Class A Felony is one of those groups and albums that existed as a Hip Hop mystery to me for many, many years. I imagine this is true for others as well. I first became interested in it based on the album cover alone. The image of the weapons and the giant red circled X on top made a statement, as I’m sure it was intended. This was at a time when the presence of those very tools of destruction had become very commonplace in Rap lyrics. There seemed to be a secret contest as to who could kill the most people on their album and some MCs were surely putting in the effort to win. Then a glance at the text near the bottom of the artwork provided some additional insight, it read Edward Dumar Israel, a birth date (1/27/67) and a time of passing (11/18/91). It was clear this message was inspired by someone specific, but who? A reading of the song titles inspired me to take a closer look. I concluded that the album was bound to be interesting with songs like “Black Rain”, “They Are All Gonna Laugh At You”, “Hostage”, “Don’t Play With Papa”, etc…
Upon purchasing the tape I discovered it was the lead MC, Lord Dumar, who had passed away. The time of his passing had taken place two years prior to the release of this album. I remember thinking that was very interesting. I had never heard of a Hip Hop album being released by someone who had passed away and even now its rare to find that as an artist’s debut album.
As I started my first listen, I noticed that most of the album was produced by C. Smith (a.k.a Class A Felony member DJ Stitches), with a couple tracks by Dumar himself, and five tracks by the mighty, DJ Mark The 45 King.
Although this is a debut album Dumar sounds very seasoned and sharply skilled. His delivery is fluid and his presence is confident. His voice is gruff, which helps drives his points home, but his apparent years of MC development allowed him to effortlessly display his comedic side as well.
The album begins with a skit that sheds some minimal light on his history. Dumar is awakened from his slumber and excitedly, to his somewhat dismay, asked to recall a previous demo that had been bitten by the competition. Although that is not much to go on, it alludes to at least two things. He has been making music at least since the mid to late 80s and he was probably establishing a decent name for himself in that time since people were snatching up concepts from his demos.
The first official song is “Time To Make The Doughnuts” and immediately reveals many of the primary skills in Dumar’s arsenal; charisma delivery, humor and creative use of multi-syllables…quite often these talents all intersect at the same time for maximum effect. This is evidenced on several other album tracks as well. “Hyped Up” is a fast-paced battle rhyme with backing beats by DJ Mark. Both “Warriors Come Out To Play” and “Black Rain” are in the same vein as “Hyped Up” and each are great displays of his swift flow.
Two of DJ Stitches best productions also bring out the best in Lord Dumar, “I’m Not The Herb You’re Lookin’ 4”* and “Papa Don’t Play”. “I’m No The Herb…” makes great use of the Bohannon’s “Save Their Souls” (one of its earliest sample usages). The slower pace allows Dumar to flex a wider variety of his delivery and flow techniques. “Papa Don’t Play” is one of the most original sounding productions on the album. It just has an ill vibe to it. Lord Dumar complies and gets rugged with the verbals, including referring to the competition as a, “Savage Patch Doll”!
Speaking of ill, Class A Felony dabbled with the dark side of things with a few tracks. “Lyrical Bloodbath”, produced by Dumar, is a Reggae flavored joint with plenty of Echo on the horns and some steel drum percussion. It also features the chatting of G.T. The verses don’t really get very dark until towards the end. He does lightly touch on some bloodbath imagery in the first verse, but then flips some conscious thoughts on the second by speaking some Supreme Mathematics. However, by the third, he’s, “Hearing voices inside of my head…” and that leads to actions with the consequence, “They want to lock me in a insane asylum”. However, he really takes it there on the DJ Stitches produced “The Night Stalker”. On the fear-inducing track Lord Dumar encounters a large array of favorite villains, creatures and scenes from Hollywood films and real life tragedies and he is on a mission or as he says, “I’m here to destroy all evil…I’m the Night Stalker!”
“They’re All Gonna Laugh At You” is yet another great DJ Stitches production. It’s built from crisp drums, loud sharp hits, a smooth hook sample, a series of bugged out laughs and this ill sound that reminds me of a perfectly mangled version of Doug E Fresh’s “The Original Human Beat Box”. The title and hook sample come from the famous quote in the Horror Cult Classic, Carrie.
There is one high-powered skill of Dumar’s we have not yet covered and it is an essential ingredient to the formula, storytelling. Two of the album’s storytelling examples both use samples from comedian Robin Harris (R.I.P), “Gotta Go, Gotta Go” and “I Got A Warrant”. But, the best story on the album is “Hostage”, arguably the best overall song on the album. DJ Mark The 45 King blesses Dumar with one of his finest productions of the time and the mood is perfect for the scene set. The track opens finding Lord Dumar on a private jet flying on tour with just him and the pilot, who decides to put the plane on auto-pilot and have one too many alcoholic beverages and passes out… As the plane spins out of control, Dumar grabs his parachute and jumps out the plane. It’s moments like that where he reveals his knack for detail, "No time to waste/I kicked the door open…the air hit me in my face!” When he hits the ground he is surrounded by gunmen and finds out he is in Kuwait. For his freedom he needs to prove he isn’t part of the U.S. Military. He recognizes his life or death situation and freestyles the perfect solution, “You think to Bush I am loyal?/That I would kill for some oil?/I don’t fight for no creeps/Back home, there’s a war in the streets/Where the homeless starve/And for my people, it’s hard to get a job/Police beat you out of shape/And to prove it, you need video tape/I wouldn’t fight for Bush, he’s down with Thatcher/And she’s a slave catcher/I’d be willing to die/When Bush declares war against Apartheid/Send troops over there/South Africa, they’ve been killing blacks for years!” His words earn him a standing ovation and his freedom and as he is flying home he reflects on the conditions that he just described in his own rhyme and realizes the hard truth that when he returns home he is still ultimately a “Hostage”… Excellently done.
“Electricity” is a nice, nearly danceable, uptempo instrumental track by DJ Stitches that lets him flex his cutting skills, which are quality. To add some additional flavor, at moments he drops in the classic “Love Rap” drums courtesy of Spoonie Gee via the production skills of The Great Pumpkin (R.I.P).
The album comes to a close with “I Can’t Take No More”, which is not technically a Class A Felony song, but a dedication to Lord Dumar and a call to end the inner city violence. It is performed by Lakim Shabazz and Diamond D, who also produced the song. It is definitely a welcome addition to the album and perfect way to close it out and pay homage to Lord Dumar.
Besides pleasing the eardrums, this very solid debut album opens a few other routes of brain activity. One, it leaves me wondering about his earlier work and hoping that one day it may surface. Two, which is the primary take away, is thinking about the senseless violence in the world and particularly noticing that it isn’t improving, perhaps worsening unfortunately. Finally, the result of that thought reminds you that this talented individual that you’ve just been listening to is no longer around. Lord Dumar had transcended this world before most any of us had ever even heard of him. Meaning he never got to receive any true accolades for his ability, outside of his own local circle. Not to mention that he certainly had some more great musical contributions to make, but never had that opportunity. Of course, most importantly we remember to send out positive energy to his family, friends, fans, and partner, DJ Stitches, as we honor him on this 21st anniversary of his passing. Rest In Power in Edward Dumar Israel...
Next week I will drop an exclusive interview with DJ Stitches that answers some of these questions and many more!
*There is a non-album remix of “I’m Not The Herb…” by Chy Skillz that is pretty nice as well.