“Kinfolk” is the STL and the ATL joining forces with able assistance from spots like Port Arthur, New Orleans, Jackson, and Memphis. Ali and Gipp first teamed up on a track (“Let ‘Em Fight”) on the “Longest Yard Soundtrack” in ’05. They must have hit it off so well that they decided to extend their collaboration to a full-length recording. Both have not only a past in successful groups, but also solo career experience. As a member of the Goodie Mob, Big Gipp has been representing the Dirty South since the mid-nineties, embarking on a solo quest in ’03 with “Mutant Mindframe.” St. Lunatic Ali AKA Big Lee accepted that challenge one year earlier with “Heavy Starch.” Now they’re ready to slang their Country Grammar not just from St. Louis to Hotlanta but all across the map.

While the “Ali & Gipp Present” headline and the numerous guests might indicate that this is a compilation, “Kinfolk” is in fact a duo effort with both rappers rhyming on every single track after the Big Rube intro. The kinfolk they brought along aren’t limited to vocalists. The Mutant re-enlisted South Carolina native DJ Speedy, whom he already worked with on his own album and on the Goodie Mob’s “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show.” Nitti, Jasper Cameron and Jermaine Dupri represent two generations of Atlanta production wizardry and R&B-infused rap music (and vice versa), while St. Louis provided The Trak Starz (best known for their work for Chingy), T-Wayne & Stee AKA PI Productions, and Jayson ‘Jay E’ Epperson of Nelly fame. Producer Trife even claims ‘St. Lanta’ on his MySpace, one of the two cities apparently being his home away from home.

Nelly has starred on the album’s two previously released songs, “Hard N Da Paint” (here called “N Da Paint”) and “Hood.” While the former is a slow, crunkish affair with an extended hook that recalls the Hot Boys and features Nelly being his usual exuberant self, “Hood” carries more weight thanks to a potent beat from T-Wayne & Stee driven by a slowed hook and the addition of Sweet Jones, who injects his veteran flair (“Got 15 years off in this muthafuckin’ rap shit”), inspiring both St. Lunatics to show a stronger street affiliation than we’re used to:

“By 12 years old smokin’ squares, and by 13 smokin’ water
By 14 I was a busy boy on somebody daughter
Rockin’ them black Stacy Adams and that fresh golf hat
I’m sellin’ weed a year later, whoa, here come the crack
I’m sellin’ 50s and boppers, the cluckers say I got good
And with the crack came the gangs, and that divided the hood
And then the war jumped off, some niggas didn’t make it a summer
The other niggas locked up, doin’ right, receivin’ numbers
I changed my life with the quickness for real and laid down the D
I ain’t sellin no mo’, but you can still
catch me in the hood”

“I’m from the middle of the map where the river run deep
up I-55 where them niggas run D
Had a pocket full of stones along with Bun B and Pimp C…”

After “Hood,” the tone gets decidedly lighter. There are various club tracks to pick from. Gipp outlines their motto in “Get on Da Floor”: “Toast to the gangsters, light it for the thugs / make the girls drop it down, make the DJ turn it up / it’s the A and the Lou and ery’body’s showin’ love / we can do it like this or mean-mug and throw slugs.” The loudly knocking “Go ‘Head” by Trife is an invitation for guys to stare at bottoms and for gals to shake them. It’s Ying Yang Twins material with Lee getting creative with accent-heavy word endings, while Gipp’s verse is the kind that blurs the line between regular and strip club:

“Tall heels, painted toes in them glass slippers
All spandex, no buttons, no zippers
Body tap tippers, blow pop lickers
Booty in my face with the ‘Wide Load’ sticker
Moonshine sippers, money go-getters
In every city we go, the freaks gon’ feel us”

“Get on Da Floor” by T-Wayne & Stee is a slow club jam with crystal clear percussion and drops of heavy low end. According to Ali “it’s just another monster club song that come with instructions, girl,” but with instructions as simple as those that the pitched down hook gives (“Get it on the ground, girl”), it doesn’t quite reach Hulk proportions, despite guest David Banner pouring his energizing Mississippi firewater into it.

DJ Speedy & Ekstreme’s “Work Dat, Twerk Dat” takes a lighter approach with prominently used percussion setting a faster pace and some more focusing on female agility on the lyric end. “If We Fuck” by Jasper Cameron bounces with a strong helping of old school funk. But the real bangers come courtesy of The Trak Starz. “All Night (Excuse Me)” takes off with full force, kicking a highly physical drums/keys combination into gear before the full-range vocalization – from funky adlibs, to Nelly’s trademark chants, to crooning by singer Avery Storm – completes the picture. Juvenile assists the two in taking this jam to every club in the country. Gipp: “Got the bottles, keep it comin’, let the spirits flow / Kinfolk, Derrty Ent.’ll make ’em hit the flo’.” “Lean’n” is what happens when these spirits flow freely. This one calls for Murphy Lee’s colorful antics to compliment the comedic appeal of this ode to getting wasted. Ali:

“I got a bottle of that Cristal, shots of Patrón
got me fucked up like, ‘Take me drunk, I’m home’
I ain’t with it no mo’
I’m tryin’ to Pool Palace, I can’t hit it no mo’
My Two Step wrong, my bounce ain’t crunk
My A-Town Stomps just ain’t got that stomp
My Lean Back ain’t right, my Nina Pop ain’t pimp
My Rockaway ain’t rock, and my Gangsta Walk got a limp”

Surprisingly, Ali emerges as the more lyrical half of the duo. Not only does his hollow vocal tone dominate his partner’s less characteristic, strained twang, the latter seems hell-bent on proving he’s a full-blown rap star. On the thoroughly hedonistic “That’s Me,” a flytastic production by Jayson Epperson, the ATLien easily manages to out-ball Ali. While Lee sees the necessity to reintroduce himself to the rap audience and recalls how he came “from the bottom,” Gipp is in full floss mode: “Pinky ring match my earrings, understand? / And I don’t drive small cars, only submarines / (…) / Drop dollars, pop collars, then we pop bottles / street scholar got the candy, make them hoes follow / (…) / Ranch in the country, mansion in the burbs / loft in the city, baby, just say the word.” In contrast, Ali’s rendition of the good life is laced with a minimal amount of tongue-in-cheek wordplay: “You can catch us on the beaches / where it’s hard to reach us / ballin’ but really bowlin’ on a boat with sneakers / The sun-seeker, the candy one with all the features / with more dimes in it than a parking meter.”

There’s the slight suspicion that “Kinfolk” is an attempt to re-establish Gipp and Ali as rap stars, or, more bluntly put, to establish these proven team players as soloists in their own right. Occasionally, the uncertainty about their prospects in the rap game shines through, sometimes expressed hopefully (“Hopin’ that the streets don’t kill me ‘fore they pay me),” sometimes over-confident (“I ain’t heard of y’all / we worldwide and you only some places like Murder Dog”). The look of the CD in particular is deceiving as it depicts the duo hanging around an abandonded farmhouse somewhere on the countryside with no luxury in sight. If they would have gone by the CD’s content, they would have put some of those “big-body cruise ships on the avenue” on there. One of those would be Gipp’s, and it would be equipped with a marble floor. The same he got in his house, apparently.

There are a couple of songs on “Kinfolk” that don’t make it seem like it’s all good in the hood. “Get By,” supplied by DJ Speedy with a breezy sample, is made up of everyday impressions. Ali admits, “I get sick of strugglin’, my baby got one in the oven / our baby girl need pampers and all I got is some lovin’,” but it’s St. Lunatic Kyjuan who adopts the perspective of ordinary people: “Folks workin’ 9 to 5 all their lives to get by / Pop a pill, go out and rob and kill to get by / folks relyin’ on they main squeeze to get by…”

“Kinfolk” has to draw to a close for both Big Gipp and Big Lee to put down the champagne bottles and start to sober up. Gipp saved the most personal verse for last, for the introspective “No God But You,” orchestrated (with a little help from the sampled David Axelrod) by the long lost Dallas Austin:

“Struggle, temptation, incarceration, man, look a-here
Gipp done seen so much trouble in my last year
Dressed in county blues, my lawyer dressed in cashmere
They can lock me in a box but they won’t see a tear
Discuss my charges against me so I can see it clear
Propane in my veins, man, I don’t feel fear
Boy, why the Reaper near, but yo, I’m so sincere
They can kill the body but the spirit’ll reappear”

Considering the amount of club material and the absence of social commentary, “Kinfolk” is more likely to appeal to the St. Lunatics than the Goodie Mob fanbase. Yes, Cee-Lo is on one track, but Nelly’s on four. “Kinfolk” also extensively caters to the ladies, who not only get club songs that come with instructions, but also a Guy-sampling love joint (“Forever and Ever”) and a sophisticated relationship tale (“Almost Made Ya”). At the same time this project represents the sense of unity that enables the South to always find some common ground and a seemingly unlikely combo to easily turn in a solid album with hit potential. Hooks aside, few of the guest appearances would be missed. On “Hood,” they resulted in an unexpectedly strong foursome. Whereas there is absolutely nothing remarkable about “What’s the Business,” other than that despite the Three 6 Mafia feature it is one of the few fast-forwardable tracks. Although sometimes coming across more like a Cash Money/TVT hook-up, “Kinfolk” is a high-end example for why the Midwest and the South remain so entertaining.

Ali & Gipp :: Ali & Gipp Present: Kinfolk
7Overall Score