It’s not entirely clear how seriously we should be taking rapper and producer Doc Heller, better known as Darko the Super. A quick trip to his Bandcamp page reveals an already prolific history of obviously tongue-in-cheek music; he has at least 48 releases to his name since 2012. With titles such as “Thank You BasedGod,” “Why Are You Reading This? You’re Stupid,” and “Or Do I Eat This Sandwich?”, his back catalog presents an impressive array of meme-referencing, aesthetically obtuse, and undeniably alluring titles and cover art. “What Up Duderino?!!” stands out as the first album in some time to be released under the name “Doc Heller,” and the name, artwork, and Bandcamp description suggest that this may be intended as an introductory foothold on his oeuvre. He tells us that this album is his “Hi, How Are You?”, an “introduction to a conversation,” inviting us in.
It’s also not clear, however, exactly what this conversation is. “What Up Duderino?!!” is an unfocused album punctuated by moments of inspiration. The opening track features a boldly classic-sounding instrumental (apparently produced by The Hell Hole Store, who may or may not also be Doc Heller) and a skillfully cartoonish verse, presumably performed by Doc Heller / Darko the Super. Lyrical images like “pouring cereal” pop out, begging obvious comparisons to MF Doom, comparisons that he certainly seems aware of. Nods to his influences are frequent, whether subtly referencing J Dilla in production techniques, or directly quoting Kanye West in his lyrics. References to oft-cited famous inspirations can easily be groan-inducing, especially in underground hip-hop, where it is cliche to compare oneself to the Greats prior to having any of the necessary clout to do so honestly. But in the case of Doc Heller, he plays it off with enough self-awareness that he comes across as intentionally absurd rather than ignorant, weaving these references into a kaleidoscope of ideas that is ultimately, if not entirely cohesive, definitely unique. His best lyrical moments are the least expected ones- on “I Can’t Control the Butterfly,” he raps “put my heart on ice / put my telephone in rice,” a particularly evocative reference that’s uniquely generationally relatable. Standout images such as this are sandwiched in the middle of seemingly stream-of-consciousness ramblings that don’t immediately betray any consistent message, but are certainly colorful and begging repeated listens.
Without the context of the rest of his releases, it is fair to assume that Doc Heller is positioning himself first and foremost as a producer. His appearances as a rapper on this album are sometimes cited as “feat. Darko the Super,” implying that his rapping represents a special inclusion of a particular side of him. He is an undeniably talented producer, utilizing unusual sounds and impressive beats, but just as it’s hard to pin down the “conversation” at the heart of his lyrics, it is equally difficult to determine how much of the production involves forethought beyond simply “sounding cool.” “The Bull Man Cometh” features spacious drums and wonky, whirring synths, but exhausts itself quickly; 4 minutes is simply too much space for such a repetitive instrumental. Similarly, the vague background vocals and occasional chirps of what sounds like funk guitar in “Darkness Fell on Me” contribute to a hazy, even spooky atmosphere, but they’re both undermined by the sheer repetitiveness of the song, and an awkwardly buzzy synth melody that doesn’t mesh with the rest of the instrumental in any positive way. His techniques shine the most on tracks that feature rapping, such as the awesomely goofy, stomping “Funeral Fire.” “Once Upon a Dream,” probably the highlight of “What Up Duderino?!!”, features the titular Disney song, pitched up, reverbed out, and set to a stuttering beat punctuated by tight drum fills. It’s hard not to smile at the marriage of his over-the-top rapping with the in-your-face, woozy samples and drums; when the production works on this album, it’s surprisingly, delightfully psychedelic. The closing track “Nobody People” is just as successful, with some oddly beautiful micro-moments of sonic interaction, even if he does rely a little heavily on an extended Bowie sample.
Doc Heller / Darko the Super clearly possesses enough exciting ideas and musical potential to warrant such an apparently diverse catalog of music. However, it almost seems like he isn’t giving himself enough credit to get just a little bit more serious with his sound and intention. If “What Up Duderino?!!” is an introduction to a conversation, then we come out of this album unsure of what exactly he’s trying to say. Although there is a definite musical identity being formed here, there isn’t enough meat on the bones of this album to give any truly concrete definition to that identity. But with this much music behind him already, if he is just now presenting us with an introduction, then maybe he’s in the process of figuring that out himself. Doc Heller succeeds as an Internet-age melting pot of imagery, emotions and sounds, one that catches the listener off-guard and entices towards a fleeting but exciting train of thought, not unlike the experience of looking at his Bandcamp page.
- Surprising, enjoyable lyricism
- Psychedelic, woozy, unique production
- Lots of personality
- Not enough focus
- Occasionally repetitive / uninteresting instrumentals
- Not quite long enough / needs more “substance”