Tuesday, September 2, 2008

El Prezidino: Me or Nothing

Take a little South Philly, a little Virginia Beach and a little Marshall University football, and what do you get?

The answer is: El Prezidino (but you can call him Dino), an inspirational rapper born as Demetrius Doss in Philadelphia (though he now calls Virginia home), who once played as a wide receiver with Thundering Herd stars Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich. Dino was also a record-setting arena football player.

Dino's album Me or Nothing (released March 2008) is an inspirational ride into fresh, out-of-the-mainstream lyrics and what sounds like familiar, Billboard-topping beats. The 17-track CD really surprises with its songs that sound like something you'd hear on the radio from a more popular rap or hip-hop artist. Once you've heard Dino, you'll wonder why you've never heard of Dino — yet, anyway.

Dino now has fans as far west as California, but he is marketing himself primarily in the Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia region, also known as the DMV. The former WMUL hip-hop disc jockey describes himself as more mainstream than Christian rapper, but his songs definitely have a Christian-rap theme to them, especially as Dino says in one of his songs, "I'm God's voice to the people."

"I Just Died In Your Arms" is the fourth track on the album, which samples the 1986 single of the same name by the band Cutting Crew. This is about the point in the album when you think Dino may be a little like Will Smith. Like Smith, Dino's songs are not about doing drugs, drinking liquor, having sex with whores and other vulgar topics. And get this — Dino actually has the intellect most rappers lack, as he can produce a song with words that actually rhyme without the need for integrating useless expletives that have little or no meaning in the first place. Smith often raps about how he can sell albums with rap songs that have positive messages and deeper meanings, and Dino's songs talk about many of the same things, especially focusing on how he may look the part of a rapper with baggy pants and sunglasses — but he says that doesn't mean he can't be a Christian.

Probably the artist most comparable to Dino would be Kanye West, who also has a lot of socially geared messages and religious themes in his music (with the exception perhaps of songs like "Gold Digger"). So take some Will Smith, some Kanye West, throw in a touch of East Coast culture and contemporary Christianity, and you have a gritty, less-playful, more-soulful, super-honest rap artist on your hands in El Prezidino.

"Dino, Dino...Pt. 2" has a compelling intro that demands attention. The lead-in is menacing almost, and Sharon Roshell's guest background chant is catchy, and the beat keeps you noddin' throughout. The lyrical stylings and quality beats continue in "Haterz," with pop culturally fueled lines such as, "Now they put my name in blogs, 'won't play the victim, I'll Michael Vick 'dem dogs."

In "A-Million Questions," Dino addresses all the questions he receives from people about the appropriateness of tying God's messages to rap, especially because Dino dresses "kinda hood," so "does God approve of that?" His response: "...I got Jesus' blood in my veins."

After answering that question, the album transitions into "Good Morning America," where Dino's message potentially becomes more controversial, but also more real as the artist lends the listener a chance to see things from his perspective — from within his heart. Some lines: "America, the beautiful, you don't straighten up, it's your funeral...9/11 did wake you up, but since then I see you dosed off, the only time you cry out with your hands raised up is when something really goes wrong...and last time I checked, I didn't change what marriage was, so I see you haven't had enough."

Whether you agree with his message or not, you'll likely be impressed by Dino's sick rhymes and killer flow. The serious tunes and beats, especially in songs such as "Don't Play With Me," just stay consistent throughout the album, sounding a lot like Eminem's early tracks (minus the sex, drugs and derogatory remarks about women Em is known for).

Perhaps the most telling song on the album is "One Big Apology," where Dino is repentant about his bad temper, cussing out people in his past, breaking girls' hearts and going against what his mother taught him. He even raps about how he was not on speaking terms with his brother when his sibling was murdered and asks himself why he "put the devil's juice down my throat, wakin' up next to chicks I don't know," and Dino ultimately concludes in the track that he has a higher purpose to his life.

The thing about Dino is if you want inspirational messages in a hip-hop format void of the vulgarity normally associated with rap music, then you've found your man. You leave Dino's music feeling like you've gained some insight into who he is and what his life is about, but he doesn't sacrifice the bass, beats and rhymes.

Dino is becoming quite popular in his niche among Christian rap fans, but he's also getting play in the mainstream, so perhaps inspirational messages in a rap format will be the next trend in hip-hop music. If it is, El Prezidino will lead the way.

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