More an effort to create a soundtrack to his own life as an ’80s movie than an actual hip hop album, “Fish Outta Water” is by all means a niche record and would be filed somewhere between Pharcydian California rap and nerd-hop. Kaz-well is a Japanese-American repping San Francisco, although only the latter aspect is even somewhat evident from his music alone. The ten-track LP is a speedy introduction to the rapper, who has no gang affiliations or substantial wealth to brag about and instead dedicates a large portion of the album to love and the conflicts that come with being in a relationship.
Singling out particular tracks is somewhat aimless with “Fish Outta Water,” where each song occupies a very similar soundscape and Kaz-well’s rapping is rarely any better or worse than on the track before it. He can flow well enough, but his writing is rarely more ambitious than stringing together words that rhyme and telling his story in as few words as possible. The productionâ€”handled by DJ Scotty Doo, Rhythm Defense and Da Evangelist (of Sole Vibe, who I’m actually familiar with)â€”is completely committed to sounding like ’80s rap, and I don’t mean Rakim and Big Daddy Kane; I mean The Police and Tangerine Dream. Kaz-well’s vision of ’80s seems less influenced by the hip hop of the decade than by the popâ€”it seems inevitable that Phil Collins’ voice is to show up way before “Another Day” comes around. The lead single (presumably, by the fact that it is the first radio edit on my promotional copy) and probably most dissimilar track on the album is also the most disposable, not because it attempts to appeal to a wider audience but because it seems like a strange departure into trip hop that stunts the album’s mood before it even starts (it’s the first track, oddly enough) and doesn’t really sound like it’d be played by any radio station, electronic or rap.
There are no guests on “Fish Outta Water,” save for uncredited vocalist Odessa Chen, who has an appropriately melodramatic voice that works nicely on the feel-good “The Beach,” but is positively grating on “Take Me Home,” which possesses a chorus that could only be described as an uninventive reimagining of Phil Collins’ track by the same name. Accordingly, Kaz-well’s debut will probably struggle to find a modest enough sized market considering its overall mediocrity as either hip hop or pop record. I find it works well enough as light background music, but then again, so does Sting.