In hip-hop the path to wisdom passes through comedy. It's been that way since Biz Markie got people thinking about romance and friendship and De la Soul got touchy-feely over Steely Dan samples. Think of Prince Paul, who could teach Woody Allen a thing or two about using psychoanalysis as a filter for funny societal commentary. Think of Kool Keith, a man of many masks who has riffed on medical authority as creatively as Prince Paul. Kirby Dominant is adding hot-like-fuchsia chapters to this tradition. He's got the wisdom: having been through lockup and UC Berkeley, from which he received a degree in urban economic development, he knows the block from every angle. He's definitely got the comedy: his Kirb and Chris mixtape Niggaz and White Girlz and second solo effort, Starr: Contemplations of a Dominator (Rapitalism), are the funniest and most imaginative recordings in and out of hip-hop of the past two years.
"I like to shock you with words, put them where they're not supposed to be," says Dominant, who defines domination as living life on one's own terms. "I'm into wordplay. I like Shakespeare. I like lyricists from Joni Mitchell to Kool Keith. A lot of times people in hip-hop try to tell their whole life in one fucking song. I study songs and think, 'How come you can't write a song about waking up in the morning and how the sun looks right before your girl wakes up?'<0x2009>"
The sun rises on the latest chapter of Dominant's story during Starr's "Come Outside," the kind of effortlessly loose jam OutKast struggled to make after hitting crossover pay dirt. Before the track segues into a distorted guitar freak-out Cody Chesnutt might covet, Dominant delivers a singsong threat to smack talkers that's plain irresistible. If the already classic Niggaz and White Girlz with its genius new wave thug revisions of tracks by the Smiths, Talking Heads, the B-52's, and more is irreverent toward everyone, Starr is, as the title states, more contemplative. (Though on Daddie Flaire in White World, one of the album's DVD video-skit extras, Dominant flips the script of Niggaz and White Girlz, sparking laughs while showing that racism is uptight and in effect.) In Dominant's world, hip-hop is maturing more interestingly and unpredictably than it does on an MTV or VH1 reality sitcom.
"I want to release music as much as I want to, when I want to," Dominant says in an interview segment of Starr's DVD. Free from the sample fees that dog so many MCs because he knows how to make the keys of a Korg or a white Yamaha piano sing, he's doing just that through his label, Rapitalism, which takes its name from his first solo collection, 1998's Rapitalism: Philosophies of Dominant Pimpin'. On that recording from what his peer Lyrics Born on Starr's DVD calls the "Telegraph [Ave.] era," Dominant sometimes appealingly drops knowledge with a flow akin to Dr. Octagon over DJ Krushlike grooves. Today he's developed a style and sound wholly his own, which allow him to rhyme freely about joy and pain over live sounds from Roy Hargrove.
On the new compilation Rapitalism Records Presents Poppin Alwayz (Rapitalism), Dominant relinquishes total control in the name of friendship, allowing his labelmates Stephen Padmore, Chris Sinister (of Kirb and Chris), and the Kevin Riley Experiment to take the mic, though his track "Nauzeated" is an undeniable highlight. As for the days ahead, he knows the full workings of the city lurking in the title of his next solo venture, The Dominator: A Psychological Journey through Egocentricity. Kirby Dominant: he's what French people call stylistic.