Dumbfoundead is a rapper — one of the greatest Asian rappers in history, to be clear — and yet, as his profile escalates, he finds himself doing far more.
You can now find K-Town’s golden boy on the big screen starring in the movie “Bodied,” produced by Eminem and recently met with positive reviews from outlets like the New York Times. You can also listen to his podcast, “Fun With Dumb,” wherein he interviews stars like Bobby Lee and Awkwafina and delves into questions of identity, artistry, and food preferences.
At the end of the day, though, Dumb’s rapping persists. He’s taken said rapping everywhere from Project Blowed to Jay Park collaborations to million-view-accruing rap battles with names like Conceited and The Saurus. He’s made viral YouTube remixes with Timothy de la Ghetto and even featured on a Keith Ape “It G Ma” remix with Waka Flocka Flame among other famous rappers. And usually, no matter who features with him, Dumbfoundead will eat everyone else’s lunch. His L.A. underground roots shine through in his gift for polysyllabic rhyme schemes, intricate flow switch-ups and deftly woven syntax. It stands out when K-Pop singers croon on his tracks; it stands out when trap rappers adlib with him; it even stands out when other artists try to go bar-for-bar.
But now Dumbfoundead is 32 years old, and the joie de vivre of a drugged out L.A. rap star has begun to fade. His podcast shows the artist born as Jonathan Park more engaged with discussions, running clubs, and reconciliation. He’s begun to come to terms with his rebellious nature; his antagonism at being Asian and underappreciated, especially by other Asians. He’s health-conscious and socially conscious; perhaps his biggest hit was 2016’s “Safe,” a track which tackled model minority stereotypes. Oh, and he has no plans to battle rap again.
Instead, Dumb seeks a new direction. With little warning and no preceding music video, the Korean-American hip hop artist released Cafe Bleu on November 2. It’s 6 tracks long. It features uncited guest musicians and vocalists, with only the fifth track, “Almost There,” naming any features at all. (The cut features Korean emcee Paloalto and Korean rap duo Year of the Ox, each showcasing their own brand of lyrical dexterity over soulfully swung trap drums.)
There are no tracks where Dumbfoundead raps about out-rapping you. There are barely tracks about Dumbfoundead out-drugging you; “Weird” features Dummy inviting a love interest to some starry-eyed debauchery, while “Chill Foo” is essentially a self-reflective repudiation of an aging Dumbfoundead perhaps doing too much. His signature skill, rapping, is mellowed out; rebellious aggression is replaced by patient melodies, inviting you to sit with the music rather than act out to it.
As a matter of fact, Dumbfoundead might be singing more than rapping on some of these tracks. The opener, “Cafe Bleu Theme,” is Dumbfoundead’s “Piano Man.” It’s a sweet, swinging ballad with lush instrumentation and soaring female backing vocals. The lyrics tell tales of an imaginary bar wherein weary souls gather together: “Neon lights and velvet couches like a casting call/The glass is clinking in the whispers from the bathroom stalls.”
Perhaps the standout effort from the EP is the third track, “Washed,” wherein Dumb reflects on his impending elder statesman position, one which the formerly raucous hip hop artist receives bittersweetly. “They say Asian don’t raisin/Went from young and the dangerous to making all of my payments,” he raps over reconciliatory piano chords. The Shawn Wasabi-produced number closes with an energetic female vocalist singing in alternation with Dumb’s hook: “But today, I feel my age.”
Not quite somber but far from raging, “Cafe Bleu” is a uniquely beautiful turn in Dumbfoundead’s discography. It’s warmly sentimental and poppy, yet it perhaps serves as his most daring effort because of its blunt vulnerability. The Asian-American rap pioneer has spent his career battling. Sometimes he battles rappers and challenges their flaws; sometimes he battles society and challenges its ideologies. On “Cafe Bleu,” Dumbfoundead battles mortality; but he’s not sure how much he cares to win this one.