit.” During our time in Champaign-Urbana, Coresh was at his best when he was allowed to bounce between the ignorant and intellectual in a battle or backroom and nowhere on this tape are his cypher-slaying abilities on display more prominently than on this track. Get a taste of his freestyle flow below:
On ARTAPE, Coresh’s verses tend to shine brightest on heavier self-produced tracks, like the trunk-thumping “Amtrak” featuring Chicago MCs The Boy Illinois and Louchiano, but his skill to tailor his style enough to compliment a song’s mood shows his potential. On “So High,” he takes atmospheric production and a hook that lends itself to bars about blunts and instead deftly weaves dreamy verses about escaping the violent, impoverished realities of Chicago’s south side while “Out of My Lane” is full speed ahead braggadocio, passionate and proud.
The beauty of Coresh’s music is that no matter what he’s saying, you believe him. That’s why I felt the same excitement and expectancy that I did about ARTAPE when he told me earlier this month from L.A. that his upcoming project, HEVVY, is focused on “social injustice and, for lack of better words (or because [he] likes how this sounds better) fucked up shit going on in society” and will dropping sometime this summer. Stay awake.
Keeps your eyes wide open here.