Review Summary: Having provided his trio with his consistently impressive production since 2001, Cunninlynguists' beatsmith embarks on his first solo outing.
This is the bleakest rap record of the year. Kanye's fantasy was more triumphant than dark, Big Boi was content with huge beats and rhyming typical subject matter very well, and Eminem rapped about being back (again) and how he was really sorry guys. So not really much competition in that area. If the album's cover hadn't tipped you off as to Kno's focus, then have a look at the album title. Then the song titles.
Then you've got the actual sound. In his most comfortable setting, Kno lays down oppressive, frigid cuts that still manage to be catchy. Death Is Silent
is an ambitious undertaking for a debut, but with the experience of Cunninlynguists' past albums, he's better equipped to pull this off than most.
Well, in theory anyway.
Kno spits viciously in his distinct voice and cadence. His flow is pinched, lacking much of the swagger found in the lines of other southerners, though that's not to say it isn't enjoyable. Kno adds character to his verses through his interesting phrasing and varied inflections. His skill as a producer does wondrous things to his words, shown by how unobtrusive he manages to make his voice sound in the title track. The dark soundscape he's erected, complete with ethereal choral oohs does not feel like it is supporting the lyrics, rather his voice almost seems to rise out of it. Guitar wails on "Spread Your Wings," the smooth, droning synth bubbles sweeping around the album's best track "I Wish I Was Dead" and the wash of bass punctuated by pan flutes on "Graveyard," all of these stand out, but don't distract the listener from what's being said.
Kno should have a very solid album. He's got the beats, he's got the backing, he's got the experience and even an overarching concept. Impressive guest spots (especially Tonedeff's opening verse on "I Wish I Was Dead," where he changes up his flow mid-way through) encourage this "should" idea. He's just forgotten one thing: decent rhymes. At the end of the previous paragraph I said that the beats don't distract the listener from the lyrics. As Kno drops line after line it becomes painfully clear that this is only good in certain situations, to be precise the places in which Kno isn't rapping.
You see, if you're going to have this dark, billowing theme throughout your record, you sure as hell need to back it up. As it happens, Kno's authoritative and oh so serious flow (which sounds mournful in keeping with the whole death thing) are completely undermined. Hell, the opening verse is an exercise in lazily written melodrama:
Death is silent
It hides high in the night's confinement
Vile and violent
While minding a time to try us
And remind us
That we cry when time is denied us
To incite this
Fear of death inside us
So loads of people cry when death comes. And a lot of people fear death. Yeah. Also, the night. It gets even more intense on "I Wish I Was Dead" where he raps about his own death, saying I can feel my blood circulate the whole of my body/cause there’s holes in my body, like a blow from a shotty
. This is just a terrible, terrible lyric that sounds like it could have been written by someone who has learned English pretty well, but hasn't yet grasped some of its intricacies, punctuated by stodgy, directionless flow. The story he tells in the verse is, independent of the lyrics, quite good, which makes it all the more frustrating. Kno's try at self-aggrandising badassery is equally awkward. Try hearing cuz I don't hit women, but I'll annoy a bitch
in his overtly intense vocal style without cringing. I dare you. Or try his softer, heartfelt side: you were the apple of my eye before the seed was planted
Without good rhymes, this record and its concept seem overblown, his initially brooding flow begins to sound petulant and the whole album stumbles. The concept and beats become almost cheesy instead of ominous, curdling under the immense weight of too many botched wordings. There are and have been many sub-par lyricists in the world of rap. Ol' Dirty Bastard made up for it with a unique, melodic flow, 2pac with sheer honesty and charisma and Kanye with, well, Kanye. Kno's misstep is that he doesn't really make up for it, and actually amplifies his weaknesses with misplaced ambition.
Next time dude, just try making some decent rap tunes.