Within New York’s underground scene, Kota the Friend imbues that old-soul mentality in production, lyrical, and technical work. He’s bringing an influx of bars that keep themselves grounded in reality, specifically through the eyes of an independent hustler. It’s been pertinent from his yearly album releases and mixtapes that contain random 70-120 second tracks with loosie verses, allowing his fan to eat continuously. But as he keeps growing, there are only specific directions one can hear him trekking, and his latest release, MEMO, sees Kota taking one of them with something this is personal and flawed. Past projects saw him expressing distinct aspects of his life and his family; however, Kota’s passion allows MEMO to feel somewhat fresh, despite falling into basic flexes here and there. On MEMO, Kota The Friend has two sides, one, which offers a savory palette as he opens the door toward his hustle, and another that allows him to build character by rapping about the depths of his world inside and out of rap.
Kota the Friend usually delivers raps relative to the range of accomplishments and his hustle to achieve them. It isn’t like last year’s To Kill a Sunrise, where Kota’s flexing gets nudged up slightly, eventually becoming redundant–on MEMO, there is little nuance as they still don’t feel as realized. It gets boasted by solid production, but it isn’t enough to keep you glued consistently. “Jumpman” is subjected to this as Kota retreads lyrical chalk on the pool stick for a table full of emotional gravitas. It isn’t like the more fluid and gripping “Needs,” which threads the needle smoothly. It’s dynamic with its approach to the subject matter of confidence in one’s successes and getting humbled on a daily. It isn’t like “Up,” where Kota speaks on his daily grind and hustle, but with mediocre trap flows and not so interesting Trap-Jazz Rap hybrid in terms of production.
It, again, becomes apparent, stylistically, on “Father’s Day.” It isn’t dynamic, or does it offer a sense of grit like “Daughters” by Nas. I could hear Kota express love, but he speaks for the present while taking shots at his baby moms. It loses traction, unfortunately landing, between the emotionally pertinent “Avery’s Interlude” and eye-opening “Dad’s Interlude.” Some tracks embolden themes of family, survival, and the will to continue without getting held back due to external forces. It could be personal or business-driven, as Kota would bring up on the album that he’d continue to produce at an independent label. It reflects the sounds which exuberate off the album, like on the acoustic-driven “Empty Cup” and the freeform jazz piano of “Soho House.” It is like many tracks on the album, which don’t adhere to radio conventions, having its own identity despite the not-so-captivating ones, like “Fone Call,” “Father’s Day,” and “Jumpman.”
“Empty Cup” is a 180 from the boom-bap-influenced production, outshining the lot. It’s a tender track about self-love and acceptance, which breaths solemnly, allowing Kota to break his wall down further. It exceeds the greatness of “Fone Call,” which adds little on both sides of the aisle. The production starts off interesting but then recedes into slightly more derivative percussion beats as Kota raps about love in various forms, whether sex or treatment of a significant other. It’s a perplexing direction that offers a weak contrast to “365 Days of Peace” and “Empty Cup” as his emotions and sounds flip drastically. For “Fone Call,” it starts with some quick and plucky guitar strings before becoming a redundant and near-whole sequence of hi-hats and drums.
Ultimately, what makes Kota the Friend’s work appealing–his flows and lyrics, explosive with rhythmic grace. It becomes more noticeable as you continue to progress after the first Interlude. We get fluid progression between the more explorative tracks–the previously mentioned “Empty Cup,” the two penultimates “Good To Be Home II,” and “Good Friday.” They offer something different and riveting, grounding the catchiness of the choruses, especially on “Soho House,” which continues the consistently significant work he puts out with Hello O’shay. It isn’t the most transcendent, or does it offer anything new; however, it is an effective summer track. The melodic catchiness will hook you like the opening track “365 Days of Peace” does. “Good To Be Home II” and “Good Friday,” like these mentioned, are perfect examples of Kota’s greatness, budding slick verses, and clean boom-bap beats.
With Kota, you get Boom-Bap and modern drum-heavy beats, but other times, you get surprised. MEMO has one surprise, and that makes up enough for the duds. Unfortunately, these duds are hard to look past, and the good amount of good is fodder for another Kota album that won’t match the clear synergy with that of last year’s To Kill A Sunrise. However, there is enough for fans to trek into and come out enjoying; I was one of them.