'EVERYTHING' | Kota the Friend Evolves as a Risk-Taker & a Collaborative Force
Evan Dale // May 22, 2020
Hello, did you miss me? I missed you. I’m back.
introduce the expectedly understated, yet triumphant lines of EVERYTHING’s opening statements. Kota the Friend’s newest album comes predecessed by an at-this-point long lineage of modern hip-hop’s most conscious, relatable work. His collections date back to 2018, with his debut project: Anything; 2019’s masterpiece: FOTO; Spring 2020’s YouTube shorts collection: Lyrics to Go, Vol. 1. All three have shined Kota in musically broad, but always poetically underlined lights, carving his own path to the zenith of pen-first hip-hop with an acoustic guitar and an army of written-out composition notebooks telling the stories of his day-to-day experiences and observations.
EVERYTHING is no different than its predecessors in the fact that it’s an aesthetically differentiated collection of poems delineating a new chapter for the Brooklyn rapper. It’s different than Kota’s prior work in almost every other way. Where Anything was the introduction to his then more amplified, produced, but still mellow poetic sound; where FOTO was his life’s story – the kind of coming-of-age tale – a cohesive hour-long sonic film – that, like Good Kid m.A.A.d. City, has the power to set in motion eras of lyrical hip-hop; where Lyrics to Go, Vol. 1 was simply the organizing of his most lyrically-inclined, minute pieces; EVERYTHING is fitting of its title – a fluid, refined amalgamation of his larger aesthetic at work.
In only three years, Kota the Friend has gone from happy-go-lucky rap rookie to leader of hip-hop’s youthful poetic charge. He’s never lost his humbleness, his relatability, his sharp tongue, or his knack for mellow melodies, but he has certainly evolved, growing into one of rap’s most lyrically inclined forces, confidently exploring a confluence of safe and situationally applicable stylistic, productive, and instrumental lanes along the way. And along the way, he has also seemed constantly at odds with his position in music – in love with the platform it grants him to tell his story; in love with the pride it grants his community; yet willing to drop it all and abandon his platform if it ever interferes with what seems, at least through music, like his relatively normal life and his time put aside to go fishing. And that’s his key – the same key that turns the wheels of EVERYTHING.
Relatability intact, Kota bridges the album’s opening moments to the work of his most recent past. Its introduction, Summerhouse and its following track, Mi Casa feel as though they could have been at home musically in the thick of LTGV1, and could have also squeezed their way into the more summery, light-hearted additions of FOTO’s immersive tale. But quickly – starting with one of EVERYTHING’s two leading singles, B.Q.E., Kota flips the script from the rainy-day vibes of FOTO and the road trip anthems of LTGV1, instead opting for energy and anthemicism with the help of fellow New York wordsmiths, Bas & Joey Bada$$. It’s a hit just as it was when it was released, painting the stripes of a rapper’s modern hip-hop edge, to help funnel Kota through the meat of the project’s middle.
His willingness to take risks thrives with Long Beach where Hello O’Shay & Alex Banin – also stepping outside of their more soulful subtleties – coalesce with Kota for a funk infused dance anthem. Juxtaposing Kota’s eternally laid-back studio presence in verse with a rare moment of vulnerability in melodic distortion in chorus. It’s a sound we haven’t heard from the particularly prolific, but staunchly signature rapper, and shines as a standout success and a risk worth pursuing further into what could be a more stylistically fluid future.
Away Park marks a bit of a come down into the project’s imaginary B-Side. Scaling low into a mellow few verses, brimming with unparalleled lyricism at a corner of the blood pressure chart also unparalleled by anyone in hip-hop, Kota returns to his bread & butter maybe a touch too soon, seemingly short on the gall to continue experimenting with his sound, but hopefully emerging again in the future. Here, Australian soulstress, Kaiit steals the show, leaving a wanting for more than her explosive closing bouts, but likely planting the seed for future collaborations, nonetheless.
In addition to those mentioned, and between the inclusion of Chicago hip-pop star on the rise, Tobi Lou’s guest spot on Morocco and KYLE’s expectedly honest yet goofy verse on Always, EVERYTHING’s featuring artists are curated to perfection. There is a certain summery sweetness tying the aesthetics of each of them akin. Even oft-intense rappers, Bas & Joey Bada$$ are brought to their poetically sunshiny selves by Kota’s presence, really putting into perspective just how influential the refined subtleties of his sound are.
And per expectation, those subtleties – that sweetness – peaks with EVERYTHING’s titular closing track. With the fan-favorite Little Kota making an appearance after a lyrically immersive recount of what the word everything itself means to Kota, it’s the proper send off for a proper album.
Kota was right not to try to springboard the success of FOTO into another attempt at a lifelong coming-of-age tale. EVERYTHING’s authenticity and signatures in balance with risks taken and experimentation opened the door for Kota to step out of his defined sound even further with future work, while still offering his grassroots, organic audience a taste of what they fell in love with in the first place.