(photo credit of Kokayi: Go Fresco)
On the song “Over There,” taken from his 2010 album Robots and Dinosaurs, DC-based multi-hypenate Kokayi posed the question of what an experienced MC and producer can offer hip hop when everything about the genre is about celebrating the new and next. Then and now, I’d suggest his answer is both simple (for him) and difficult (for too many): Just do you.
So what exactly do you do as an MC and producer who’s married with kids? You talk about how you see life from where you’re standing, not from what’s “popular” among the tween and twenty-something set. In fact, his recently released Pro Deo et Patria is a great example of full—but never over-produced—soundscapes surrounding headnod-inducing beats and supporting his trademark strong songwriting. The biggest takeaway I can offer is that his songs are passionate (he clearly loves music and making music), but considered. They’re not brash.
For example, on the current album’s “Wayyts (Weights)”, he could be talking about Trayvon Martin or any number of the young black men murdered on a daily basis:
Young boy lost his life today now
ooh woah ooh woah i wanna know
if justice is blind who is gonna pay now?
ooh woah ooh woah uh huh uh huh
pay for the tears and the stolen moments
for the memories that will never be mentioned
dreams that will never be fulfilled
we forfeit the children
Check it out
When it comes to black relationships in songs, it’s usually all fairy tale-like bliss or arguing, fighting and other recriminations. I guess those extremes are supposed to signify deep love or, on the other end, deep passion. Ultimately, what they only scratch the surface of the many facets of relationships. And, usually, it’s depressing to hear half-hearted renderings of relationships from people who are either unwilling or unable to make a serious commitment.
Which is why one of my favorite tracks on the album is “Been Thru” featuring Alison Carney. As someone who’s been in a married almost 15 years, it’s gratifying to hear a song that take a clear-eyed view of relationships. For example:
It’s been a lifetime of bitter
A bucket fulll of grief and
And a 5 lb bag regret
Like 17 winters left me aching
From the weight of what i went and tried to forget
Now I suppose one may think that
All this means that the clouds never
wondered away but it’s quite the contrary
and precisely the reason i decided to stay
It’s a song about love that has endured despite the ups and downs life has thrown at a couple. Take a listen:
Other standout tracks include “Breeve Long E,” the reggae-inflected “Punchdrunk” and “Old People Talk Too Much”.
Without a doubt, Kokayi is a talented producer. In fact, he wrote, produced and arranged much of the album himself. However, I think his real gift is songwriting. For listeners, the gift to us is that he has the courage to tell his own truth is such an artful way. That makes for one of the more engaging listens of 2012.