‘To Kill A Sunrise’ is to Acknowledge that Kota the Friend & Statik Selektah are Cohesive Bliss
Evan Dale // March 20, 2021
From the very beginning, it’s obvious that Kota – as he so fervently addresses in his opening lines – is in a different place – ‘ain’t the Kota that you first met’ – compared to the one we’ve come to know through his prolific last four years. Yet, through a listen, it’s also obvious that – even different – he’s still a Kota whose immersive poetics we’ll quickly come to love and relate to. To Kill A Sunrise is still Kota – but the album is also Kota by the way of acclaimed and established East Coast producer – maybe better described a composer – Statik Selektah. And the textural difference that makes seems only to be a positive one for both artists as they find themselves attacking new sounds true to their established aesthetics, nonetheless.
A hip-hop voice riding the rails of his East Coast foundation since his 2018 debut project, Anything, Kota the Friend has been a friend – or at least a firm modern-day proprietor – of the productive tenets of old since his beginning. His New York roots have ensured of that, as have his meaningful, thoughtful, and ultimately thought-provoking penned delineations. You see, his is a skillset that could have thrived at any point in hip-hop’s storied past dating back to the very city towards which, he, along with hip-hop as a whole, calls home. As a rapper, his lyrical prowess knows no bounds, effortlessly storytelling, word-playing, and world-building at will. As an understated master of flow, the same. As a curator of vibes, he tends to set a tone unapologetically raw, yet kindhearted, positivist, and warmly immersed in acoustic guitars and lullabying understanding. Alongside an established veteran of the hip-hop cloth, he instead has even more of an opportunity to bridge hip-hop’s then and now as a steadfast poet at a time when being such makes him a timeless pariah. He also has the inclination to go harder, inspired by Selektah’s beats and paying homage to the hard-nosed raps that have long fronted Selektah’s collaborative works.
A household hip-hop name since the stylistic mosaic that was New York and New England in the Mid-to-Late 2000’s, Statik Selektah’s position as a student of the East Coast craft goes back much further than that. By 14, he was already the promising young DJ Statik, inspired by turntable legends like DJ Premier, and playing parties and events throughout New England. By the early 2000’s, he was collaborating with a dynamic list of names, helping to usher in a new era of the East Coast, and pushing them to find a modern, yet timeless sound. And by 2007, he put out his own debut album, Spell My Name Right, through his own record label, ShowOff, inviting a slew of dynamic rappers to front the mosaic of beats. Toiling through the crates, the ages, and the roots of it all, an aesthetic born from the 90’s, brimming with a timeless approach, and highlighting the resilience of an OG adherence to the milk crate kicked off what is now one of the most successful, most prolific producer runs in hip-hop history, collaborating with established stars, and even more importantly, highlighting the up-and-coming talent of hip-hop for more than a decade.
Though Kota the Friend – Brooklyn’s poetic lovechild who’s quickly become one of the most uniquely penned and respected lyricists in the game – is no longer in a limelight space to be called ‘up-and-coming’ as he perhaps was more so when they started working together last year, an entire collaborative 10-track With Statik Selektah is one of the more rare opportunities and ultimate cosigns in rap, even taking into account the brash prolificity of Statik’s release dates. With Statik’s steadfast sound always weaving in a deeper and more complex cohesion of names; with Kota’s explosive rise reaffirming the existence of a power vacuum for the poetic pens in modern day hip-hop, To Kill A Sunrise is to acknowledge the sanctity in rap’s pillars; the sanctity in rap’s name: Rhythm and Poetry.
Ultimately, Kota and Statik is a collaboration that makes all too much sense. For more than a decade, Statik Selektah has been reinventing the East Coast wheel without ever removing himself from what that original aesthetic meant and continues to mean. Jazz samples, drum samples, vocal samples: complex building blocks spun together to create a texture instead seemingly simple; a texture that’s wide-ranging possibilities have allotted for most of hip-hop history’s greats to rap over. For the last four years, Kota the Friend has been invoking the greats of his city’s past, effortlessly belaying bars upon bars to forge a timeless web of lyrical steel on the hip-hop ceiling for his lesser-than-raw compatriots to look up at. Together, To Kill A Sunrise is to prove that after a countless collection of releases through a decade plus, a producer can still find creative collaboration with one of his most interesting and refreshing counterparts to date. To Kill A Sunrise is to prove that even so early on in a career, and albeit at the grip of a very focused sound, Kota the Friend can be pushed to evolve further, rap harder, and put out what is arguable his most – and therefore hip-hop’s most recent – lyrically-inclined masterpiece.
'The rap Banksy, I don’t care how you paint me,
It took a lot of negative energy to create me.' [Hate]
Aside from the fluidity of their collective East Coast sound, what feels most standout about the album is just how far it pushed Kota the Friend to exist beyond his oft-subdued, always at peace demeanor. Though never an aggro-rapper, there is a side to Kota that any fan of hip-hop has been hoping to hear at length, only previously emerging in a hard-nosed occasional poetic punch. But alongside Statik Selektah, and pylons upon the heat of the producer’s fiery timelessness, Kota found an album’s-length flame from which to spur a new take on his lyrical dynamism – one that’s less energetically lackadaisical and more free to spit the kind of hard-hitting rhymes fans always knew would make Kota lethal on a street corner cypher. And per its experimental, yet ultimately established East Coast sound, To Kill A Sunrise finds itself among Foto and EVERYTHING as one of the more timelessly listenable collections in recent hip-hop history.