Review Summary: Stand and Deliver.
It’s been a half-decade since the just-joking-we’re-not-joking rap group Das Racist
disbanded, which is a genuine shame. The trio, consisting of rappers Heems
& KOOL A.D., as well as “hypeman” Dap, were really onto something special. Heems and KOOL A.D. used songs as a means to play games of verbal ping-pong with each other, splicing lines with smart references, experimental rhyme schemes, and more than a fair share of quotable one-liners. Even if they disbanded after releasing one of the most impressive mixtapes of this decade with Sit Down, Man
, one would assume fans would get to hear such a promising duo develop their still-budding rap skills with their respective solo projects.
That’s what happened, right"
Well, anyone who’s been keeping up with their careers would answer with a resounding eh
. Heems went on to release a few solo projects, and those only validated some Das Racist fans’ suspicions that Heems’ style only really works when paired with KOOL A.D. As for KOOL A.D., he went in a pretty… unique direction. He released numerous mixtapes for free that year, and it sounded like he threw out just about everything he learned from his time in Das Racist. Shockingly, he substituted all of it to turn his solo career into a Lil B worship project. Unvarying, recycled flows sonically shrugged over one bland GarageBand-esque beat after another. Trying to find substance in the lyrics was even less nourishing, featuring stale topics we’ve heard a hundred times, presented in a way that we’ve heard a thousand times.
Fans weren’t in on the joke anymore. It seemed like they were the joke.
Fans were a distraught Edward James-Almos in teacher-mode grabbing a teenage Victor Vazquez by the shoulders, urgently spouting “You’re better than this,” combover falling in front of an intense stare at Victor’s smirking face.
That is, of course, until WORD O.K.
came out. You can tell this is the case immediately from the opener OPEN LETTER
, which features a lush beat from Amaze 88 (which KOOL A.D. himself declares in-song is “way more complex than you might want to give it credit for”). On top of this, the track features absurd lines fans came to love during the Das Racist days, such as when KOOL A.D. claims that around him “Actresses act like they’re at the banana smell-a-thon.” This track, as well as the majority of the album, is the perfect welcome back to his signature style.
What turned out to be a stellar decision on KOOL A.D.’s part, the rapper recruits frequent Das Racist collaborators such as Amaze 88, Mike Finito, and Sha-Leik for the production. What elevates this decision beyond its obvious merits, however, is how these producers handle beats for KOOL A.D. as opposed to how they handled things for Das Racist. Ice-cold synths pierce through the mix over stagnant, calculated drum machines. In spite of this, the beats still manage have a loose feel to them. They’re also less refined, but that seems intentional. While the full-bodied and sample-heavy beats found on Das Racist tracks such as Amazing
and Rapping 2 U
worked well for KOOL A.D. and Heems' dynamic, KOOL A.D. is looking to carve his own path, and he needs distinctive production to punctuate this. The snare’s a little loud here, the synth’s a tad blaring there, but the beats don’t seem to care how obtuse they are. Why should you"
As for KOOL A.D.’s performance here, you can find him weaving between Amaze 88 & Company’s icicle synths with constantly morphing cadences, while keeping his lyrics just as sharp as his flow. He manages to improve his verbal prowess, which had always been his strong suit in Das Racist. It’s lines like “Watch all the es-car-go / she’s suckin’ on my penis, I’m driving like extra slow / like a snail / all y’all fall behind my bars like a jail / look it up later like an asterisk / bitches on the internet love me, Catfish” from WORD
that you can either dissect and admire the technical structure and rhyme patterns on RapGenius for hours, or just sit back and laugh at the punchline. Examples like this are littered throughout the record, giving it a great deal of replay value as well as an especially fun first listen. If anything proves a great amount of effort was put into this project, let it be the lyrics.
The biggest surprise, however, comes from the track LIFE & TIME
, which features none other than Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, as well as former Digable Planets member Ladybug. This is a sublime, wholly satisfying 7-minute epic that gives Das Racist fans exactly what they’ve been clamoring for since the group disbanded. With a full 2.5 minutes before KOOL A.D. takes the mic, both featured artists lay their unique styles over the lush, addictively catchy beat. It’s when KOOL A.D. comes in that he dominates the track with a 4-minute long verse of his best performance to date. It’s about the 5-minute mark where KOOL A.D. is rapping about Peter Pan, Nas, and Mark Zuckerberg over a piano ballad loop when you realize what KOOL A.D. is truly capable of: something that transcends joke-rap even better than the dynamic in Das Racist could.
It’s all very impressive, yet it seems effortless.
Like most projects KOOL A.D. is a part of, not everything completely works here. Besides the obvious inclusion of SPECIAL FORCES
, a bland 6-minute Lil-B track that I’m sure he couldn’t help but include, tracks such as HICKORY
are seemingly straight-faced rap tracks, void of the usual sense of humor you can find in ample supply on other tracks. A guest verse from Talib Kweli trying his best to push his characteristically corny lines doesn’t help the track’s case, either. With tracks like these, it’s hard to tell exactly what KOOL A.D. wants you to get out of them. The production on LOOK
can be called minimalist at best, but KOOL A.D.’s atypically lazy performance makes the whole track seem sluggish.
Making more than a few steps in the right direction, KOOL A.D. shows us just what he’s capable of when he puts his mind to it. While he hasn’t made too much progress on his signature style since this release, (save for some tracks from his 100-song mixtape, O.K.
) we can always point to this record as an example of a rapper’s potential nearly realized. No matter how many times he claims to be the best rapper alive (or dead) on this thing.