Kota the Friend – MEMO: Review

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. 

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

Kota The Friend and Statik Selektah – To Kill A Sunrise: Review

Kota has always been a rapper with a unique mystique behind his rhythmic pattern, flowing multi-syllabic lines with ease, like on “The Cold,” off his new album with producer Statik Selektah, To Kill A Sunrise. His flows have these intricate pauses that enforces the period and comma with what he wants to get across. That has been an M.O. of his through his career with albums, mixtapes, and loosies of two minute or less songs of verses that never made a cut. And while last year’s Everything is the better project by Kota recently, the amount of effort put in by both artist/producer is on wave all its own.

Statik Selektah opens To Kill A Sunrise with these melodic undertones on the percussion centric production on the track “Wolves,” as Kota the Friend demonstrates a mental flex, that resonates with the strengths to match wits with his toughest critics. It shows his endurance mentally as his critics take him down. Something that becomes a common approach throughout the album. And the smooth DJ scratches during the last third of the track leaves an imprint for a modern nostalgia many “old heads” of hip-hop still yearn for. It’s these DJ scratches and at-times subtle saxophones and trumpets weave the story with Kota the Friend. He lets the instrumental act as the holster, while his flow is the pistol and the wisdom in his words as the bullets.

The first half of To Kill A Sunrise has loose interpretations of themes based around stories and faux-pa knowledge of his standing as a musician, like doubt of success from the critics. He expresses the doubt he gets along the way, but it’s all love for him. The kind of rapper Kota is, isn’t the one to hit mainstream radio waves in the same way artists like Pop Smoke and DaBaby do. But he ignores it to paint pictures the only way he knows how to. 

On the other half, the music/content evolves into demonstrations where Kota mirrors his success and stature to that of the past with his ever growing presence today. Through his chill approach the words emphasize with the flow of the beat, showing a lyricist hungry to be one of the best of his class. He is at his peak where everything begins to meld in transition where it feels like a constant flow without those second pauses the music player gives you in between tracks. 

Statik Selektah’s production is a continuation of his consistently great repertoire that maintains great equilibrium with the rappers he works with. With releases of many albums, his connections hold no bounds and seeing who he wants to work with only boosts the quality we receive. The jazz-boom bap production that flows with the grooves of the horn sections is a perfect background body to attach to Kota’s brains, even with typical young rapper mistakes like the weak choruses. And that’s the only true deterrent, wherein Kota does his best to fit with the pattern and most times the delivery is choppy. It makes you forget the man is really on here spitting wicked great rhymes.

Working with Statik Selektah has allowed him to evolve his sound beyond the “chill” demeanor of his sonic textures. And though it shows evidently, the production has given him a new platform, which mixes the old soul within with instrumentals more akin to his strengths like the jazz orchestrations. 

To Kill A Sunrise delivers on what Kota fans should expect from the rapper and most times a bit more with his own individual growth. He might not amass equivalent popularity as the New York drill scene has amassed through recent years, but has the capability to stand on his own to mirror the success of similar rappers like the Flatbush Zombies. However his ceiling is higher and will continue to be a growing force in New York Hip-Hop.

Rating: 7 out of 10.