Your Old Droog

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Your Old Droog (2014), 6/10
Packs (2017), 6/10
It Wasn't Even Close (2019), 6.5/10
Transportation (2019), 5/10
Jewelry (2019), 6.5/10
Krutoy Edition (2020), 7/10
Tha YOD Fahim (2021), 5/10
Time (2021), 7/10
Space Bar (2021), 5/10
YOD Wave (2022), 4/10

Ukrainian-born New York-based white rapper Your Old Droog (Maksim Lembersky) debuted in June 2014 with a nine-song EP later reissued with some leftovers as the album Your Old Droog (2014). His impeccable rapping flow, reminiscent of 1990s legend Nas, complements his production acumen in the psychedelic Bad to the Bone, the guitar-heavy Droog's Anthem the breathless funky (and standout) Gunsmoke Cologne (with a coda of turntable scratch and flute), the jovial U47, with a cute sample of Sylvia Robinson's Sho Nuff Boogie (1976), and You Known what Time it is, that gets the most from a sample of Galt MacDermot's Rhinoceros Theme Version B.

In the next two years he released mediocre EPs: the 11-song rock-themed Kinison (2015), with Freeway Fire, the six-song laid-back The Nicest (2015), and the six-song Looseys (2017), with No Message.

Packs (2017) contains too much fluff but also some of his most effective numbers: Grandma Hips, featuring Danny Brown and produced by Richard "El RTNC" Moringlane (aka Mono in Stereo) and Eric Dan (half of ID Labs); the theatrical G.K.A.C (which also samples Frank Zappa's The Pigs' Music), produced by Pete "Nice Rec" Mudge (one third of East Liberty Quarters) and Eric Dan; the dub-infected I Only, with a beat by British producer Lawrence "The Purist" Lord; the melodic White Rappers; and especially the abrasive and cacophonous Help.

His style changed quite a bit on It Wasn't Even Close (2019). It's a slower, darker art of rapping, from the sleepy RST to the dirge Funeral March, with dejected horn fanfare (arranged by Nephew Hesh) and to the harrowing closer 90 from the Line. The production is increasingly more "left-field", yielding the chamber-industrial Devil Springs (the most creative beat, concocted by Richard "Mono En Stereo" Moringlane); Bubble Hill, drenched in a jazzy piano whirlwind; the eccentric Babushka, which inaugurated his collaboration with producer Tha God Fahim; and the ghostly instrumental Haunted House Beat, a collaboration with Philadelphia producer Sadhu Gold.

He returned to more familiar territory, i.e. old-fashioned East Coast rap, on Transportation (2019), that contains the smooth Train Love and the pounding Taxi. But more interesting are the distorted warped samples of Head Over Wheels II, and a moment of utter madness happens in the otherwise monotonous The Cheese when the sound system goes haywire and the rapper calls out Suzy Creamcheese (Frank Zappa's legendary character) and then a woman wreak havoc to the rest of the song. It's an album of leftovers but some of them rank among his best.

The influence of Mach-Hommy, already visible on It Wasn't Even Close, is even more obvious in Jewelry (2019), ostensibly a celebration of his Jewish heritage. Several songs mix Hebrew-style singing with his rapping. For example, Jewelry pares a Caribbean rhythm with a kitschy Hebrew sample, and Desert Eagle (perhaps the standout) drops even a loud street-band fanfare. Mostly produced by Tha God Fahim and Detroit producer Gavin "Quelle Chris" Tennille, it benefits from left-of-field touches like the robotic industrial beat of Jew Tang and the waltzing beat of Babushka II. BDE, that features Mach-Hommy and MF Doom, is arranged with flutes, strings and guitars (courtesy of veteran producer Jean "DJ Preservation" Daval). A noir atmosphere pervades songs like Mrs Cloutfire and especially Diamonds. Overall, the songs evoke the image of a bustling Jewish neighborhood.

2020 ended with the twelve-song Krutoy Edition (2020), a tribute of sorts to his Soviet childhood and the album where his talent finally matured and coalesced. From the dissonant Kazakhstan to moving operatic vocals of New Religion rapping and instrumentals bring out the best of Lembersky's art. Matryoshka features possibly the best rap performance of his career, coupled with a chaotic audio collage that runs the gamut from dancehall music to classical music. The album reaches nostalgic peaks in Odessa (with a melancholy church organ and an effective Billy Woods verse) and in Babushka III, the third installment of the Tha God Fahim trilogy (accordion and violin intone an old Russian song and at the end the flutes intone a funereal version of another old song). Lembersky coins a new form of theater in pieces like Pravda, which gathers El-P, Mach-Hommy and Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter (of the Roots).

2021 began with two rapping collaborations with Tha God Fahim: the eight-song EP Tha Wolf On Wall St (2021) and the album Tha YOD Fahim (2021). While Fahim's monotonous flow doesn't help either project, the EP (entirely produced by Fahim) is the better of the two, a jazz-rap effort in disguise that opens with All Bidness (in which Fahim wires together samples of jazz sax and jazz piano), Tha Wolf on Wall St (over a loop of smooth jazz piano), and Tha Poverty Bothers Me (with soulful orchestral soul in the background). The midtempo beats get a little boring after a while but Fahim's production hits another peak in Gupta (trickling strings, dreamy guitar lick, aquatic drone, sleepy boom bap) that also boasts a surgical Mach Hommy feature. Fahim is responsible for a third of the beats on the album, the remaining ones created by DJ Preservation (the brain behind the noirish Icee Shop), Quelle Chris (who sculpts the minimal abrasive background of Reign Man, the unlikely accompaniment for possibly the best rapping on the album), and many other producers. The album is a more straightforward rapping affair than the EP.

Before MF Doom's death, the two rappers worked on several songs together and Dropout Boogie was the first one to be released (which also benefits from Edan's audio collage, interpolating Captain Beefheart's Dropout Boogie, Ruby Andrews' You Made a Believer, Eddie Fisher's Jeremiah Pucket, the Emotions's I Like It and boom bap). This was the prelude to the 15-song Time (2021). Israeli producer Argov pens two highlights: Please Listen to My Jew Tape (with a languid guitar loop and exotic drumming) and especially the psychedelic anthem So High (with stoned guitar licks and dreamy/jazzy vibraphone and clarinet notes). Lost Time, an almost drumless instrumental by English producer Ben "Budgie" Scholefield, boasts a similarly "psychedelic" atmosphere. Mono En Stereo reinvents the lazy summery atmosphere of Blossom Toes' Indian Summer (1969) as the sophisticated backing of Quiet Time, and concocts a Japanese Zen atmosphere for the meditative No Time. Quelle Chris provides an intricate jazzy beat to the existential introspection of One Move, another highlight. Charles "88-Keys" Njapa provides the hypnotic guitar loop and the cartoonish synth effects for the vivid storytelling of Madson Ave. Overall, the creativity of the producers and the recollections of the rapper make for an ambitious concept album the passage of time.

Coming out at the end of the year, Space Bar (2021), the fourth album in eleven months, relies increasingly on the samples, which are rather invasive and seem to take over from the rapping in light-weight fare like Mojito (DJ Preservation) and Blue Hawaiian (Mono En Stereo). The blues-rock guitar is equally dominant in Yuri (Nicholas Craven). One can appreciate the neurotic flow of White Russian (Sona "Elaquent" Elango), but otherwise the audio collage generally upstages the rapper.

The seven-song EP YOD Wave (2022), produced entirely by Montreal's producer Nicholas Craven, who had just collaborated with Tha God Fahim on a series of EPs, was an underwhelming release, despite Fela Kuti, and in fact possibly his worst release yet. The eight-song EP Tha Wolf On Wall St 2 - The American Dream (2022), the third rapping collaboration between Your Old Droog and Tha God Fahim, the worst of the three, with only No Days Off worthy of the first EP. Retreating from the cohesive and almost philosophical introspection of Jewelry (2019), Krutoy Edition (2020) and Time (2021), Lembersky was struggling to find a new identity.

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