Many emcees set out to do something different without an idea as to what that different might be. Kai Straw is an artist that has vision and that vision happens to take him to places that no other emcee or musician has tread before. His music is not unique to stand out, it is unique because he has found a form of expression that, not only represents his vision, but few have attempted. You could compare his sparse and restless production to “indie rap” like Tyler the Creator but Kai Straw first and foremost is a poet. His tracks always bubble with scathing commentary on relevant social concerns that he passionately dissects with brutal honesty.
Below is the latest visuals for his second installment of his ongoing project entitled ‘Suburban’. The first installment opens with a sample from a 911 call from the Columbine school shooting and springboards into an unbiased study of cause and effect. The video below is entitled ‘Wasteland’ and carries on with themes of apathy and boredom through a sprawling nine minute epic. Opening with a demonstration of his production skills, Straw dwells in the ambient and then turns it into a larger than life IDM track just to drop the beat at two and a half minutes for it never to return. Then comes Straw’s coffee house flow. Slightly counter-intuitive, he shines when spitting pretty much acapella, letting the stops and starts of his rhyming make up the percussive element while unnerving synths twist in the background. This kind of sparse production gives the deserving attention to the lyrical content which, when it comes to Straw, is always witty and relevant. There are many lines I could quote that hit hard but here is a sampling:
‘My papa’s the internet. He taught me almost everything I know from my favorite music to sex.”
Then comes the second verse, sparse once again but this time backed up by piano runs in scales used by jazz musicians. It turns into something you might find off of an experimental jazz record, something most people aren’t accustom to listening to but Straw uses for the uneasiness that sort of discordance evokes. Straw stirs up much of the same unease that horrorcore artists work to evoke but he does it without graphically describing rape and murder. He gets at an anxiety that is much more realistic, one we are all more accustom to because most of us don’t rape and murder but still know the fears that come from day to day life.
After all the moodiness that preceded it Straw does the unlikely thing and closes it with an upbeat jam accompanied by handheld footage of parties and other good times in the suburbs that he, a minute ago, was criticizing. He embraces this strange love-hate relationship by closing the song singing ‘I’m in love with my wasted youth.’ The track clocks in at a patient nine minutes, Straw does not concern himself with matters like airplay feasibility, instead concentrating on making the product he set out to make.
The visuals here are just as striking. At first we are presented with sterile images of a woman disrobing and a bloodied mans face. The images evoke the sort of tension that Straw embodies with his confrontational lyrics without cheapening that tension with overt meaning. What follows during the verses are two different close ups of a mouth delivering the rhymes. Much like the beat dropping, the visuals give way to providing emphasis for Straw’s lyrics. Though it sounds monotonous the visual of the mouth is strangely compelling and hard to look away from. The drastic make-up and lighting help make it interesting but there is a strange power of the stark visual that speaks to the immediacy of hip hop. From his mouth to my ear, a pure, unobstructed conveyance of ideas.
There is a lot to love in this sprawling video and if you dig it I highly recommend checking out more of Kai Straw‘s work at his website, where you can find part one of ‘Suburban’ and also a weekly video blog of him talking about whatever happens to be on his mind.