I find some humor in the fact that the first two albums of 2017 I’ve written about both came out in the waning days of 2016. They’re also both rap albums, but in that regard they couldn’t be further away on the spectrum of hip hop. Where Run the Jewels are a serious, tightly produced, extremely aggressive duo, Kool is basically their exact opposite; far from serious, rambling on and on over endlessly repeating beat loops, encouraging everyone to chill out, reflect, find the subtle beauty in everyday life and smoke some weed.
As an Oakland rapper who constantly shouts out East Bay spots (“Alameda In N’ Out, Berkeley stand up, West Side Oakland, Fruitvale, Lake Merritt, East Side Oakland / Acid visions in an El Cerrito parking lot”), I feel some regional attachment to an artist that I haven’t since I started following music (Houston’s indie rock scene was… lacking). The former Das Racist member dropped 10 mixtapes on his Bandcamp in 2016, two of which had 100 tracks. I listened to another two of these when they dropped (Official and Have a Nice Dream), and although I enjoyed both (Official was superior imho), they were both experimenting with a particular sound, and didn’t hold a ton of replay value for me. The Natural, on the other hand, is the most straightforward Kool tape I’ve heard since 2013’s Not O.K., and I can’t stop listening to it.
The formula here is simple; find a sunny/jazzy/80s pop music beat, loop it for 3-4 minutes, then casually ramble through bars that sound half-freestyled, throwing in as many non-sequitur pop culture references as possible and flavor with dashes of philosophical epiphanies that emerge like moments of acid clarity in the midst of gnarly trip. Pretty much the exact opposite of RTJ. The rhymes flow loosely, easily, with Kool often laughing or trailing off, getting himself back on track with a “I feel like (insert celebrity name)”. The songs often end when it seems like Kool has simply run out of things to say and has grown bored of the beat. Production is a non-factor here; the beats just loop until the song ends with no interruption. There are few hooks (one of note is on “This Mane (Reprise)”, which is a reworking of one of Official‘s best tracks) and only three features across the fifteen tracks. But there is also a formula to enjoy this album; throw it on in the background, enjoy the chill beats, and occasionally a lyric will grab you and make you laugh or think (often both) either for its absurdity or its profundity.
With no lyric sheet to be found on the internet, you have to pull the lyrics the old-fashioned way, through listening. Here are some of my favorite lines I’ve collected over the seven or eight listens through I’ve given this thing in the last few days:
“Look at the sun, look at the sun, okay stop looking at the sun now, close up your eyehole, open your third one / try to understand if you even know what love is” -The Natural
“I feel like Bill O’Riley, I got no feelings / but it’s still fuck Bill O’Riley and his whole feelings” – The Natural
“This is my music my music is me, it’s really good sometimes, but other times it’s bad, but that’s whatever it’s love” – Respect, Acknowledge
“Young alphabetical male with the money / With the B.A., the B-A-star-select cheat code styles of the previous ages” – Punic Wars (Scooby Doo)
“The young fresh prince, the young restless, trees for breakfast / I said everything all times it’s all time / all time is illusory, that’s shout to Albert Einstein” – Lay Up
“Your boy transcend counties / in a horseless carriage / life is a divorce-less marriage / all homicide, suicide / life is truly divine, please cherish it / all ideas are embarrassing” – Love, Love, Beautiful Love
Through it all, Kool comes across not like the ‘too smart for his own good to the point where maybe he’s a dick‘ guy from his Das Racist days, but as someone who has truly found peace and happiness in their life and is half trying to convey it through raps, then realizes that such ideas and feelings can never be translated, and thus devolves into his own silly pop culture references that crack him up. This isn’t a style unique to Kool (see Lil B), but he does it in such a likable way, over beats that sound friendly and familiar, melting into one after another with ease.
My favorite moment on the album comes from ‘Rest In Power Dr. Sebi’, where Kool gets on a particularly emotional rant of listing off celebrities that at first don’t feel linked at all, but slowly reveal their subtle connections: “I’m lil Yachty on a boat / I’m Yo Gotti at the Rob Lowe roast / Fuck Ann Coulter / Jill Stein for president / peace Allah Baraka plus Barack Obama” (he also later shouts out Haruki Murakami, my favorite author). This album is one of personal, favorite moments. The point in the final song, ‘Respect, Acknowledge’, where the beat changes and Kool states, almost as if he’s genuinely surprised, “And we still rapping, it’s still the same song / It’s all the same song” is another favorite.
I feel like listening through The Natural is an exercise in stepping into Kool’s house, smoking a j with him, then listening to him freestyle as you drift in and out of paying attention. But when you’re there with him, and you get it, it’s warm, inviting and rewarding. What can I say, I really like this album. Now I have to go from these warm East Bay vibes to the cold new xx album that I feel like I’m gonna hate and I’m not siked.