Despot first came to my attention back in 2001, when Cryptic One’s Centrifugal Phorce Records released Euphony [note: if you haven't heard it, you're seriously missing out, there's no compilation more indicative of the talents of Atoms Fam as a collective and their associates during that time period at the peak of their promise] an excellent and unheralded release from the days when compilation albums in underground rap were substantial releases, an important way of keeping non-vinyl purchasing fans apprised of the recent developments of independent rap artists as well as providing an avenue for rappers without financial backing to release their material without the costs of personally pressing up a 12″. There was a Cryptic One produced track on the album called “Cynical Bastards,” which featured two relative unknowns – Despot and Aesop Rock’s darker dusted sonic cousin LoDeck. It was a simple yet remarkable collaboration of two aspiring artists, each seemingly with a bright future, as LoDeck’s style seemed like it would create a lane somewhere between where Aesop Rock sat then, and Danny Brown sits now – an independent artist capable of painting in psychedelically inspired surrealistic strokes yet charismatic enough to draw in those who might not immediately comprehend the sense behind the veil of absurdity. If the mainstream hadn’t provided more socially acceptable alternatives (eg Ghostface, Cam’Ron) and the nerd rap stigma hadn’t come to envelope every emcee on the roster of Def Jux, Embedded, and J23, it’s possible that LoDeck could have developed something larger and more lucrative, but as it is he’s had a respectable career along the fringe of the independent scene with releases like his debut EP Bash It just a few months after Euphony and follow-up full-lengths like Dream Dentistry, Behold a Pale Donkey, and Postcards from the Third Rock.
Despot took the second verse on the track, formally starting his career on record with the following lines:
I’m living proof that smallest figures can cast vast shadows of doubt / giving your all to everything and that’ll amount to nothing /I walk the crooked path up to my house huffing and puffing / shaking my fist in the air thinking of something /to tell kids down the block who point and laugh at my mumbling /
His opening bars on “Cynical Bastards,” are a suitable beginning for a rapper who is diminutive in stature and unassuming in person, and often mumbles almost incomprehensibly when speaking normally, but is a certified beast on the mic. As an artist Despot is the petite white urban weisenheimer’s sardonic response to Lord Finesse and Pusha T, and his primary medium is the witty arrangement of cliches, figures of speech, conceit, and carefully narrated imagery. The promise that he set into play with his verse on “Cynical Bastards,” began the building of a buzz on the internet – such that it was in those days – in the same places that lauded the work of the Definitive Jux family and other underground and independent rappers. As is always the case with rappers that build a bit of momentum with an appearance or two, questions about an album began to surface to which the answer was always that he was working on it. However, unlike LoDeck, who managed to put out several projects, Despot has had a much more tempered output over the last eleven years, something that thankfully has started to change over the last couple of years thanks to features from his Queens brethren in Das Racist and Meyhem Lauren as well as on labelmate El-P’s new album. In fact, previous attempts by bloggers to put together a mix of his available material have generally amounted in short EP length affairs, as there literally hasn’t been enough material out there to put together a full-length set of songs from Despot.
Excuses for his lack of material have generally been based around circumstances outside of the rap game – life situations, non-rap related work – as well as claims of perfectionism from some collaborators and allegations of laziness from others. While Despot may have lost some momentum a few times along the way with lengthy hiatuses and the sparse release of new material over the last decade plus, he also never took any serious missteps either, never killed his buzz, or gave interested parties a legitimate reason not to anticipate his eventual debut. His prolonged career infancy, and the quality of the material he has put out, also seems to have helped Despot developed a strong stable of collaborators and friends on the independent scene from El-P and Blockhead to Das Racist, Alchemist, and Ratatat. Always managing to find a delicate balance between self-awareness and total conceit, Despot has been able to make his career long debut album delay into a running joke in his raps, similar to the way he’s turned his unusual appearance into a part of his rhetoric. Somehow like so many other historically unrap friendly traits, Despot has managed to evolve it all into the mystique that surrounds him.
While the wit in his lyricism and his careful arrangement of syllables are the main attractions with Despot, one concern for a full-length album – aside from him actually ever making one – may be that his voice and delivery grow a bit repetitive over the course of a series of songs by him, a fact that is helped greatly by the infusion of guest appearances. Some of the previous mixes I’ve listened to focused almost entirely on solo material, which while impressive, does get a bit monotonous without interruption, which makes sense given that most of them were individual tracks given to independent label’s for their compilations at one point or another over an extended period of time. What I’ve managed to put together here is an unauthorized and unofficial mix of Despot’s material to date, including eight solo tracks, one remix, seven guest appearances or collaborations, three recorded freestyles, and one live recording of an unreleased track. His ability to weave words together has only increased over the years, and his choice of production aesthetics has certainly changed a bit over the years as well, so the mix is a bit uneven in places. Still, I feel that it’s a fitting testament to the skill and promise that Despot still has to deliver to the world, here’s hoping he manages to actually release his album with Ratatat at some point in 2013.
Shoutouts to Cryptic One and Blockhead for supplying me with some higher quality versions of the tracks of which I only had youtube rips. Nothing is being leaked here and if you like what you hear I encourage you to go on itunes and amazon to support some of Despots singles that are out there. I apologize for low quality in a couple of places on here, there are only a couple of songs where I ripped the mp3 from a stream online.
- Cynical Bastards featuring LoDeck [prod by Cryptic One]
- Look Alive [Blockhead Remix]
- King Me [prod by Blockhead]
- Pan Seared Tilapia featuring Meyhem Lauren, AG Da Coroner, & Action Bronson [prod by Tommy Mas]
- Get Rich or Try Dying [prod by Blockhead]
- Kate Boosh featuring Das Racist [prod by Mike Finito]
- Freestyle [prod by Ratatat]
- Homesickness [prod by Arcsin]
- Rooftop featuring Das Racist [prod by Dame Grease]
- House Made of Bricks (Live from KEXP) [prod by Ratatat]
- Power featuring Das Racist & Danny Brown [prod by Dash Speaks]
- Life With Snarky Parker [prod by Blockhead]
- Substance D [prod by Blockhead]
- The Last Huzzah! featuring Mr. MFN eXquire, Das Racist, Danny Brown & El-P [prod by Necro]
- Blowout Freestyle
- Crap Artists [prod by Blockhead]
- Look Alive [prod by E*Vax]
- Tougher Colder featuring El-P & Killer Mike [prod by El-P]
- 5 Pointz Selector Freestyle featuring El-P
Despot, Killer Mike, Mr. MFN eXquire & El-P perform live on KEXP