The Beauty of Simplicity
In an era where concept albums, through-composition and heavy orchestration reign supreme, Kool Keith reminds the modern listener from where hip-hop emerged with his new LP, Feature Magnetic. Stripping the form down to its barest of bones, the MC and his laundry list of skilled collaborators – including eminent figures MF DOOM, Slug and Bumpy Knuckles – proffer little more than sparse synthesizers and drum-based loops over which they pour text, seasoned with layered, polysyllabic rhyme schemes, piercing imagery and deft wit.
The album, released on September 16th, boasts thirteen tracks – excluding the gimmicky introduction – none of which contain even a fragment of vocal melody. As a matter of fact, the concept of a “hook” or “chorus” has been all but eschewed. The vast majority of Feature Magnetic’s songs utilize only one repeated word or phrase that functions to separate the verses – a vocalized punctuation mark, clearly defining the lyrical boundaries of each rapper. This approach allows the art of the pen to resound with even greater sonority and, complementarily, less distraction by way of production or instrumentation.
Keith first emerged in the ’80s as one of the frontmen for the hip-hop outfit Ultramagnetic MC’s, and quickly established himself as the wordsmith and enigma that he continues to be today (note his culinary allusions and bright pink cape in the music video for “Raise It Up”). Truly an overlooked figure in the history of the art form, Kool Keith helped pioneer the inclusion of absurdism and internal rhyme into the dialect of rap, paving the way for the genesis of artists like Eminem and Chance the Rapper. Even Young Thug, with his atypical attire and disdain for the media, owes a debt to Keith, who has long pushed the boundaries of celebrity culture. He does not humble himself to this fact either, declaratively reminding the listener “that [he’s] up there with Kanye and Kid Cudi.”
Listen for the razor-sharp turns of phrase highlighted in tracks like “Bonneville” and “Stratocaster,” in which we see Kool Keith dip in and out of alternate realities and leaf through his vocabulary like the sovereign that he is: “the iron fist I bought from Iron Man on my left hand/tuxedo made by Vince Camuto/I’m ready to ballroom dance, put Janet somewhere where she won’t panic.” Humor plays a prevalent role in the record as well. Special attention ought to be given to Necro’s verse on the hilariously crude “Girl Grab.” After drawing the listener in with a barrage of deftly-delivered lines about cars, basketball and intercourse with “your mother” – seemingly one of his favorite topics – Keith delivers a shocking amount of depth with three of his final cuts: “Tired,” “Peer Pressure” and “Life.” The severity of surprise in this third act functions almost as an uppercut to the jaw, making his words resound with even greater impact.
However, to be clear, Feature Magnetic never seeks to aim for profundity. This is not Lemonade, or The Life of Pablo, or Blonde, and it does not pretend to be. Kool Keith has presented a collection of masterfully penned stanzas and intriguing instrumental loops, reminding a generation of auto-tuned audiophiles of the gritty beauty of text-driven hip-hop.