Evan Dale // Sep 30, 2019
In the realm of the up and coming and underrated, few hip-hop artists are more influential, important, and imminently marked for stardom than Jay Prince and Kota the Friend. And though the two represent the future of hip-hop, they do so from very differing positions. One is a melodic transcendentalist from London weaving anthemic choruses into fast-paced lyricism across a modernist spectrum. The other is a poet from Brooklyn painting vivid imagery of life, love, and loss in ode to his hometown’s storied rap past. But both are redefining the hip-hop spectrum, seamlessly indulging in stylistic bouts not necessarily their lane. In fact, both are constantly proving better than any other artists out there that lanes don’t exist at all, and that rather, expressionism follows emotionality before artistic expertise.
One is comparable to artists like GoldLink and Innanet James where songwriting and a classic rap delivery is bent into the fold at any given moment, but melodicism and modernist genre blending come first. The other is reminiscent of JID and Saba where a spell of undeniable penmanship is in constant motion, pushing a listener into a deep, directed pattern of thought.
There are more than moments – there are entire tracks when Jay Prince abandons his melodically-driven signature for an unstoppable furioso of cadence and penmanship. The entirety of his 2019 project, WONDER’s titular track is one of the most lyrically-endowed explosions of the year. And pieces of each song on WONDER are poetic displays worthy of the UK’s outrageously lyrical rap foundation. Likewise, even the clean-cut, steady cadence of Kota the Friend occasionally evolves into fun-loving sing-song exhibitions. Cuts like Birdie taken from his 2019 album, FOTO fall victim to emotion so fervently that they can’t help but overflow with brightness, warmth, and vocalism. There is plenty of overlap in both artists’ ability to transcend the borders of their stylistic go-to and follow the path of their art into something else entirely.
Both Jay Prince and Kota the Friend tend to create within a realm not necessarily of permanent positivity, but certainly of uplifting thematic exploration. Where Jay Prince has a tendency to speak in ambiguous choruses,
Thank God that we here again, you know,
This the kinda shit that make you let it go,
Livin' in a city where it's hard to blow,
But fuck it, we gon' get it 'til it's ours for sure
(Run It Down)
that formulate good vibe anthems for his audience, Kota the Friend speaks more clearly, though on the same line of uplifting energies:
I been on my zen shit,
Family is good, we investing in a crib now.
I been meditating all week,
Lotta colors in the fridge now.
I ain’t finna argue with you n***as over dumb shit.
I don’t think I’m better, I’m just dealing with enough shit.
If you want a favor I'ma hit you on my own time.
Where the fuck was you when I was running for the bus?
Where Jay Prince and Kota the Friend thrive in similarities in their ability to transcend is also where they contrast stylistically. In particular, tracks like Blessed Now exhibit Jay Prince’s knack at putting together anthemic cuts that find themselves equally comfortable late night at the club or taking in the fleeting moments of summer in the park. Riding a high-fidelity, electronically-directed beat with minimalist, underlying bouts of a guitar signature to Jay Prince’s overarching instrumentation, Blessed Now is the ultimate example of his seamless skill when it comes to prioritizing melody so much that it downplays just how impassioned the track’s lyricism is. At surface level the track is explosive, hi-fi, and ardently anthemic, while at its core, it’s also meaningfully penned.
Taken from FOTO, the album’s titular track is inescapably poignant, poetically reminiscent on three relationships that have helped shape Kota the Friend into who he is today. And that amount of specificity alone speaks to just how much effort he puts into his diary style of songwriting. It’s tracks like FOTO – and really just the album as a whole – that are driving Kota’s comparisons to some of hip-hop history’s most prolific and profound storytellers, and also put in the backseat his natural gift at penning inescapably addicting choruses.
Between Jay Prince’s hyper-melodic tendency to downplay his own lyricism and Kota the Friend’s overpowering penmanship, both own lethal skills hidden behind the mire of their forefronting talents.
Proof in the Past
Taken from Jay Prince’s 2018 EP, CHERISH, Love Is probably best puts into frame a prospective collaboration with Kota the Friend. Inviting friend, fellow Londoner, and collaborator, Kojey Radical into the frame, it’s obvious that Prince can coalesce seamlessly with an artist who is first and foremost a lyrical rapper. Kojey is after all, most well-known for his ardent lyricism and the intensity of his delivery, so with a softer, calmer liberation from Kota the Friend without sacrificing anything from the pen, there’s no doubt the two could trade verses and balance one another.
From the other end of the spectrum, Kota’s past working with an artist that flows in and out of the lyrical and the melodic comes in the form of Blue with Chelsea Reject taken from his 2018 project, Anything. In it, similar to Jay Prince’s Love Is, Kota and Chelsea Reject trade verses and at times, single lines, while leaving space for his melodically-gifted counterpart to steal the spotlight on the chorus. The result isn’t just balanced, it’s blissful in its disparity and its coalescence.
A joint project from Jay Prince and Kota the Friend would at first shine its identity as a contrasting bit of artistic intrigue. But fans of Jay Prince would love the idea of him collaborating with someone so dedicated to rap’s lyrical pillar, not only because of the disparity between it and his anthemic melodies, but because of the fact that it would inspire more of his most lyrical work. Likewise, fans of Kota the Friend would be intrigued by the idea of him working with someone so inventively post-genre not only because of the contrast between it and his introspective penmanship, but because they know just much Kota can shine when put under a melodic, anthemic light. It’s an opportunistic collaboration on so many levels both in contrast and comparison. And bringing together two of hip-hop’s brightest young stars it would, no matter the direction it would end up taking, be the right turn for Jay Prince, for Kota the Friend, and for hip-hop as a whole.