Kota the Friend Pulls his Lyrics to Go YouTube Series into a Surprise Compilation
Evan Dale // Jan 20, 2019
‘Fuck your opinion.
I was doing good without it, I been living. I’ve been minding my business. If you don’t fuck with it, don’t listen. If you don’t like the smell, then get the fuck out the kitchen. We cooking soul food. The game different. You still living by the old rules. What I look like following fools that don’t move? How you tell somebody not to go and live their own truth? You can’t please everybody.’
Such a brash introduction could only have come by the gentle, relaxed, yet parentally stern delivery always in tow with Kota the Friend’s poetic rap. His take on hip-hop is eternally different, yet timelessly tied to the genius foundations of hip-hop’s most low-fidelity, storytelling lane. Provoking thought, evoking emotion, and painting the vivid landscape of a life he’s known, he separates himself from his hip-hop compatriots with a knack for attaching his music not to the richest, most gaudy indulgences of his audience’s desires, but to depictions of an actual, attainable life. The brutally honest, callously humble Brooklyn artist is a breath of fresh air for so many fans of hip-hop without a modern artist to be a fan of. Those looking for a change of pace from the gangster-posturing, the art school, the hyphy for hype’s sake, the high fashion, the sing-songy, and the tirelessly unrelatable, find that Kota the Friend is a U-turn away from whichever trends have become the norm any given season.
Seemingly, he’s tired of being labeled, of being expected, and of being misrepresented. He’s likely bored of being called conscious – a term far overpopularized in describing hip-hop history’s lyrically-driven. He’s probably over being called prophetic or positivist – a pair of expressions laid on rappers who shy away from depictions of the extreme – the gang life and the Vegas penthouses – in favor of the everyday. He’s simply tired of opinions, so we’ll try to avoid our own vapid tastes leaking into this write-up. Instead, we’ll simply discuss his new project for what it is.
At its base, Lyrics to Go, Vol. 1 is a low-fidelity composition paying homage to his New York roots that have long been stricken with waves of simple keystrokes, guitar strums, and minimalism. The simplicity of classic East Coast production has always defined a pedestal on which lyrics stand above all else. And for Kota the Friend, swimming in such a lazy river of instrumentalism and production is the most fitting environment for his lyricism to shine. There aren’t many rappers today who can write and deliver their poetry so effortlessly, so why not give it the limelight?
Aptly named, his 2020 EP is a continuation of the prowess he’s been unveiling for years – prowess that momentarily zenithed last Spring with the release of FOTO, but seems to be still pushing forward, expanding, and growing into this new project comprised of various takes from his Lyrics to Go YouTube Series. Like FOTO, Lyrics to Go, Vol. 1 feels written full of inwardly focused thoughts; posed to the brim with personally directed questions. It unfolds a sort of hyper-organized stream of consciousness where his main concerns are inspiring himself, his family, his friends, and his community to overcome whatever struggles they may face. It’s just the way he writes his raps. It’s uplifting strictly because it’s honest in Kota’s own described search for happiness. It feels inspiring because Kota speaks openly that he’s willing to throw away everything hip-hop has given him if it continues trifling with the balance he’s struck in his personal life. We would all be so lucky to be so focused on the right things.
Thematically, there are more lines to be drawn between Lyrics to Go, Vol. 1 and FOTO. Romantically propelled, Kota can never fully escape whoever she is that has always infused his music with poetry in poetry’s most classic, predictable direction. Penning love songs bursting with the kind of honesty and specificity that would make anyone feel warm and fuzzy, he seems to always find his way back to the Birdie-esque hopelessness that defines so many of his canon’s standouts. He’s a hopeless romantic, and he’s damn good at bring one.
But, aside from his signature delivery, his unparalleled pen, his humble honesty, his romantic posturing, and his unending search for realizing a retirement plan as soon as possible, everything about Lyrics to Go, Vol. 1 stands in contrast of a project like FOTO.
FOTO is a marathon coming-of-age tale; a bold, lengthy exploration of everything from blanketed love, life & loss to sociocultural constraints of the black community & vivid depictions of a life growing up in Brooklyn. It’s in-depth, intense, and undeniably Kota’s true, personal story. It is an hour-long masterpiece the lyrical likes of which don’t come around often, but when they do shine the limelight on a generational hero capable of storytelling and vibrant world-building.
Lyrics to Go, Vol. 1 aims to be something else entirely while reaffirming Kota’s lane as a lyrically dominant classicist in an era of so much foggy experimentation in other directions. It’s a 14-minute collection of 10 quick-hitting tracks that though they each cannot escape the profound meaning that defines Kota at his core, do so in such a different structural way. None of them are new, per say. All 10 track are excerpts from his addicting Lyrics to Go YouTube playlist where he effortless spits bars on camera for a minute or two. There are no choruses, there is very little melodic exploration, and yet there is nothing but respect for Kota the Friend to deliver a cohesive project that simultaneously says so much, teaches so much, and also hits so hard. It’s hip-hop at hip-hop’s truest pillar, and in that lane with the pure rapping talent that Kota possesses, it’s hard for any fan of hip-hop not to enjoy its lessons and its bounce.
It succeeds structurally in two predominant ways:
creating a commercially successful notebook dump – essentially Kota the Friend’s 10,000 Bars – where he can turn a cohesive chunk of his lyrical stock into a well-rounded project.
creating a project series out of it, calling this one Vol. 1, and setting himself up for further interim lyrical explosions in the future. (Let’s remember that he’s something like 25 episodes into Lyrics to Go on YouTube so there is so much more to come).
Lyrics to Go, Vol. 1 is what the world wants from their hip-hop figures in a post-mixtape era. It’s an unexpected short release that stands up to someone like Kota the Friend’s budding foundation, while leaving his future even wider ranging, more promising, and more structurally unpredictable and exciting that it already was.
Pulling these 10 tracks from the screen and granting them a space to simply be listened to feels like listening to Kota the Friend sway and head-bob on the corner with a low-fi tape in boombox, proving to everyone listening that he’s a rapper’s rapper unbound by generational constraints. And these days, that’s a feat almost no one can match.