“I’ve always been involved in music somehow, whether it be singing with my grandma in the choir or band or making beats and recording with folks in high school,” says Dopus Pennington, AKA RJ Jackson. “Dopus Pennington is just an evolution of that.”
A hip hop artist with a respect for the blues, Dopus Pennington’s approach to music writing draws from the music and sounds that he hears, while finding lyrical inspiration through life itself. “Sometimes I’ll get an idea of some sounds or a beat break that I wanna hear and build on it,” he says, “or even fully compose an instrumental in my head before I can get to the computer to make it.”
Among his most recent releases, the instrumental album Candlewax showcases Pennington’s composing chops, and last year’s Loose Leaves & Train Tracks contains a sampling of his sharp-witted lyrical work.
While Pennington can undoubtedly deliver a classic hip hop beat as evidenced on Loose Leaves, he’s more than capable creating modern electronic grooves. Candlewax is loaded with bluesy strings and intricate rhythms that could identify with any Step-Pepper offering. While digital samples are ever-present, the album benefits from traditional instrumentation, including various guitars and drums.
Pennington’s use of sounds and samples create images and moods without saying a word. Candlewax’s opening track, “Early Rain,” soothes the soul with the sprinkling sound of rain while piano and horns provide cool notes.
Although compositions like the trippy “Wonderful” employ samples, the bulk of Pennington’s music is all-original. DP builds many of his songs using Logic Pro and Reason Software. Loose Leaves tracks like “Anditgoes” and “Soundtrack” are sample-free, composed start-to-finish via Pennington’s Logic and Reason.
“How I Feel” owes a portion of its enormous sound to the smart sampling of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good.” Brilliance Proper introduces DP and chimes in on the chorus while the song proceeds with an air of confidence. Like many of Pennington’s tracks, the song focuses on his word-weaving skill and doesn’t disappoint.
In addition to an ear for rhythm and melody, Pennington speaks with a mile-an-hour wit, which he demonstrates clearly on tracks like the off-the-cuff “Chillin’ on the Porch.” “It’s two minutes of just straight up wordplay,” he says. “As a listener, that’s what I listen for most, so any time I’m jamming to or performing that song it’s a good time.”
“I kinda feel like my songs write themselves,” says Pennington. DP prefers to let ideas come to him, rather than forcing words onto a page. This process can take time, though. “That amount of time might be anywhere from a couple hours to a couple months,” he says. “Sometimes I might only finish a track while recording.”
Much of Pennington’s lyrical work centers on the writing process. Lyrics are as important to DP as the beat or melody, so the thought of saying something of value weighs heavily on his mind. “Soundtrack of the Misfits” illustrates the creative drive that haunts a writer as he tries to relay his message to an audience that may or may not listen. “It’s pretty much a blues song about being a starving artist but still pushing forward,” he says. “Because life doesn’t stop ‘til you’re dead.”
Inevitably, DP takes time to reflect on love and loss. “No More” is a hindsight look on a relationship that has run its course. “Thought I was in Heaven, but I wasn’t even near the gate,” he sings, signaling that moving on from this episode is nothing he can’t handle with his signature lyrical grace. Later on the Loose Leaves album, Pennington shows that he’s not entirely calloused with the love poem “She Be.” The song’s affectionate verses are necessarily contemporary, but could fit naturally in certain classic sonnets.
Taking advantage of the wealth of talent that permeates the Birmingham hip hop scene, Pennington has collaborated with several other regional artists including District Phive, Will Brobston, IndYah Rashaud, and his brother Brilliance Proper. Rashaud is featured twice on Loose Leaves, lending stellar vocals to the opening track “Soul Food/Open Invitation” and the Zeppelin-reminiscent “Love Is.”
Pennington and Brilliance Proper are currently working together under the name Calligraphy. The duo will soon release a new album called Film School. “We’re actually in the finishing stages, so be on the lookout for that,” he says. Pennington doesn’t hide his enthusiasm for the project’s release. “I’m really looking forward to people hearing that,” he says. “I don’t think there’s a single track on that project that isn’t just dope as hell.”
Pennington is also working on a solo project, SolidStreamofConsciousness. Keep an ear out this summer for its release.