Philadelphia MC and songwriter Kuf Knotz has two solo albums coming after his run in the live hip-hop collective known as the Burndown All-Stars. Across all these releases, Knotz’s mantra has been clearly outlined: spreading positivity and, in his words, uplifting humanity. After eight years on Ropeadope Records, Kuf Knotz releases A Positive Light, a fitting title for this inspiring album. While the lyrical content gets to be one-dimensional, the message reaches the listener via a talented band that fuses bits of reggae and soul into spiritually elevating hip-hop.
Kuf Knotz is a bright beacon of love and energy on and off the record. A practicing raw vegan and juicer, the dreadlock-sporting MC covers ideas of humility, gratitude, achieving success and spreading good will towards others. Although he expresses himself with the occasional cliche, the message is welcomed and easy to digest. However, Knotz’s lyrics never explore outside of this realm–with the exception of “Vibrationz” which touches upon romantic love–and his delivery is never particularly stunning or inventive. Knotz operates on one wavelength and ordinary rap techniques hardly play up the album’s production or fine backing band.
Boasting a total of thirteen producers, A Positive Light has a new flair on each track despite the solid hip-hop foundation. The album’s advance single “Get Free” infuses reggae to the mix as sunny horns and organ spice up a sub-bassline and chunky drum beat. The Ben Ford-produced “Runnin’” truly sounds big; a martial snare beat and regal timpani mirror the lyrics’ triumphant, go-get-’em attitude. A relaxed back-to-back pair towards the end of the album, “Balance” and “Guidance,” unwind with down-tempo instrumentals.
Knotz also sees help from plenty of guest vocalists, from the ethereal breaths of Ntjam Rosie on “Time” to the ear-catching verse by femme-cee Kimmy Gonzalez on “Vision.” Aside from the ill decision to auto-tune the hook, the aforementioned “Vision” is a high point with a crispy drum beat that brilliantly evolves into stellar drum ‘n’ bass breaks during the bridge; meanwhile the bassist grooves without effort. Elsewhere, the bassist, truly the band’s gem, crawls fluidly through the jazzy piano chords of “New Dayz.”
While the backing band proves capable and the production is strong, some tracks wander into misguided pop-rap territory. The track “Elevation” loses its step, abandoning the album’s ethnic soul flavors for a blindingly polished hook that sounds lifted from any number of hit radio songs. Similarly, the bright synths on the dancefloor-oriented “Movement Red” sound misplaced within the earthy context of the album.
Throughout its fifteen tracks, A Positive Light avoids politics and barely approaches religion, focusing on thankfulness rather than praise. The theme is overwhelmingly enthusiastic rather than aching of world issues, setting the album up to be a feel-good mood-lifter. Straying from the rugged hip-hop image of its predecessor, A Positive Light opens its arms to the listener just as Kuf Knotz does on the album’s cover.