Review by I.S. Jones @isjonespoetry
Overall Rating: 4/5
I first saw KC the Illest, Khasi Coachman, perform at the Nuyorican Poet’s Café, and I have to say it was such a treat watching him jam out; the energy and passion KC brings to stage brims through his first mixtape Since the ‘94 which released in June 2014. KC notes this first production is “a mixtape of 90’s based hip hop which brought back the feel and essence of music”.
The mixtape’s intro begins with the artist going off the dome with pretty good rhymes and some less than noteworthy lines such as “the jump of water like a super clean toilet / you couldn’t spoil the flush / while I crack like a plumber’s butt” but follows up with a charming nod to A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I kick it?”.
After this, the mixtape takes off with its key topics: romantic encounters, money and how it affects people, the pursuit of gang life and its consequences, along with other moments interwoven throughout. KC more than anything pays homage to hip hop legends before him, bringing hip hop back to its roots while still bringing his own voice to the stage.
Production for this mixtape are samplings of J-Dilla, Madlib, Pete Rock, indie beat creator Tek.Lun along with various others. Songs on the mixtape such as “One Time”, “Brooklyn”, “Leaps”, and “On the corner” come to their respective tracks with elegant piano and jazz samplings, which I found refreshing. “One time” comes in with a playful upbeat piano and lyrics such as “Ain’t nothing better than the Strictly Bars clique / get it jumping like a mosh pit”—making a nod to his collective while going in with strong bars. KC’s flow, safe for the introduction, consistently stays on point as his voice and beat complement one another. The song “Brooklyn” comes in with a 1920’s throwback jazz intro while KC comes in bravado lyrics to remind other rappers “As soon my hand hits the notepad / the blessings were written / I tumble mountains / I tumble trees / you couldn’t fathom my similes / not similar to these rappers unfortunately I spit it uncannily”. The jazzy feel funnels its listeners right into “Leaps” which is one of my favorite tracks; the blend of jazz, bass drums, and back to a hip hop sound the audience would be more familiar with. I especially enjoyed the feature Absence and the choice to have a feminine voice which seemed to permeate the track like a whisper of smoke. On the Corner, which comes later, is a more reflective track however.
“On the Corner” comes out of the gate with a nostalgic boom-bap beat, piano and melodious saxophone. Another favorite track on the album because it has an Illmatic feel. Lyrically, this track is much stronger: “Shout-out to n*ggas on the block / turning cocaine to rock / I feel your pain even though you could have had a job”. KC seems to criticize the streets for fostering a culture in which people think it’s more acceptable to sling dope than to hold a job. He makes a point that while it is noble effort, rain blood, sweat, and tears in the name of the streets, the song warns to let go street life in its hook: “I hope you don’t lose your life / addicted to the corner”, an issue that still pervades in areas within the Black community, and perhaps even in the rapper’s neighborhood of White Plains. “Spending them Dollars”, much like “On the Corner” is reflective of how spending money or even having it does not necessarily give you anything.
Title song Since the ’94 which is one of the most upbeat songs and well-placed in terms of the mixtape’s progression talks about how the rapper has been focus of the game of hip-hop since 1994. He makes charming references to DragonBall Z, some talk about weed, and nods to his crew Strictly Bars. The beat, sampled from “Since” by Blu, makes the track play out like a block party. The beat cuts off towards the end with the line: “I hope this feeling never fades” which mostly is talking about weed, but also the magic that is created when writing lyrics and everything that comes with hip hop. When the beat stops, the lyrics keep going which I thought was a spectacular touch to the end of the song because it shows we are dealing with a rapper who has more confidence in his own words than the beats he samples.
Considering how this first production was done in a basement with minimal equipment, I was quite impressed with the vision KC brings to the mic. Overall, Since the ’94 is absolutely a mixtape worth checking out.