Recommend if you like: Kendrick Lamar, Lupe Fiasco, Mick Jenkins, Vince Staples

Expectation: I knew almost nothing about this guy until a few days ago; he formerly went by YC the Cynic and has released 2 solo projects and one collaboration under that name. This project marks his first work under the name ‘Kemba’, as well as his first solo work in 5 years.

TRACK-BY-TRACK

  • Fly (Intro) – If you are even considering listen to this album, go listen to it now without reading another word. The album opens with a soulful, melodic verse with vaguely inspiring lyrics, putting the listener at ease only to snatch that feeling away as the instrumental turns dark, the notes go flat, and the lyrics turn grim. In a minute and 21 seconds, Kemba makes his point clear: things are not okay.
  • Caesar’s Rise – Kemba reveals himself as a force to be reckoned with, crafting his verses with laser-focused lyricism that is riddled with internal rhymes and wordplay. The beat change in the third verse is nuts, and the bridge even shows off Kemba’s singing voice again.
  • Kings & Queens – More incredible wordplay to convey a clear, focused message, with a hook that sounds like Mick Jenkins on his best day.
  • The New Black Theory – Again proving his ability to convey a message with more than words, Kemba depicts his ow words getting shot down at the beginning of the song. When he does manage to get his words out, he has a lot to say.
  • Already – One of my favorite beats on the album, coupled with still more focused, deliberate lyricism from Kemba.
  • Psyrens (Curious) – Kemba’s use of different voices helps keeps the song engaging, while still remaining completely relevant to the themes of the song.
  • Greed – Like a Vic Mensa song but so much better. Pretty cool ‘Runaway’-esque outro, too.
  • Heartbeat – The intro builds at just the right pace, and Kemba delivers one of his strongest rapped verses on the entire album, before letting the song fade out and delivering an impassioned sung verse.
  • Hallelujah – Another cool beat, another great song.
  • Brown Skin Jesus (Outro) – A great closer, complete with a return to the intro to complete the thematic progression of the album.

Overall: I was blindsided by this album. Having never heard YC the Cynic, I had no idea what I was in for when I chose at random to give this album a chance. Kemba is an incredible lyricist, and he conveys his message with a shocking level of focus throughout the album. However, he is not only a great lyricist, but a fantastic rapper as well, as his delivery draws from a clear yet diverse range of influences to create a varied and engaging style of clearly enunciated but effortlessly delivered verses that demand the listener’s attention. Every track is produced by Frank Drake and he delivers a diverse palette of sounds for Kemba to work his craft upon. Several songs contain “skits”, for lack of a better word, that connect to form a story of a teacher teaching his students to be proud of their race, though the character of the teacher is intentionally misrepresented throughout his earlier appearances. The skits are reminiscent of Lauryn Hill without feeling derivative, a clear case of “inspired by” not meaning “copying”. Overall, the album is a fantastic hip hop record: Kemba has a lot to say, he knows exactly how to say it, and he deserves to be heard.

Score: 9/10

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