Kota the Friend | FOTO

 Evan Dale // June 10, 2020 

Rooted in hip-hop’s long, storied, sacred ground as a space for the black community to make social statement hand-in-hand with changing the course of music history, there are those that have honed the poeticism of their pen to the unparalleled pedestal of a profound socio-political preacher. In a modern scene polarized by the hyper-melodic hip-hop realm of the upturn & arrogant; by the lyrically driven edge of rap’s timelessness, Brooklyn’s Kota the Friend leads the latter. And in our current historical moment, there are few musicians to turn to more knowledgeable, outspoken, and always adhering to the depths of that on which he speaks so calmly.


Kota the Friend has been making lyrically driven, instrumentally mellow music for years now, but with 2019’s FOTO, he proved himself as one of the most lyrically endowed humans on the planet. And what he uses that practiced gift for, is born of the same black cloth from which it is derived. An hour-long coming-of-age tale, rooted in his experiences and those belonging to the folks he grew up around, Kota’s FOTO was – is – a vivid image of modern blackness in America. Directly and indirectly addressing the racial disparity alongside the beauty that has long shone through an African American struggle for equality, the Brooklyn wordsmith and budding activist delineates the highs and lows of his neighborhood upbringing; confronts the painful realities of his experiences – some candidly derived from race – others systematically tethered to it; attacks the blaring issues that define the music industry; explaining why he will always remain an independent; and how he continues to inform the future – through his own family and through his listeners – of the truth in society’s many broken systems.


Not all of the hour-long album is as heavy as it may seem from the description. There are many moments of uplifting positivity, and Kota – at least in the studio – is one of the more laid-back emcees in hip-hop history. But nonetheless, he never deviates from a message. And more often than not that message is educational, beautiful, and motivational for anyone really taking the time and putting in the effort to listen.


Be there one moment of FOTO most forwardly adressing the realities of being black in America – in modern society at large – it’s For Colored Boys. Coming as the introductory track to FOTO’s closing three-piece on the heels of Grandpa’s Interlude, For Colored Boys is a direct conversation with his children – with all black children. At its lightest, it’s an unavoidable flashlight illuminating the realities of racial disparity to anyone listening. At its most grandiose angle for societal change, it’s a necessary call to black youth that may one day, with continued fight, be looked back at historically in awe. But no matter where it hits you, it hits you hard, heart wrenchingly, and in admiration of Kota’s ability to say so clearly the things that must be said.


The same can be said – at varying degrees of directness – about every song on the project; about every song in Kota’s now lengthy, cemented canon. He is a poet speaking truths to his community and educating his ever-growing audience on the realities of being black in modern society. The uniqueness with which he goes about his craft, draws more ears to him on a daily basis, continuously growing a following of learned, active members of a society we hope to one day live in; inspiring a new generation of hip-hop youth who, too, will share their version of fight for what’s right.