Dom Deshawn’s latest album Tale of Two Seasons captures the almost helpless feeling of passing through the seasons, undergoing a change that you can’t control but is happening all around you. Like last September’s Maintainin’, the project emerges from the Columbus rapper–born Dominique Mattox–processing personal struggles within the larger global catastrophe of the COVID-19 pandemic. Deshawn captures this still-new struggle with isolation through the process of moving from fall to winter, with recent struggles of heartbreak and loneliness giving way to new opportunities for growth.
Through the candor of his verses and the visual sharpness of his music videos, Deshawn’s music reflects on the many seasons of his own creative journey. Deshawn started rapping at age 18 after music overtook a prior dream of attending art school. He released his debut A Work in Progress in 2011. Though he would drop with some regularity for several years, reaching new highs in streaming numbers with 2014’s Before Sunset, after the project’s release the artist went on a three-year hiatus that was broken by 2017’s AfterhOurz. The making of Tale of Two Seasons was itself a transitional process–originally intended for release in fall 2021 under the new title of A Mid-Autumn Night’s Dream, the project was extended through the winter for the addition of new tracks and features, resulting in the name change.
The debut single for Tale of Two Seasons, “Autumn Prologue,” is a redux of some of the issues chronicled throughout Maintainin’: Deshawn laments his breakup the previous year and the disorienting consequences of the pandemic. On top of that, he shares feelings of grief and paranoia surrounding the hospitalization of his father and grandmother: “Mortality has been heavy on my mind/Will a nigga have regrets, when it is my time?”
The video for “Autumn Prologue”— co-directed by Deshawn and Columbus director, producer, and editor Ted Cadillac– tracks Deshawn down a leaf-cluttered avenue as he raps and mimes through his thoughts. The visual highlights his reflective style, the stream-of-consciousness verses that move steadily towards the positive, and is well suited to the cool, bright flute that carries the melody in New Jersey producer Dre Rodner’s instrumental.
Throughout the EP, Deshawn enlists a spread of Ohioan artists to capture the unique blues and pleasures of the cold, overcast half of the Midwestern year. “Stargazing” features vocalist Miir, intoning alongside Deshawn as he turns to the sky in despair–“asking God why, why should I try/cause everybody dies/”–only to find solace in the people around him– “then I realize that love really keeps me alive.” Producers Satele, whose debut single “I’ll Show You” was released on March 16, and Randall Thomas combine for the haunting “Nightmare on High Street.” Rappers bwiselive and Pink Siifu–who grew up in Cincinnati–give hypnotizing features on “That Feeling (11/1)” and “Septemba.”
As the project nears its close, the warm, even upbeat instrumentals of its opening tracks fade into the chilling keys and lamenting vocal sample of “Bitter Solstice.” The song finds Deshawn right where he started, in the raw loss of his breakup, “going through some things/seasonal depression/I need to maintain.” However, by the closer “Winter Epilogue,” it’s clear he intends to do just that. There is no darkness Dom Deshawn encounters in his verses that he cannot peel a silver lining from or tunnel through to the light.