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Reenter Juliano Dock aka Trappa Juli

Illmatic, Ready to Die, Tha Carter III, IV and V – the list of hip-hop records with a baby on the cover is long and illustrious. With Alias, Juliano Dock, AKA Trappa Juli, seeks not only to join the ranks of Nas, Biggie and Wayne with his own big, swinging biography, but he also wants reenter the album game altogether, after considerable time off the court.

“It’s kind of a risk putting your baby [photo] on a project because for most people that symbolizes something,” said Dock. “That’s like the epitome. I want to make a statement with this project. I want to separate myself from certain stigmas about my music.”

With over a decade of experience in the Des Moines scene, and the distinct honor of being one of the first rappers to christen the 515 Alive stage, Dock has been tried and tested. What music and style he’s known for, though, depends on which of his albums you listen to. Ultimately, Dock's goal with Alias is to redraw the dots of his history and reconnect them on his terms.

“I feel like in this project I'm showing people what I’ve been through that’s made me what I am today,” Dock said. “The full, complete version of me. That’s Alias.”

Not since 2017’s Dbl Drgn, a joint album with long-time collaborator and fellow Studda House Music Group member Bagz Marley, has Dock released what he considers a full “body of work.” The album, an eight-track, wall-shifting club record leaned on the strength of its titular “dragons” and their ability to bob and weave through wild instrumentals and pulsating bass.

In the years following, Dock dropped massive singles (like “Super Sonic,” “VVS” and “Birds”), supplied myriad features (on stand-outs like “Designated Driver” by Noel Price and “Young Juve” by UVT Vin) and remained active in the live music community. But, he didn't release new music.

“For a lot of people, [Dbl Drgn] is their first listen,” Dock said. “It’s going to be interesting for people to hear the transition from that, to where I am today.”

On Alias, Dock is ditching the double act and coming back with a solo effort, complete with features from artists like Sleez Dupre, C.R.E.W.S., Aree Love and more. The album took roughly a year and a half to produce. When I spoke with him when the project release date was close enough to taste, Dock could only be described as one thing: ready.

“I know I use the word ‘excited’ a lot, but that’s kind of like an understatement,” Dock said. “Goosebumps. I wake up in the morning with the bee-gees, my anxiety’s going crazy, I’m just ready. I’m ready for it to drop.”

Eager to share at least something in the leadup to the album release on Dec. 4, Dock dropped the music video for “smooth wit the rake,” the first of Alias’ twelve tracks. In the video––produced by Camdbtv––Dock is joined by FlyLife and Ace Forgiato as the three navigate a whimsical beat and take turns slapping it around.

Originally, “smooth wit the rake” was not intended to be the first song on the album, but rather the fifth. It was the track’s two featured players who convinced Dock to consider another configuration.

“I come from the old school rap rules of life: never let somebody else start your project,” Dock said. “You just don’t do that.”

Historically, to risk a feature on the first track of a passion project is to gamble. One feature, good or bad, could tank an album, outshine an album, derail an album, misrepresent an album, etc. Consider adding a second feature, and those stakes double.

Luckily, Dock could not have sandwiched himself between two more capable pieces of bread. The balance struck by the three artists is rubric-level precise and creamy peanut butter smooth, despite three distinctly different approaches. FlyLife bumps, Juli sets and Ace knocks it down for the kill.

“In this situation, 'smooth wit the rake' sets the tone so well, it’d almost be a disservice to put it fifth,” said Dock. “That’s the best way to start a project. It’s a great one-two punch. It gets right to the point, no hook, no filler, just real sh--.”

If Dock's ability to toss ego or tradition aside in pursuit of the sound speaks to his humility and maturity as an artist, then details found in the “smooth wit the rake” music video might shed light on his earlier days. To get that extra spark of realism, Dock set up shop for the video in a familiar spot.

“That house we shot in front of––I was raised in that house,” Dock said. “I see that house every day, I am reminded where I came from every time I go over there. I appreciate what I learned from those years, so I had to come back and show love.”

With the release of Alias, Des Moines hip-hop welcomes back one of its elder statesmen. More subdued than his club records, but not any less punchy, Alias’ overall tone suggests the growth Dock verbalizes in tracks like “top ramen” and “overall greedy”––the latter song boasting the line “to my city I’m a beacon, shine bright in any weather.”

Toughness and tenderness work hand-in-hand throughout this project, and nowhere is that more evident than the transition into Alias’ second act. Likely the biggest surprise here is just how sexy a song Dock managed to pull off in “rounds,” featuring an excellent Aree Love, the stand-out guest performance on a record with only solid features. Fittingly, like a jewel in a crown, that gem of a song is located squarely in the middle of this record.

Alias, the newest album from Juliano Dock, dropped in December and is available on all major streaming platforms.

Lucius Pham is a writer, producer and videographer based in Des Moines, where he graduated with a bachelor’s of journalism & mass communication from Drake University. Since 2022, Lucius has profiled artists for IPR News and Studio One, including Dionne Warwick, Ginuwine, Pictoria Vark, GZA, McKinley Dixon, spill tab, Ted Park, Caleb Elliott and many more.