James Riddle Hoffa, an American labor union leader and former general president of the Teamsters union, disappeared on this day in 1975. Despite multiple efforts to find his remains—he was presumably killed in an organized hit—his body has never been found. Inspired by his story, forty-six years later, Harlem rapper Dave East has dropped Hoffa, a collaborative 14-track project with Brooklyn-based producer Harry Fraud.
East first heard about the union leader and mob associate from Jay-Z’s The Black Album. On “Allure,” Jay-Z rapped, “I'm like a Russian mobster, drinking distilled vodka / Until I'm under the field with Hoffa.”
Since hearing Hov namedrop the American labor leader, East has conducted his own research on the man. As East noted, if you were introduced to Jimmy Hoffa by Martin Scorcese’s The Irishman, you probably have the wrong idea. Aside from documentaries about Hoffa’s life and disappearance, East discovered a personal connection with the infamous figure.
“I found out my grandfather was actually one of the head union guys down south, and he was an acquaintance of Jimmy Hoffa,” East told VICE. Prior to Hoffa, the Harlem rapper has inserted both references to organized crime and the union leader in his own bars.
In his 2017 track, “Devil On Me,” East incredulously spit, “Bitch I’m in the mob, I don’t wanna work.” In a Hot 97 freestyle in 2018, East rapped, “We dropped out or the school put us out, no trace, like Jimmy Hoffa.” On this new project, produced entirely by Harry Fraud, East commits to these themes for an entire album. The album starts with “The Disappearance” and closes with “Red Fox Restaurant,” Hoffa’s last known whereabouts.
The album, clocking in at a notch over 40 minutes long, has a cinematic feel thanks to Fraud’s signature production, which includes strings, flutes, keys, and guitars, often accompanied by a ground-shaking low end. The supporting cast, which features French Montana, G Herbo, Benny the Butcher, Jim Jones, and Curren$y, all sound at home on the record—and many are prior collaborators with both East and Fraud.
The project is a throwback to mob-inspired raps, bringing to mind the image of boxy black Benzes, red checkered tablecloths, and unbuttoned shirts revealing one or more gold chains. For a rapper signed by Nas, a.k.a Escobar, a.k.a “cryptocurrency Scarface” in 2014, the obsession with organized crime aesthetics makes sense. “My whole life changed when Nas said ‘I got you’” Dave East reminds us on “Red Fox Restaurant.”
The 33-year-old rapper worked on Hoffa in between filming the second season of Wu-Tang: An American Saga, a Hulu series in which he plays the role of Method Man. Despite the time constraint, the writing on Hoffa is sharper than his recent projects, by East’s own admission. He credits his yellow notepad.
“The last few tapes I put out, I was really just freestyling on the record,” he explained. “When I write, I'm a lot more detailed, a lot more intricate with the shit I'm talking about.”
East’s favorite song on the record is “Just Another Rapper.” He sees the song as an update to where he’s at now—working on acting, clothing, modeling, and as the title suggests—”I wasn’t trying to be put in a box.”
In the song, East declares he will only wear Gucci if it’s made by Dapper Dan, referencing the iconic Harlem designer. Name-checking a fashion icon, one that happens to be East’s friend, is a subtle reminder that East is not just another rapper: he’s walking amongst legends, playing one on Hulu, and all the while working on his own legacy as an MC. The Dapper Dan connection on Hoffa runs deeper than just one song, too.
“Yeah I Know,” featuring Kiing Shooter, was the first track East recorded for this project. Shooter was East’s longtime friend and a fellow artist on Nas’s Mass Appeal Records. It would also be the last song the two recorded together before Shooter died on May 5, 2020 from COVID at the age of 24. East recalled that Shooter was actually buried in one of the Dapper Dan shirts the two picked up before East’s birthday the previous year.
“That was my best friend, man.” East said. Shooter’s inclusion on Hoffa is meant to be an ode to Shooter and a gift to his fanbase, which had been growing prior to his premature death.
On Hoffa, the listener is constantly reminded of the theme in the form of news audio clips and interviews, including an appearance on The Dick Cavett Show just two years before Hoffa’s disappearance. After spending over four years in prison for jury tampering, Hoffa explained to Cavett how one maintains their sanity while incarcerated. It’s an oddly relatable quote now, especially in the context of parasocial relationships.
“You cannot dream of what’s happening outside, and think you’re a part of it,” Hoffa said. But if you want to pretend you’re taking a trip to conduct some official “family” business, you can listen to Hoffa.
“Hoffa” is streaming now.
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