Review: Dave East & Harry Fraud, ‘HOFFA’

Harlem native, Dave East and Brooklyn-bred producer, Harry Fraud, come together to bring a new energy into the lost art of mafioso rap.

The musical state of New York has undergone so many changes in the last year, bringing gritty boom bap to the forefront once again while letting the region to expand into other areas sonically. Dave East and Harry Fraud are two names that partake in both forms of New York hip-hop, maintaining a well-needed balance in the genre. With numerous loose collaborations under their belt, the duo takes this time to fully develop a chemistry that is strong throughout the project.

Dave East and Harry Fraud come together on the Westside Gunn-curated, HOFFA, to deliver their first full-length collaborative effort, reigniting the fire of mafioso rap into the modern day hip-hop scene.

HOFFA contains a generous number of 14 tracks with a fairly lengthy runtime of 40 minutes. The lush production style of Harry Fraud makes for cohesive initial listens, despite the twists and turns that the two make throughout the album. From the album’s intro, “The Disappearance” to the first single, “Diamonds”, Harry Fraud delivers his rich & luxuriant beats, leaving Dave East to tap in and zone out lyrically. After this initial sequence, the album’s sound travels in many areas, taking up a mixture of high-energy trap beats & gritty underground boom-bap. Along with Westside Gunn’s elite skills as an executive producer, HOFFA covers many grounds sonically and greatly displays the diversity of each individual.

East and Fraud recruit a diverse range of artists that are strategically placed to demonstrate their strengths in the specific styles that the duo embody on this project. Artists from G Herbo to Benny the Butcher make the cut and are thrown the alley oop to deliver the perfect contribution. Fraud laces his featured affiliate, Curren$y, with a chilled beat on the outro, “Red Fox Restaurant” while Benny is thrown on the gritty single, “Uncle Ric”, where Benny lays the hardest line of 2021: (“Y’all n****s just trash or y’all got terrible fans”).

Lyrically, Dave East has never sounded better and continues to improve with each project he releases. Ever since the enormous build up to his debut album, Survival, fans and hip-hop heads wondered what was next for the Harlem MC. After dropping a third extension to his trap-influenced Karma series in 2020, HOFFA redirects East back into his boom bap roots, initiating a return to initial form of witty punchlines and sharp rhymes. The lyrical content is not entirely the same as East incorporates a hefty amount of mafia-inspired rhymes that correlate with the story of Jimmy Hoffa, whom the project is named after.

Harry Fraud’s production shines yet again on this project, further solidifying his position as the best producer this year. Fraud’s exquisite production style of luscious and luxurious beats have rang off all year on his collaborative projects with Jim Jones, Benny the Butcher & Dark Lo. HOFFA with Dave East was a long overdue collaboration that builds upon a minor existing chemistry between the two that translates perfectly on record. For an emcee as diverse as Dave East, Fraud assigns a variety of beats that throw Dave into multiple pockets, allowing him to further grow as an artist. Harry Fraud is more than just a producer, laying a great foundation for the sound of the album.

As mentioned before, the project is named after the infamous story of Jimmy Hoffa, who was a successful labor union leader that was incarcerated due to his history in using organized crime for the better conditions of workers. Hoffa was imprisoned in 1967 after being convicted of jury tampering, attempted bribery, conspiracy and mail and wire fraud. A mob story hip to most who embodied the mafioso lifestyle in the streets, Dave East embodies the Robin Hood-esque story of Hoffa to display the duality of a successful man in a dangerous lifestyle. From the intriguing intro track, “The Disappearance” to the multiple name drops, such as the direct (“No need for a doctor / you disappear like Jimmy Hoffa”) on the outro, the project includes details of the situation in subtle details such as track titles and one-liners. This leaves new listeners curious and introduces them to an urban legend that has existed for decades.

While the two make a great duo, the project contains certain inconsistencies that hold it back from reaching its true classic potential. Even though most features fit their designated positions, this isn’t the case for all contributors as even at their best, the results weren’t promising. Examples of this being French Montana’s lazy “Count It Up” chorus or G Herbo’s off-beat performance on the hit, “Go Off”. The tug-of-war between the trap-inspired records and the boom-bap tracks made the flow of the album feel inconsistent as there was a constant trade-off between the two different styles. Despite its minor issues, HOFFA is still an entertaining listen and delivers content for all types of listeners.

Dave East and Harry Fraud’s collaborative effort is an alluring journey into the life of a man with connections to a dangerous life. From the high energy moments to the pivotal points, HOFFA exhibits two craftsmen displaying their range among many different styles while keeping everything in accord to the concept of the record. The significant chemistry between the duo allows them to shine bright even in the project’s minor low points.

7.5 / 10

Best tracks: “Uncle Ric”, “Red Fox Restaurant”, “The Disappearance”, “Diamonds”, “I Can Hear the Storm”, “Money or Respect”