It’s hard to track exactly when this city’s ongoing rap “renaissance” began. But if you’ve been paying attention, it’s easy to see that the amount of quality hip-hop has increased a good bit in the past three years. One individual partially to blame for Nashville’s resurging rap scene is Kaby, who dropped his debut album just a few weeks ago.
Despite being one of the most promising rappers in Nashville’s hip-hop scene, Kaby has always been a little bit of a wildcard. He dropped “Cono” and “Cigarette Holiday” in the same calendar year, and seems equally at ease scrolling through rap’s standard banalities as he does extolling artistic originality and integrity. HERE (Holistic Ear Remedies Etc.) arrives on the heels of Seasonal Flavors and Halloween Massacre 4: Smoke & Mirror Tricks, two impressive mixtapes, and is easily the most exciting of Kaby's releases. Unlike all of his previous efforts, this is a proper album. But he doesn’t need to tell you that. From the first track to the last, Kaby is at his most focused, navigating through beats by longtime collaborator Nathan Zensen, as he methodically delivers the best material of his career.
If you didn’t know it before, you realize very quickly through HERE that Kaby is two things: an old soul and a student of hip-hop. Blues, soul, R&B and funk all feature prominently. There are melodies on the album that could have been influenced by The Jackson 5, or any of the artists that Ghostface Killah loves to sample. HERE spends 30 minutes bouncing between some of the most foundational sounds of black popular music from the past 40 years. But that’s not enough. Because HERE is also a tribute to old-school hip-hop. Listen closely and you’ll hear a touch of Petey Pablo or the Dungeon Family. There’s even some Kanye West — both College Dropout era and more recent. All of this could sound like a recipe for unorganized disaster, but Kaby pulls it off.
You get the sense that Kaby isn't borrowing sounds for nostalgia’s sake, but rather reconstructing the melodies that made him the artist he is today. Don’t get me wrong: Nostalgia dominates the album. But it’s reflected through Kaby’s over-the-top charisma and humor. It’s reflected through his ability to channel Slick Rick in “Young Sparrow Drug Episode.” It’s reflected through HERE’s ability to show you what hip-hop sounded like when it was fun. When no one took themselves too seriously, and rappers were allowed to be both vulnerable and confrontational, challenging others around them to be better.
Kaby somehow manages to create an album steeped in traditional sounds, but delivered in a fresh and personal way. HERE’s grand ambition leads to one or two missteps, but the true takeaway from this album is Kaby’s shining upside. If he continues to refine his sound, soon Kaby will arrive. And that’s when everyone else will need to start getting worried.
Notable tracks: “Eating Good,” “10 Yellow Bottles,” “Clever,” “Young Sparrow Drug Episode”.