Defacto Thezpian
The Pinhook, Durham
Thursday, April 21, 8 p.m., $7

In sports, high-quality teams often play down to lesser competition, performing poorly in the absence of a worthy opponent as though they require a foil in order to focus. Likewise, good rappers sometimes trip through bad production, stumbling over beats that don’t challenge their own skills.

That is the case for Durham rapper Defacto Thezpian on his Raheem Royal: An Induction to Greatness EP. Defacto Thezpian is one of the Triangle’s most exuberant emcees, and these tracks brim with lyrical firepower, or at least the suggestion of it. But they’re often mired in dreary beats and unimaginative concepts.

The signs of trouble arrive early with “Put It in Rotation,” a four-minute song with a loop that barely evolves. “The Misled” and “Bodily Circumstances” fall victim to similar pitfalls, burdened by fake strings and percussion kits that are the wrong kinds of throwbacks. And too often, Thezpian rushes through his lyrics. Though he’s one of the quickest rappers in the Triangle, he still manages to get himself tongue-tied frequently, starting with the aptly titled opener, “Rambling.”

When producer Ron Jovi finally musters a strong beat, as on the second portion of “The Misled,” Defacto finds fertile ground, laying down one of his best verses here: “My rapping is prevalent, I think it’s rather evident, you couldn’t copy me even if you was Kinko’s/She messing with them freaks, I be with them kink hoes.”

Likewise, collaborations with fellow Bull City artists provide better moments. Featuring Lil Bob Doe, the fraught, overcast “Game Don’t Change” is the album’s peak, while bonus track “Top of the Chandelier,” helmed by Alex Aff, shows what Defacto can accomplish with a different producer.

Defacto’s quality rises and falls with the music behind him. The good news for him? Based on his backing here, he’s not even close to his ceiling.

This article appeared in print with the headline “Tracked Out”