D2x Credit: Courtesy the artist

Chicago rapper D2x has poured all 23 years of his life so far into his debut album, The Color Blue. Across its 13 tracks, he delivers lines about his childhood in the south suburbs, his time playing basketball as a student at Western Illinois University, his struggles with depression, his faith in God, his recent marriage—and his desire to make a classic album that sums it all up. D2x began releasing music in 2017, and since then he’s stood out with a cohesive combination of soulful beats and focused verses. Rapping about making an iconic rap record, as he does on 2019’s “Go” (“My tape gon’ rock, gonna sell out in stores,” he boasts), may seem absurd, but he’s taking part in a long-standing hip-hop tradition. The likes of the Notorious B.I.G. (“Juicy”), Rich Gang (“Lifestyle”), and Lil Tecca (“Ransom”) have all attempted to conjure reality from speech—as if rapping about success could bring it their way.

On The Color Blue, D2x presents a charming everyman persona, taking more than a few cues from Kanye West’s 2004 debut, The College Dropout. D2x maintains a similar focus on major-key samples and thumping drums, and when he raps about daydreaming on the clock on lead single “Day Job,” he recalls Kanye’s verses about the frustrations of working retail on “Spaceship.” The Color Blue largely sidesteps the trappings of contemporary rap hits (Auto-Tuned vocals, triplet-based flows, morose attitudes) in favor of densely packed rhymes, live instrumentation, and frequent references to D2x’s Christianity. But he includes modern sounds too—the electric piano and drum patterns on “It Was Written” recall Pivot Gang—so that he never sounds dated. Like fellow Chicagoan Matt Muse, D2x excels at making songs that could easily work on a festival stage, in an acoustic set, or in a killer playlist. On closing track “Picasso Blue / Thoughts From a Basquiat,” D2x references rapper Joey Bada$$’s breakout 2012 mixtape 1999, drawing a parallel between that release and The Color Blue. But while 1999 updated 90s New York rap tropes from Wu-Tang and Rawkus Records, D2x’s album recalls the hook-heavy, personality-filled boom-bap from buzzed-about early-2010s indie hip-hop artists such as J. Cole, the Cool Kids, and Mac Miller. D2x is at his best when he filters his autobiographical tales through specific themes. On album highlight “Adult Swim,” a bouncy hip-house cut with a shimmering hook from executive producer Ro Marsalis, D2x compares pursuing his goals to swimming laps, in the process referencing his childhood fondness for Odd Future’s Adult Swim series, Loiter Squad. Now that The Color Blue is out, D2x has launched a social media campaign to try to get the song played on the Cartoon Network. Given that he’s already proved his ambition to be more than fantasy, I wouldn’t be surprised if that coveted placement becomes another part of his story.   v