By Nick Sligh
Being an independent artist in the modern music industry is difficult, but Kota the Friend embraces that challenge. Since the start of his career, Kota has been a major advocate for independent artists, having a do-it-yourself mentality and maintaining full control over the artistic process. The Brooklyn rapper has been quickly growing his fanbase organically, without the promotion of a major label. Authentic and original content over often mellow, jazzy and lo-fi beats has built up a loyal following for Kota.
2019’s “FOTO” and 2020’s “EVERYTHING” have been two of the better hip-hop albums over the last couple of years. Both albums were able to capture Kota’s ever-peaceful vibe, but in different ways. “FOTO” had much more of the mellow and jazzy feel that a lot of Kota’s music is synonymous with, featuring smooth, emotional and introspective music. “EVERYTHING” took on a much more upbeat and tropical sound, and was another successful addition to his discography.
Statik Selektah is known by many in hip-hop to be one of the better modern producers. 2020’s “The Balancing Act” was his last effort, an album with a collection of incredible names as guest features. With such a breadth of experience and a versatility in style, I expect Statik to mesh well with Kota’s style and craft him a set of beats that complement his ambitions well.
Obviously, opinions can change greatly about an album as time passes. However, here is my initial reaction to each track and the album as a whole on my first listen of “To Kill A Sunrise.”
Kota the Friend & Statik Selektah: “To Kill a Sunrise” (March 19, 2020)
Statik’s captivating production immediately starts the album off on a more enlivened note than would Kota’s vintage lo-fi production choices. Kota’s passion and ambition is evident throughout the delivery of the verses and choruses. “Wolves” is a really soulful and enthralling intro that builds the album’s foundation in a sound that differs from much of Kota’s past discography.
This sounds like some real old-school East Coast hip-hop, and Kota is heavily embracing his Brooklyn roots. The drum kick and looped sample from Statik are simple but well-positioned, and together they really make an enjoyable song. Kota is spitting, and his energy is fun. The first two songs have this album on a strong start.
- “The Cold”
The layered beats from Statik are nice so far. “The Cold” features another jazzy, soulful beat that Kota fits really nicely on. There is such an undeniable passion and hunger in Kota’s delivery on this album, and it is really a welcome sound. Although it’s very different from the typical vibe of a Kota album, I am loving it so far. Kota’s verses and deliveries are meshing phenomenally with Statik’s production. The combination of Statik’s beats and Kota’s passion are making a really heartfelt record.
- “The Love”
It’s pretty surprising how much of an old-school East Coast feel there is on some of these songs, but I really enjoy it. “The Love” is another song with a jazzy beat and a retro feel that highlights another great performance from Kota.
- “Go Now” ft. Haile Supreme
Haile Supreme, the sole feature on the album, provides a fitting chorus over another great Statik beat to start the song. Kota’s lone verse on the song is perfectly fitting, and really sets the stage for Haile Supreme’s vocals to shine over the beat. Another very good addition.
- “What ya Sayin’”
Opening with the piano, and then going into the boom-bap drum kick, it’s obvious that this old-school East Coast sound is not going anywhere at this point. Statik continues a quality performance on the production with another solid beat. As a testament to the quality so far, this song is one of the less strong tracks, but still a nice one.
- “Live & Direct”
Kota’s rapping on this project is as good as it’s been at any point of his career. “Live & Direct” is another showcase of improved technical prowess in his pure rapping ability, highlighting again another showcase of improved delivery, penmanship and versatility of flows. Statik hasn’t yet missed with a beat.
- “Day Glow”
“Day Glow” is another really nice fit on the album, an uplifting and upbeat anthem radiating with positivity. At this point, I feel repetitive, but it is just another quality beat from Statik, another quality, performance on the mic from Kota and another good song.
“Sunrise” continues the positive trajectory of the project, and brings in a nice triumphant and jazzy twist. One of my favorite samples and beats so far, Kota’s introspective and inspiring verses are complemented perfectly.
The outro sounds about as I would have hoped for it to. The jazzy, soulful, East Coast production from Statik comes into its conclusion in great fashion. The quality of the production is solid and fits Kota’s style well. Kota also rounds up a fantastic set of verses. There is some odd and poorly placed autotune on Kota’s vocals in parts, but other than that a great performance on the outro.
Overall, on a first listen, I am honestly shocked to see how well this combination of Kota the Friend and Statik Selektah worked. Even though I had reasonably high expectations, my initial listen definitely exceeded them. I knew that working with Statik would challenge Kota to push new boundaries in his artistry, and am really impressed with how effortlessly he was able to make these adjustments in his style and sound. “To Kill A Sunrise” sees Kota perform very well as a thoughtful and soulful lyricist, and a much improved technical rapper from the beginning of his career. Statik’s jazzy, chill, boom-bap production was simple yet impressive throughout, providing beats that were consistently enjoyable and great fits for Kota’s verses. Quality production was expected, but the chemistry between producer and artist was at a higher level than I anticipated coming into it. Kota and Statik were able to embrace their East Coast roots in quality fashion, and provided a nice twist on a vintage sound in rap. In 2021, hearing a soulful rap project with an East Coast sound is refreshing, and even more so with Kota’s specific persona and style infused into it. No song really stands out as incredible, but mostly all of the songs are pretty good and really provide a consistent compilation. “To Kill A Sunrise” is one of the better hip-hop releases of the year, and should remain that way as the year goes along.
Favorite Songs: “Sunrise,” “Hate,” “Go Now,” “The Cold”
Album Score: 75/100