There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
With no less than ten projects released in the last calendar year, D.C. native Napoleon Da Legend has flexed artistic range on mixtape tributes to 2Pac and Gang Starr as well as a sharp record blending his East Coast rap roots with Afrobeat instrumentation. On the new LP Coup D’Etat he joins forces with fellow workhorse Giallo Point, a British producer whose orchestral arrangements embrace reverential minimalism.
Giallo Point has proven a kingmaker as of late on albums with Tha God Fahim, SmooVth, and Recognize Ali, and the streak continues with Coup D’Etat. His swirling violins, spare guitars, and languid tempos evoke the soundtracks of classic mob flicks, usually employing muffled, if any, percussion. The atmospheric music is ripe for world-building, and Napoleon sketches a multiverse of foreign heists, island getaways, and models with “intentional tan lines.” His lyricism is contingent upon a level of exquisite detail, vehicles and articles of clothing described right down to their thread counts.
Napoleon and Giallo Point both prefer landscapes to comprehensive narratives, so Coup D’Etat’s eleven tracks aren’t screenplays so much as set pieces. With minimal variance on a conversational delivery, Napoleon is a canny, world-weary tour guide who’s seen it all yet still revels in a life of crime. “Kremlin” is a solid exhibition in Cold War intrigue, while the brass-based “2 Train” propels the listener through Brooklyn via public transit.
At one point Napoleon shouts out Prodigy, and his vocal resemblance to the late Mobb Deep rapper is often remarkable; the slow-flow rhymes of Coup D’Etat would not be out of place on any of P’s solo records. In these moments Giallo Point conjures his most immediate antecedent, producer extraordinaire The Alchemist. The penultimate track “Get Out My Crib” is a callback to golden-era Mobb Deep, Napoleon’s harried dismissals of couch-surfers injecting a rare dose of humor as “Party Over” did on 1995’s The Infamous.
Coup D’Etat is a focused and insular listen, but its departure from Napoleon’s livelier work places it among his most ambitious and fulfilling projects to date.