"It's about the waves that you make, man."
It's been a good while since Madison-based MC Rob Dz put out a proper release, though he's sitting on a long-in-the-works solo album and a spoken-word collaboration with jazz pianist Johannes Wallmann. So I was delighted and a bit perplexed when he told me last month that he had a new mixtape coming out titled Yacht Hop. Now that it's out, I get it—Dz has created a 53-track release drawing on his affinity for smooth adult-contemporary sounds (Steely Dan is awesome, fight me), making for a bubbly and frequently goofy summer soundtrack. It's really somewhere between a mixtape and an impulsive playlist—he doesn't rap on every track, but when he does, he sounds re-energized about writing and MCing.
"One of the big challenges for me to do it was to start writing again," says Dz, real name Rob Franklin. "I'm always doing something music-related but not necessarily music itself. So I did it to kind of force myself to get back into writing again. A brotha had writer's block for a minute."
On one standout, "Work To Do," Dz threads his cadence around the funky, piano-driven Isley Brothers track: "This ain't the type of work for a radio rotation / More like it's a call for some active participation." On "Rise," he calls out self-aggrandizing politicians and activists who aren't sincere about serving the people they claim to champion: "You cain't comin' proper man / You a propagandist." On "Everything She Wants," he pays tribute to George Michael, challenging the listener to "front like you don't listen to Wham! if you want to."
Dz had thought about quitting rapping and just focusing on spoken-word stuff with groups like the Chicago Yestet, who play August 16 at the Central Park Sessions. (Dz also hosts the Wednesday open mic at Genna's and frequently sits in doing spoken-word with jazz bands at the Nomad World Pub.) But "upon further review and listening to 4:44," he says, he buckled down for a week of rapid writing and recording.
Dz produced Yacht Hop himself at the Madison Public Library's Media Lab, which means there's no DJ drops here, just Dz frequently proclaiming the mixtape's apparent catchphrase, "spuh-LAY-ush!" He'd begun putting the music together about two years ago. Not all the source material is strictly what everyone would consider "yacht rock"—for instance, Talking Heads' "Once In A Lifetime," Wings' "Let Em In," and The Clash's "Rock The Casbah" make appearances—but the vibe is more or less cohesive.
The mixtape might be intended as a summery lark, but it does offer some signs of what's to come from Dz.
"I just think I've evolved as an artist," Dz said. "Like, I do grown-man music, not just lyrically but composition-wise. I like the jazzier lane—I feel like I can experiment more vocally with cadence and stuff."