Lordie, we music snobs just have trouble when we branch out. Those who can wax poetic about the latest release by the day’s “It” band often have a strangely myopic method of viewing the music on the peripherary. This generally means that for most of the thick-black-glasses crew there isn’t too much of a true knowledge of soulful hip-hop or of the thoughtful content being put out more often than the latest P. Diddy remix. When you’re in the midst of the name-dropping culture like this one, you have to know your shit on one subject so you can spout it on your e-mail listserv, right?
But being the good young ‘uns that we want to be, we can branch out, at least to some extent. But seriously, those Roots and Def Jux albums in your collection may be solid, but that does not make you a hip-hop maven. And political flows didn’t start with Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation. It’s the old school that has been a source of much of the new political rap uprising, but it often veers too far away for our modern taste. On the other hand, much of the hip-hop that has indie cred has fallen into the world of backpacker beats and pseudo-political rhymes, straying too far to appease the inner-Hive in all of us. Unfortunately, hip-hop often can’t transcend its own self-imposed boundaries. We all need an escape route — from the trendistas to the beat-heads and those with an anti-emcee stance. Maybe what we need is a middle ground.
K-os’s Exit manages to serve as an open door into this world of legit hip-hop, skirting the line between indie posturing and meaningful soul music. We open up on our man of the hour, Kevin Brereton (a.k.a. K-os) macking it willingly with some lovely beauty, no doubt. But, no, it’s not that simple when you’re dealing with a true hip-hop mind. He flows “She was kissing my brain/ Caressing my third eye” over a floating acoustic guitar groove — just long enough to suck you in with his simplicity. And then he flips it on you. And it’s on. A quick stutter-tapping on a cymbal, along with an electro break that would make Richard D. James nod his head to the beat. He proceeds to delve into the world of emcees who just don’t know when they’re falling. This theme stays a constant, as K-os wants us to know what hip-hop used to be like. Often looking back at the way the game was played, is played, and should be played, he still comes with some fresh musicality. Tracks like “Freeze” push the politics of hip hop’s Big Willie Style rhyming akin to Mos and Talib, and he even manages to look to the future of how rap should be blasting off on “Follow Me,” with a flamenco guitar riff and finger snaps.
But when he moves to the lightweight balladry and mainstream pandering, he loses a bit of his edge. Though he possesses a nice vocal range, the odd love song, such as “Superstarr Pt. 2,” seems weak and forced, almost pandering to the other side of rap fans who were possibly alienated by his fresh take on flow. But for the most part, he manages to tread a nice middle ground, appealing to a pop sensibility while reaching out to both the underground hip-hoppers and the backpack squad. It’s an ambitious attempt, and when it works, it ranks up there with some of the most infectious and thought-provoking rap tunes this side of the millenium.