Review Summary: Looking for the next Bradley Nowell? Look no further.
There are some musicians who are meant to stay in the underground, or at least on the outer fringes of popularity. Artists such as Animal Collective and to a lesser extent The Flaming Lips. Then there are bands who were meant for stardom, whom wouldn’t have benefited from sticking to their humble roots. These include Muse, Billy Talent, The White Stripes, etc. You can add Toronto’s very own KO to this list.
After getting through a troubled adolescence wrought with drug dealing and rehabilitation, KO (born Ko Kapches) made a name for himself within T-dot’s underground Hip-Hop scene. After releasing his debut album Let’s Blaze, he even managed to get his first single “Capable” in heavy rotation on alternative radio station the Edge. Yet many outside of Ontario, Canada still have no idea who KO is. Defining what his genre is can be equally elusive. He plays a blend of folk rock, hip-hop, alt-rock, reggae and soul with just the right amount of radio-readiness. Now you could be mistaken for thinking I just described to you Southern-Cali artists Sublime. You wouldn’t be too far off for thinking that even. And while some of his work is also reminiscent of the newly formed Sublime with Rome, as well as fellow folk-rapper Everlast, he has a style all his own.
Let’s Blaze begins with a forgettable intro that sets up the rehab theme of the album and seems to be a voice recording taken from his actual doctor from stints in rehab. There are two more of these throughout the album and while it’s an interesting touch, it doesn’t add anything to the flow of the album. The first song proper is a fantastic opener. “Moving Mountains” sets the stage for the album with drug related lyrics (the lyrical theme of the album) that immediately pull you into KO’s dark yet inspiring world. It has the album’s catchiest chorus and a driving beat that will leave you breathless. This song gives you enough encouragement to trudge through some of the album’s weaker moments, one of which is up next. “Miss U” is the kind of soulful ballad we would expect from an R. Kelly album. Unfortunately we’re already starting to see where KO’s strengths and weaknesses lay. With the exception of latter track “Good Man, Bad Man”, every attempt he makes at sappy balladry ends up as a failure. “Miss U” doesn’t even prepare you for the real abomination that is “Radio” (or as KO likes to pronounce it “Rad-io”). It’s a failed gimmick song if there ever was one.
This album is the definition of the word inconsistent. But now that we have the bad out of the way, let’s move onto the good. Coming before and after “Rad-io” we have “Capable” and “Bourbon (Crack Song)”. The latter is one of the album’s more upbeat track’s musically, with some nice organ and string work, but one of the darkest lyrically. It’s about being around people cooking crack and the inevitability of wanting to partake against your best wishes. The real jewel of the album is lead single “Capable”. Featuring KO’s sincere vocal performance and emotional lyrics, the real stars are the amazing acoustic guitar playing that is backed up by one of the best Hip-Hop beats heard in a few years. This is the song that should’ve catapulted KO to stardom. It has no. 1 written all over it. No wonder it made it to no. 9 on Canadian alt-Rock stations. The other album highlight which follows the second interlude is the title-track. It’s a great mellow stoner-jam which has the perfect tone for this kind of song and proves KO can go ‘slow’, just not ‘cheesy slow’. The wall of sound during the chorus adds to the fog of smoke that is surely filling the air as this song is being played.
While the quality of the good songs on this release far out weighs the quantity of the bad songs, it would be better if KO’s next album had better quality control and less uneven track-listing. Though for a debut it’s still astounding how mature he is as a songwriter. If he can figure out where his strengths reside and cut out his weakest traits then we can expect him to grow into a modern day Bradley Nowell. This is just the kind of music modern pop-radio needs right now, so please, spread the word people!
Bourbon (Crack Song)