Hip-hop is a genre often dominated by rappers spitting endless verses about how great they are or how great being them is. How much money they have or how many women — a cartoon caricature of a perfect music video lifestyle. So, it’s refreshing when an MC cuts out all that exaggerated extravagance and writes about real life — mundane, frustrating, unsatisfying, messy life.
Fort Worth rhyme mason Dru B Shinin’ has made a career of doing just that for two decades.
On his most recent album, the Korean-American takes his most honest look at life yet. This Iz 40 is about heartache and disappointment at falling short of where one is “supposed to be” during middle age.
For the newish long player, Dru again employed his longtime beatmaker EyeJay for the basic tracks and laid down the vocals with Grammy award-winning producer Ty Macklin (Erika Badu, India Arie) at AOE Recording Studios. Electronic/dance music producer Ish D mixed and mastered the effort. This Iz 40 stands as Dru’s first solo venture in nearly two years. In 2020, he dropped a mixtape with fellow Fort Worth rapper A-Roy and also collaborated with friend and fellow self-reflective rapper Wrex on the celebrated ’70s kung fu/blaxploitation-inspired BRUCELEEROY project, but This Iz 40 is his first proper solo album since.
“It wasn’t a planned decision,” Dru said of the gap in his normally steady recorded output, “but I think after those two projects, I kind of wanted a second to just chill. That second turned into a whole year. It’s the longest I have gone without writing since high school. Toward the end of the year, I started to feel depressed because I hadn’t done anything musical besides a few shows with Wrex, so this year, I made a New Year’s resolution to start writing again. I planned to start by writing four bars a day.”
Dru said that he must have been pent up because one he got rolling, the verses kept flowing. That first day’s four bars quickly became 16, and before he knew it, he had most of the lyrics for what would become This Iz 40 written before the end of January.
“I started writing the album with no concept in my mind,” he said, “just writing about what I’d been going through: trying to get over my ex, dating in middle age, all kinds of different traumas and issues that were on my mind, some of the things that I went through being in the streets when I grew up back in Topeka, Kansas. I looked at what I was writing and thought, ‘Damn, my life is kind of a mess.’ Like, at 40, we are supposed to have our stuff together. But I don’t.”
Dru B Shinin’ has always put himself into his writing. His last solo album, 2018’s Spilt Paint 3, was largely about the split with his longtime partner, a challenging experience he admits he’s still not quite over. On This Iz 40, the track “Can’t Even B Friends” revisits the subject. In addition to being a document of self-reflection, This Iz 40 is also, at times, an evaluation of a society failing its purpose.
“There’s been some things that have been bugging me about society and how we are treating the earth and other people,” Dru said. “I have always written some political and social songs, and I [do] on this album, too. I talk about two specific things that help me make a living but also contribute to the exploitation of people and the destruction of the earth or our ecosystem, like plastic consumption [‘Food Storage Bags’] and batteries [‘Li-Ion (Lithium Mines)’], how we all kind of sacrifice our morality in order to make a living. Those things make it on this album. Some things that are probably what a 40-year-old thinks about,” he added with a laugh.
As a whole, the album is just the latest in a discography that Dru B Shinin’ has been meticulously building to stand as a testament to the merit of open and honest writing in a genre replete with performative grandstanding. It’s an addition he’s proud of.
Emotion, pain, and hearing about an artist’s real life are the things that are most important to him, he said. “Also, a consciousness about society and the world and a genuine love and respect for hip-hop culture and the community that created this music we all love. Music is how I communicate with my friends and loved ones. It’s like I’m able to say what I want to them in the most perfected way. You know when you’re trying to tell someone something and it comes out all wrong? With music, I can perfect it and make it come out exactly how I want it. I think people like that from me. Different rappers give you different things. Wrex is going to give you some wisdom. I’m going to give you my real life, no matter how messy it is. I put genuine love into this one, and that’s exactly what I have been getting back from people who have listened to it.”