Tomorrow the biopic of slain rapper Biggie Smalls hits the theaters. I’d like to see “Notorious” even though, as my wife points out, you know where it’s all heading. Kind of like “Titanic”: The boat was always going to hit the iceberg and sink. But I understand the love and admiration that people had for him. He was special, and there are very few rappers—living or dead—that I can say that about.
When I think about his first album “Ready To Die,” I remember that I almost ignored it. Of course, I’d heard the hype. In fact, I couldn’t NOT hear it, since I was working at Capitol Records at the time. I also remember that it was Selwyn Seyfu Hinds’ eloquent review of the album in the Village Voice that moved me to get the album. Like many people, I was immediately drawn in by both the magnetism of his voice and his ability to tell a story. When you listened to that album, it was like Biggie was in the room with you. I also heard something else: He was rapping to save his life. It reminded me of the same feeling I got from hearing Sinead O’Connor’s “The Lion and the Cobra”.
There was a lot to love about “Ready to Die”. Unfortunately, “Kick In The Door” wouldn’t show up until his next album, “Life After Death,” where we could hear this now-famous couplet that’s been thrown into so many DJ sets and remixes:
“kick in tha door wavin’ tha 44/all you heard was poppa don’t hit me no more”
So there was no way I could keep the smile off my face when I heard The Caeasarz do “Four4”. Currently, the group is just one of several guises of Kokayi Issa, whom I first “met” via email when he responded to my assessment of Wayna’s video for the song “Lovin’ You (Music)” on which he is featured and gained a Grammy nomination. along with his response, he sent me to album version of the Wayna song, plus a link to his the stuff he’d done as The Caesarz. At the same time, Brian Bacchus of Soulfeast Music writes to me and gives Kokayi props.
So, I’m listening to The Caesarz. Kokayi and I have some email back-and-forth, and he tells me that he did all the instrumentation and sang all the parts. I’m impressed, particularly because the album sounds very much full of organic energy, not the kind of thing I’d initially expect from a one-man production team. However, Kokayi did put together a band to perform at last year’s Afro-punk Festival. Unfortunately, I missed that show. The guy tells some really good stories on this album. On some tracks—”Take Me Away”—there are vocal shades John Legend, but how John Legend might sound if he didn’t try to pass his whining off as singing most of the time.
What I like about “Four4” is that Kokayi takes the whole premise of that line, turns it on its head and tells the story from the POV of man who crossed the wrong woman. From what I can tell from Kokayi’s bio, this Caesarz project is just one example of the multiple musical interests that he’s exploring My hat’s off to him.
Anyway, enough from me. Listen and enjoy!