Review: Just John x Dom Dias chart new ground for Toronto hip-hop on Don III

The rapper/producer duo cover a ton of ground in the third of their EP trilogy, all with a thrilling unpredictability

Rating: NNNN

Just John and Dom Dias have a sound that expands well past Toronto. While the rapper/producer duo’s 2018 EP Don II toyed with the conventions of punk, hip-hop and electronic music to make for a thunderous listening experience, the group’s six song follow-up adds even more sounds into the mix. 

In a move guaranteed to transport 20-something listeners back to their childhoods, Dias kicks off the project’s opening track Bumbaclot with what sounds like a snippet of Rafiki’s famous circle of life call in The Lion King, which cranks up the anticipation (it’s not everyday you call on Rafiki to introduce a body of work) while John nods to his Jamaican heritage with the title phrase. 

The pair continue setting the animal kingdom ablaze with Heatstroke, which begins with a rumbling lion’s growl, and Wild, whose opening moments feature a trumpeting elephant alongside snappy tassa drums, which are commonly used in Trinidad and Tobago and other parts of the Caribbean.

Pull Up’s raging and decadent 808s allude to the new movement of Florida trap led by Miami producer Ronny J and rappers Denzel Curry and Ski Mask the Slump God. John’s addictive UK-grime inflection recalls Stormzy or up-and-comer Octavian. 

The project comes full circle on closer Selecta – the most provocative song on the EP – whose sound darts from grime to punk to a daring a cappella falsetto. 

There’s a Yeezus-like unpredictability to it all that makes it impossible to anticipate what’s coming next. That might divide casual hip-hop heads, just as Kanye’s masterwork did six years ago. But new sounds are always a little uncomfortable. And Don III is bound to chart new ground for Toronto hip-hop and, hopefully, hip-hop at large. 

Top track: Pull Up

Just John x Dom Dias play the Drake Hotel on Friday (April 19) – see listing – and at NXNE this summer.

@nowtoronto | @claudiamcneilly

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