This Sunday, as the calendar turns to 2023, music fans across the South Bay will take part in a growing yearly tradition.
We’re not talking about New Year’s resolutions, or New Year’s Day brunch. We’re talking about enjoying the new album by Dox Black. Age of Enlightenment, out this Sunday, is the San Jose rapper’s tenth album in a row to be released on the first day of the year, going all the way back to his 2014 record Stellar.
While last January’s Chaos Theory found Black channeling mid-2000s backpacker hip hop, on Age of Enlightenment the artist explores many different sides of himself and his musical genre.
“I try to make music with intent,” Black says. “This album is very dynamic compared to the last one. It’s very different sounding, one track to the next. Intentionally, I want to make it creative and different.”
True to his word, Age of Enlightenment slides comfortably from backpacker rap to hyphy, hyphy to trap, and from trap to plenty of other styles. Produced largely by Black himself (with additional beats by Sean Blak and WELLKNOWNTONE, and mixing by Ozomotli’s Kanetic Source), the album channels elements of Dr. Dre, Dan the Automator, Hieroglyphics as well as many contemporary hip hop undercurrents. Tying it all together is Black’s nimble and assured vocals.
“I focus on the lyricism heavy. Metaphors, well-put wordsmith type of songs. In that regard, I’m always challenging myself,” he says.
As a lyricist, Black is socially conscious and prone to layering entendres and metaphors, often at a rapidfire rate. “They might go over people’s heads, but it’s something I feel like I have to have in my music,” he says. Though he is loath to duplicate the work of others, he cites Kendrick Lamar, Mos Def and the Roots’ Black Thought as creative inspirations.
“I definitely respect and look up to artists that are relatively mainstream but still maintain the lyrical integrity of emceeing and hip hop,” he says.
In mid-December, California Music Channel premiered the video for “Globetrotter,” Age of Enlightenment’s first single. The video was introduced by none other than Bay Area DJ Chuy Gomez.
“I’ve never had a channel premiere my music video before,” Black says with pride. “They’ve been supporting. I really respect what [Gomez] does and the hardships he’s had to go through.”
“Globetrotter” opens on a sparkling glissando of piano, followed by the song’s jazzy beat and a life-affirming declaration from Black: “Been around the world, and I can’t find no reason to stop.” From there, he details nights spent on Oahu, impromptu vacations and the calming breath of a tropical breeze. Appropriately, the video features sweeping drone footage of Hawaii, Dox rapping alongside a Beamer in suburban Honolulu.
Black’s roots as a rapper stretch back to his days at Gunderson High School, freestyling for fun with friends and jotting down snaps of poetry. After returning to San Jose from college in Hawaii, he dove headlong into his art, touring regularly (including a lengthy stint on Warped Tour) and kicking off his marathon of album releases. In the intervening years, he’s become a regular feature at San Jose hip hop events, opened for both Too Short and Twista and launched his own live hip hop band, Dox and the Aquanauts.
In part, Black credits his musical range to his upbringing. As a child, his father was partial owner of San Jose’s fabled live music venue the Cactus Club.
“I grew up as a youngster in that club listening to a lot of different music,” he says. “That’s probably why I’m so versatile as an artist. Growing up in that club when I wasn’t supposed to be in there, I got to see a lot of acts.”
However, it hasn’t all been easy. He says San Jose still doesn’t provide enough space for intellectual Black performers like himself. But he won’t let that stop him. Whether space exists for him yet or not, he’s already here, making his art for the city he calls home.
“For me, I don’t necessarily care if I’m accepted by the masses the way others are, I just want to make the best art possible.”