Album Review | Doc Wattson & Ronesh – Bonsai

This album was released on July 24th in 2020. I honestly don’t really have much to say in this preamble because I’m really going into it blind. Doc Wattson is a rapper whom I have zero experience with. I’m mainly checking this out because of Ronesh’s involvement. He produced Ikarus Rising, which is one of my favorite projects of the year. I really don’t even know much about him either though. All I know is that he’s really good at making instrumentals, so that’s all I can expect right now. I’m sure the rapping will at least be sufficient though. We’ll see…

The album starts off with Jonathan, which is a highlight for me personally. First of all, I have to praise Ronesh’s production right away. Some of you may remember me commending his production on Twitter recently, and it was because I was listening to this album while being floored by these instrumentals.

I love the jazzy, piano-driven production on the opening track here. The song actually gave me kind of an A Tribe Called Quest feeling, but just a little more aggressive. Maybe Slum Village would be a better comparison. Doc Wattson sounds great over it too.

Write a fast simulation of the thoughts that pour
Out my mind, stimulated by provocateurs
Spent time chasing crumbs, then I lost the source
Thumbs out, tried hitching, but I’m off my course

His performance on this track—particularly the hook—kinda reminded me of Quelle Chris, and even a little bit of Darko the Super. Aside from the jazzy piano loop, the beat has a very fast paced drum pattern, which keeps things feeling very energetic. The horns that come in during the second verse sound great too. Doc Wattson killed this shit.

One drawback as you feed your ego
It’s key to succeed, but can keep your fees low
It’s a tough stretch breaking from the have-nots
Enough stress to twist your guts and bad knots
But I’ll be dusty, stitched up with my last fuck
I tucked it in my sock for fast luck, catch up

The scratches from RTST, were a really nice touch as well. The song is dope as hell. It’s followed by Henry, which is a major highlight for me.

I think the beat on this song is incredible. It actually reminded me a lot of The Blueprint by Jay-Z. It sounds just as grandiose as that project did. The song as a whole also reminded me a lot of Lupe Fiasco. The storytelling from Doc Wattson fits the beat perfectly.

Pop had hustled to provide and hit the road giggin’
Mom had a dozen kids, and all of ’em had provisions
Kid grew up and tried to rock, but he had no rhythm
Dropped outta high school, had no job and no vision

The hook is simplistic, but it sounds amazing over this beat. The preceding track, Jonathan, was about Doc Wattson himself, but this song right here is about his father, Henry Rayfield. It’s a really moving song too, especially the closing verse. I think it’s incredible honestly. I was really floored by this track. Again, it’s one of my favorites. The next highlight for me is called Grind, and it’s just as good, if not better. The preceding track, Alienated, is an interlude that transitions into it flawlessly. Once again, the production is super grandiose. I know this is high praise, but it actually reminded me of something Just Blaze would make. It has that same kind of monumental atmosphere to it. It just sounds huge. The song boasts features from DefceeIowa Rockwell, the latter of whom I’d never heard of before listening to the song. I’d never actually listened to Defcee’s work before hearing this project, but I’d been told that he was a really dope artist, so I was aware of who he was. All three of the MCs on this track absolutely did this beat justice though. Doc Wattson murdered the first verse. You can probably guess what the subject matter is about based on the title alone.

What difference do days make if they’re consistently the same shape?
Noses on grindstones, what we condone to play safe
It sets a tone, morale is low, and that’s the play fake
Stuck in the matrix, hit RESET and watch the game break
It’s easier to say than do, but that’s the game’s stakes
Just gotta be into it, and live up to your namesake
Our ancestors left traces for us to be great
The voices guide us, affecting choices that we make

Defcee came in on the second verse, and I immediately regretted never hearing any of his previous work. The dude is dope as hell. I remember being confused when I first heard his name because it made me think of the producer Def Dee, who produced Noveliss’ Metal Face Hokage project. I guess that’s neither here nor there. He killed this shit though.

Cash rules for older gods and money makin’ hours
Oath paneled offices with affidavits and catered flowers
Whip up foreclosures, and never needed no bakin’ powder
Pocket full of stones, politicians and banking power
Sharkskin suits, giving weekly loans
The differences between thieves and these CEOs
Are the resumes and the getaways to nice summer houses
Made of cellophane, where they be keepin’ rocks in the trebuchet

The closing verse from Iowa Rockwell was definitely my least favorite part of the song, but I still think he did a good job. He rapped more about current events involving protests, police violence and racism, which was cool. I enjoyed the verse, but it just didn’t leave as much of an impression on me as the others. Overall, I think the song is dope af. Iowa Rockwell is also featured on the following track, Overtime, where he just handles the hook. I don’t love this song as much as the preceding material, but I still think it’s very good. The first verse is actually handled by Ronesh himself, and he did a pretty good job.

The powerful and wealthy get forgiveness in abundance
But if the poor & desperate make mistakes they must be punished
No money for homes, got plenty for drones
Bailouts for Wall Street, no relief for student loans, you on your own
It’s been the American way
Where your bank account gets seen as a character trait
Where Fox & CNN keep the dumb convinced
That one day they’ll be part of the one percent

He was talkin’ that talk on this track. Once again, his production is very jazzy here, but not necessarily chill and smooth; it maintains a level of urgency that isn’t always present in Jazz Rap. I think Iowa Rockwell did a great job with the hook, and Doc Wattson killed that last verse. This is definitely the most political track on the album, and I think they did a great job with it.

I’ma say it plain and clear: fuck the GOP
Goons out perpetrating crimes like casino chiefs
Givin’ overpower to the few who think they kings
Global overpopulation, so we see no peace

It’s the shortest song on the album unless you count the interludes, but I don’t think it feels undercooked at all. It’s a dope song. The following track is called How I Feel. I was intrigued as soon as I heard the hook on this track.

I wanna feel the way everyone says they feel
Most of them is either lyin’ or been fed a pill
See their faces, wanna go home and my shell can peel
To mend the cut and see what of myself is real

His voice on this one in particular kinda reminded me of Sticky Fingaz, but just with a calmer delivery. I think the way Doc Wattson’s attitude on this song changed from pessimistic and depressed to hopeful was actually really cool. It’s like listening to him grow in real time.

Yo, you bet I feel
Anyone who says you shouldn’t has been fed a pill
Face your struggles and you might not need a shell to peel
Love yourself first and see what of yourself will heal

I think it’s kind of a brilliantly written song to be honest. I feel like this is the kinda material people have in mind when they say “so and so‘s music saved my life!” This shit is dope as hell. It’s followed by an interlude called Never Disconnected, which then leads into Bridge the Gap, which was my favorite song on the album on my first listen. The jazzy production from Ronesh is fucking incredible. He did a fantastic job with the first verse too. Honestly, in terms of production alone, I think this is my favorite track on the album. In terms of content, this is pretty much just a celebration and description of the two artist’s affinity for Jazz. It’s one of the shortest songs on the album, but it really packs a punch. I think it’s absolutely stunning. The saxophone solo that ends the song is glorious. The song is dope af, and it segues into the following song, Stop Signs, really smoothly. Once again, the jazzy production is top notch, and Doc Wattson killed it. I stated before that Overtime was the most political track on the album, and it is in a way. It was more about politicians themselves and how the political establishment is fucking over American citizens. This song is more about general racial inequality in the country.

Scrollin’ through today’s news won’t ever chase away blues
Knowin’ black and brown brothers always gonna stay bruised
Few signs of Jésus or any God you pray to
Just hoping for change like sleepwalking on K2

I wouldn’t exactly say that this song is a highlight for me, but I do really like it. The rhymes are super well written, and the production is good too. It’s a dope track. The following song is called Library of Babel. For whatever reason, this was my least favorite track on my first listen of the album, and I can’t remember why. I like it a lot now though. The production is a bit more low key than a lot of the preceding material, so maybe that has something to do with it. The lyricism also feels a bit more esoteric.

Torn, the pages disintegrate when they detach from the tome
Worn, enraged by the din that it made in the back of my dome
Storms, involuntarily I press record
All the words are missing, but I never will forget the chords

It’s actually one of my favorite songs on the album from a lyrical standpoint now. I think this shit is dope as hell. The penultimate song is called Destiny. This is a surprisingly well done love song. Doc Wattson’s singing on the hook sounds legitimately great. It’s a really catchy chorus. The song sounds like a bed of flowers in the form of music. He also sings the entire verse, and the writing is nowhere near as intricate as it is on any other songs, but this isn’t really the type of track where he’s trying to flex his lyrical skills and make other MCs feel threatened. It’s just a very heartfelt love song, and I think he nailed it to be honest. It’s dope. The final song is called Out of My Mind. The production on this track actually kinda reminded me of Ezekiel’s Wheel from Jay Electronica’s album. The beat is less open and slow paced though. It feels like there’s a bit more going on here. Once again, the content is pretty political, and Doc Wattson’s singing on the hook. He sounds great honestly. When I heard him rapping on the first half of the album, I wouldn’t have thought that he’d end up sounding good when he sings, but it actually works really well. All of the verses are really good, but the final one is my favorite.

In 2043, there’s no more majority
Now you know why they be checkin’ papers accordingly
Searchin’ for any reason that they can deport a G
I been native back to when they was importing peeps
Inevitable, but they cling to authority
Acting like their systems can’t be lead by minorities
Totally overrepresented, ignoring the script
How can you throw the ball backwards and score a hit?

I don’t really have any issues with the song. I think it’s a very good closer. This shit is dope.

This album is really goddamn great. Once again, I think Ronesh is an incredibly talented producer, and this project solidified him as one of my favorites when it comes to newer guys. I don’t know if he’s actually new to production, but I’m new to his work, so that’s what I mean by that. If I was a rapper myself I’d be scrambling to work with him. I’m thankful that this project introduced me to another dope artist too. Doc Wattson is a super talented lyricist and songwriter. He kinda reminds me of guys like Substantial or K-Beta in that he doesn’t really have a weird gimmick; he’s just an all around great writer. D. Lanham’s writing is far more esoteric, so I think Doc Wattson may be more accessible in general. I don’t really have any consistent gripes with this project at all to be honest. There’s not a single track here that I don’t like. I wouldn’t take off a single track. It’s a very cohesive package. I struggled to choose a favorite track because there are so many that I love. It was also cool to hear Ronesh actually rap too. I didn’t know he had that skill. I’m looking forward to hearing more music from both of these guys in the future, and I’d be happy to see them collaborate again because this shit is fire. Don’t sleep on it.

Favorite Song: Henry
Least Favorite Song: Stop Signs


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Grade: A-

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