The EP lead-up to a debut full-length has to be one of the greatest marketing tools in history. It might be difficult to get listeners to commit to buying (or, let's be honest, even downloading or listening to) a long-player, but you're much more likely to hook them with an abbreviated offering that displays your wares. I've already had the pleasure of reviewing a number of these in my time with RapReviews, and they're usually a very effective way to pique my interest, especially when unfamiliar artists are involved.
This latest project is by an MC/producer pair working in the UK. OD Hunte is an established beatsmith whose tracks have appeared in a variety of venues from MTV's "The Hills" to "NBA Live '07." He has the electro/urban/dance vibe down pat with an old school hip hop flavor added to the mix. K.O. is an 18 year old Swiss rapper on the come-up who happened to link up with OD while working in London. While I can hear the UK in OD's beats, I had no idea K.O. was European, let alone not a native English speaker. Good thing? Bad thing? I don't know, but either way it certainly won't be a distraction to the average American fan.
The EP's brevity – just four quick tracks – allows for maximum impact, especially after repeated listens. What is apparent on the first go-round, though, is that, despite his age, K.O. is an emcee with an adept flow that works at various tempos and cadences. The beats are all various shades of up-tempo, but the way he rides each one is unique and precise. Another asset he has, especially if he has pop aspirations, is his ability to write a good hook. Whether it's braggadocio on the party-hearty "Blow Up" or the repetitive bounce on the punchy "I Gotta Go," the hooks are catchy and effective without being overly simplistic. The best song is easily "The Art," which boasts another strong chorus and three impressive verses about K.O.'s immersion in the world of hip hop – first through the rhymes, then through graff art, and finally through beats. I transcribed the lyrics below, but it's the delivery that really makes them shine:
"It was once upon a time I stumbled upon a tape deck
Started listenin' in with no time wasted
Al Green and Curtis May were my favorites
Somewhere I was thinkin' how can I change this
Rearrange it, somehow manipulate it
Or compose, write, even orchestrate this
Right then, I thought how could I create this
Bought an MPC, learned it down to the basics
Went diggin' through 70s records
Bought James Brown even, no, Hendrix were better
Till I played it on my tables and started hearin' the sound
Thinkin' inside my mind the ways I could switch it around
Laid down the sample, beat on the drums
Play for the people, heatin' it up
Turned out my newfound love was not worthless
Apply my ideas, complete my purpose cuz...
(Hip hop – this is what I am)"
The beat for "The Art" is also the EP's best, as the aggressive drums and start-stop instrumentals pay tribute to the old school as much as the lyrics. The music on the rest of the album is effective for the most part. "Be Like This" features some more boom-bap on the drums and a nice saxophone lick that sounds a lot like the one used by the Neptunes on Clipse's "Young Boy." "Blow Up" is the most commercial sounding of the bunch, another song that displays OD's love of early 80s drum breaks. "I Gotta Go" rounds out the album with its heavy electro bounce offset by lucid organ stabs. There is not much in the way of depth to the music, but it sets the table well for K.O. and keeps the head nodding.
As an introductory EP, "Back to the Hip Hop" succeeds by bringing some talented new artists to your attention and holding it long enough to convince you that you should be on the look-out for more. It will be interesting to see whether they can deliver the needed variety of sound and content to fill out a full-blown album, as four songs isn't much to go on. My money says they've got it in them.
Music Vibes: 7 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7 of 10
Originally posted: December 16, 2008