Had a certain San Francisco rapper not written a song called, “Ghosts of Fillmoe,” the title would’ve been perfect for DaVinci’s debut record. 27-year old John DeVore sounds haunted. Not in the ectoplasmic Edgar Allen Poe way, but via the dead friends, ancestors, and memories that infect his consciousness and surroundings. Instead, his album is called The Day The Turf Stood Still, a knowingly ironic twist on his neighborhood that refuses to stay static.
The historic hub of San Francisco African-American culture, the Fillmore District was once the site of jazz clubs that hosted the likes of Etta James and Duke Ellington, and the place that birthed regional legends like Andre Nickatina, San Quinn, and Messy Marv. It’s also shrinking. As DaVinci points out on his record’s standout single, “What You Finna’ Do,” liquor spots turned into coffee shops. Condos sprung up next to public housing, and the area’s residents were either priced out, or cashed in and purchased homes in Oakland, Hunter’s Point, or elsewhere. Though there were brief stints in San Jose and Oakland, DaVinci never left, staying tethered to his increasingly narrow turf, hustling to get “Ben” (the title of his second single, one that cleverly flips the old Michael Jackson rat ode).
Cinematic is the prevailing cliche that springs to mind when discussing the record. Courtesy of from Bay Area vets DJ Ammbush and Al Jieh, the production veers towards breaks and orchestal classic soul loops, diced and disembodied and matched perfectly with DaVinci’s rough-hewn blunted flow. But cinematic isn’t the right word. Utilizing old news broadcasts and clips from the 2001 PBS Documentary, The Fillmore, DaVinci applies the neutral eye of a skeptical documentarian. He refuses to brand the gentrification as evil or good, watching with eyes both sober and stoned, reminiscing without nostalgia or glamorization of a childhood with an incarcerated father, surrounded by drug addiction and poverty. But the story isn’t so different from thousands of rappers — what is is DaVinci’s facility with words, honesty, and ability to sketch his own compelling story against the changing backdrop of a neighborhood in flux. It’s hard-nosed, raw, and without compromise, and its one of the best rap records of the year thus far. The best kind of haunting (no Liam Neeson).