Review: D-Tension – The Violence of Zen

It’s only halfway through D-Tension’s latest release, The Violence of Zen, before my pen hits paper. The sixth track, “Deal with the Devil” nods in and everything I’ve been feeling starts taking the form of bullet points. For the sake of authenticity, some of the notes I began revising to fit a review read as: “not jaded quite yet, but certainly reminiscent of early 90’s/late 80’s New York rap (although much better production quality here)”, “excellent, well-drawn, intelligent, humorous and real bars” and, perhaps most revealing of the review I expected to write, “as an audience member I can get bored with repetition in beats or music.”

Surely these comments do hold a grain of truth to how I felt listening to the record on my first pass. Some jams, like “What Happened to That?” provide top-tier audio climaxes to accompany old-school, organic messages and relatable stories. Lines like “I manifest fresh, it’s my destiny”, or justifying drinking malt liquor because “’In God We Trust’ takes half of my cake”, present cleverly crafted statements with comedic punchlines and vast exhibit of knowledge on various subjects. But on the whole I was ready to chalk the record up to its lyrical content being fantastic and its music needing more versatility.

And then “Young Love” started playing and, in this weird way, all my incompetence and initial skepticism were washed away.

Firstly, this record is a compilation of beats, meant to serve as a layer for D to say what he’s got to say. To ask for wild variety on a beat tape is to ask for something outside of the work’s nature. And yet, oddly enough, the rest of the record seemed to quip with me, “if it’s musical dynamics you want…”. Tracks like “Roaches” and “Piss You Off” feature atmospheres almost entirely separate from the rest of the record; comprised, respectively, of a plea against gentrification wrapped in soul satin and a stinging, no-bullshit recollection of doing whatever the f*ck you want.

Then it became evident to me that this record signifies D-Tension capturing the memory, the background noise; the essence in the air of particular moods. Reneging my wish for musical versatility, I’m inclined to believe that The Violence of Zen provides the auxiliary aspect of genuine notions, ideas, and feelings that reverberate inside of D-Tension along with wise, substantial, and often comedic messages woven into the tracks. From the goofiness of drawing attention to, and almost making light of, clear residency problems in “Landlord” to the sheer, unbridled senses of confidence, righteousness, and power, as portrayed in “Godly”, The Violence of Zen is an interesting blend of social commentary, vivid imagery, comical lines, and the nostalgia from styles passed. Look no further than this tape for a healthy example of real, refined rap written by a local legend.  – Luke Pelletier

You can catch D-Tension live at “The Violence of Zen” record release party March 3rd @ Warp & Weft in Lowell: Event Page