BEAUTIFUL ONLY - ROY KINSEY
by Scott Free
“What do you mean 'Who's Roy Kinsey?'? Fuck you - he's a fuckin' genius“.
Roy Kinsey “traded for knowledge“, as in traded in the socializing, the partying - to do what it takes to be a great rapper. His brilliant third release 'Beautiful Only' shows his how his years of sacrifice have paid off. 'Beautiful Only' flies - it soars - and it sneers at what is considered by the public to be a great rap album. It reached that within minutes. In the rap world, it's, of course, all about the voice. Kinsey's got it. The harshness in the consonants - that sliding attitude in the vowels. And where 99% of rappers' angst is a marketing strategy, Kinsey's is real. A black gay rapper has two battles to fight - two walls to climb - and Kinsey uses those to build his greatest strengths.
Kinsey's also got the lyrical skills. He doesn't just put words together and string them along because they almost rhyme. He uses rap and it's structures to tell stories that ring true. You know the 'Stick Man' from Kinsey's rap description - “mad at the world, mad at his mom, mad at his girl“ and when Kinsey adds “he ran out of meds, he gonna need a high, he gonna need a light, he gonna need quarters, he gonna need a donut, he gonna need some ass “. Yeah, we know him.
'Love Trade' is a gay relationship break-up song that could only be a rap. He exposes the pain that a relationship falling apart can have more than any vocal pop song ever could. “Same drink, different bar /different boy, same problem“- 'Love Trade' is, in a way, hard to listen to. It's a beautiful track, but you know what's coming - the track sounds like a break-up. “The ball's in his court, and he keeps it there with silence“, Kinsey tell us, although he does end it on a hopeful note - after all, “first loves never work out“. This is another track where Kinsey doesn't just rap, he uses rap as a way to express himself. And it feels like it's the only he can.
The final requirement for rap brilliance is killer hooks. Every song on this album punches, but the two that fly over the rest are 'Keep It Cute' and 'The Cloud' . 'Keep It Cute' has the best lyrical intro to a rap song I've ever heard. When Kinsey says he was warned not to write over this beat, he replies “he couldn't help that shit“. Then he tells his producer LPXIV that whoever he meant this track for, is gonna have to remix it, 'cause “he didn't write this, Jesus did“. You can't help but laugh- and agree. Kinsey feels it, and you feel it too. The chorus has a hook bigger that the best of rap singles out there - “All your comments, hold that shit. All your vomit, throw that shit. Got marijuana, roll that shit. Keep it cute“. He definitely does that.
'The Cloud' has a minimalist, slow live drum feel that hits so hard, you have to turn it up to max. The chorus is rapped by guest rapper LPXIV (who produced 'Keep It Cute') and the two of them spit the lyrics so hard, they must have destroyed the microphones. This song will inhibit your body like a virus- be warned. The fact that Chicago radio is not playing either 'Keep It Cute' or 'The Cloud' is really, really fucked up. But of course, I can only remember twice when Chicago radio played Chicago artists - back in the House era in the 80's, (black stations only, of course) and then XRT played JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound briefly a few years back. Pathetic beyond words.
And this is a Chicago album - from the references to the Bishop-Ford and Lake Shore Drive, to it's gun violence and it's final 'Beautiful Only' (w/ the satirical word PRICELESS on the cover). It includes the line “Chicago got the plague, but Chicago's where I'm made, and Chicago's where I lay“. The song flips on its head the cliché 'life is but a dream' - by adding “not till you wake up“. Sung by a soulful Myia Simmons, it's about the tradeoff between risking it all for rap, and the slight, slight chance of making it in that game.
Every single production on this CD is impeccable. J. Mixx, LPXIV, Nick Castle (and I would assume Kinsey himself) made brilliant production choices - they paint pictured and induce feelings that are matched by the lyrics exactly as they should be. The solid work pulls the whole CD together, and makes it stand tall as a truly great rap CD. As Roy tells us - the CD is priceless. So is Roy Kinsey.
DOVE - +
by Scott Free
+ doesn't give a shit
+ rocks the mic
+ doesn't feel like rockin' the mic
+ searches for truth
There is a very long, almost-silent intro before 'Future Boyfriend' kicks in - so when it does, it shocks you - which is just as + wants. The chorus - “I fux w/ you - so hard I fux w/ you“ is beyond infectious, and just a hint of +'s hook-driven tracks to come. His “heeyyyy“ is so full of joy, that you are pulled in - you can't help smiling yourself. + doesn't so much merge rap with spoken word with performance - it's more like inspirational ADD - just when you're getting your groove on, + cuts it off. Just to fux with you.
The most interesting use of samples and sounds on Dove is 'Magic Revolution' - mixing tribal beats with vocal samples and distorted vocals. There is a sudden break, and + screams “Yes earth, yes! “. Each vocal sample is running at different speeds with different tones. It's an amazing aural psychotic drug trip. + doesn't use electronic sound design just to create mood, or be a background - the creations stand alone. On top of that, it's +'s humor that shines through, as he says “we're like, so deep“. The song goes on its own sonic journey, finally returning to the initial theme of 'Magic Revolution, and its tribal beat.
'My Body Is Heaven' is a love song - well no, it's a respect song. Based on a sample of the Stylistics 'You are Everything' , + spells out “R-E-S-P-E-C-T Me“. + mixes in with spoken word, and in perfect + style, the mood shifts immediately. He briefly samples some piano lines, and then moves into brand new driving beats and gunshot hits, ending with octave-lowered male singing voices.
Somber accordion-like tones are the basis of the spoken word piece 'Goodwill Audiens' - about an audience that is smiling at you. When sounds somewhere between prepared piano and plucked banjo, the piece builds intensity without any percussion. And chimes are added for effect - of course, everything with + is for effect.
+ can write a hit and destroy it at the same time. 'My Brown People' rocks with the best of them. With fondly chosen Biggie Smalls vocal samples and distorted beats, it's that killer chorus that would never make radio - “There's a nigga on a nigga on a nigga on a nigga on a niggaÉ“. Sure - rappers love to have their n-words bleeped out, but you can't bleep out the entire chorus. It seems like both a commentary on the n-word itself, as well as a lyrical indictment of his brown people. But mostly, it's a political statement about low wages and union busting. At the same time that Biggie tells us we're “small time“ and “you ain't got it“, a plea is sung by + - “I try - don't want to see you die“. Brutal and addictive at the same time - all the makings of a brilliant pop song.
Dove is simultaneously challenging and inviting. There's no doubt that + is an amazing rapper. But those skills are displayed sparingly. It seems that it's the joy that + is more interested in projecting. + is not calculating in any way - + is just being +. It's up to you to come along for the ride.
+ fux w/ you
+ loves you
ELIAS KRELL & THE NO GOOD - (self-titled)
by Scott Free
Elias Krell & The No Good's self-titled album is a lovely mix of thoughtful, charming songs, which feel closer to the music of barn dances and medicine shows of eras past than anything in the internet age. The CD is chock full of old-fashioned, storytelling songs, but their approach and attitude that are very modern.
It all starts with 'Won't Help You Dance Intro', a rollicking, carnival-ish instrumental. It's really an intro to an intro, since 'Won't Help You Dance' itself only clocks in at 1:33. The main version is a ukulele-lead triplet somber ballad, and its vocal melodies, harmonies and whistles are melancholy and beautiful.
Things officially start with 'Decide', which appeared previously on the EP 'Tangled Mess Of Hands'- rerecorded (or remixed) here with brighter instruments and jangling electronic backgrounds. With a chorus that slows down, this song settles into you - or do you settle into it? It can be hard to tell the difference. While the alien background sounds hover off in the distance, the falsetto harmonies float miles above. Listen to late at night.
Much of Elias Krell & The No Good takes place in bars, which is the setting of 'Follow You Home'. It displays Elias's real songwriting chops, with chord structures that build into an epic chorus. It's the most modern sounding song on the album, but by modern, I mean the 1970's. That is about as close as Krell wants to get.
'Avery' floats as familiar as a childhood melody- a rollicking song that tells of an afternoon encounter in a bar with a man with a briefcase. The singer encourages him to spend a few hours away from his wife. Krell again goes for the classic storytelling ballad with his accordion taking the solo, and as handclaps start accentuating, it all ends as a sing-a-long drinking song.
'Back Around' is the saddest song of the bunch. It's about a relationship that was maybe never defined clearly, but that is, none-the-less, “disintegratin' “. Krell tells of their common painful childhoods, and 'body parts we wished weren't there'. He shows us how the past is heavier, more painful, and even further away when it is tagged to a different gender. The song ends painfully with the line that starts the song, “make your way back around as far as we've come“.
The ukulele returns with 'Swinging Apple In The Orchard' - it's a two-step song that gallops the way songs did a century ago. Following that is 'Ralph's Song' which starts out with suspended minor chord- on ukulele it is simultaneously alarming and beautiful. It's tempo changes often, which makes it a very dramatic, theatrical piece. The CD also includes charming version of Rufus Wainwright's 'Vibrate' and Stephen Merrit's 'This Little Ukelele' - both songs sounding very much like they were Elias originals.
'Elias Krell & The No Good' ends with the a capella song 'Passion', a nod to Elias's extensive opera background. Plantive and disturbing, with an extensive range, it makes for a perfect ending to dramatic, emotional, and triumphant CD that will draw you in, and keep you there.