Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Kota the Friend in the headline. The Collegian regrets this error.
Embracing East Coast hip-hop, Brooklyn-native Kota the Friend and boom-bap producer Statik Selektah come together to release the perfect album for a cruise around town.
The 10-track album “To Kill a Sunrise” is strong all the way through, with Kota’s creative wordplay blending beautifully with Statik’s simple, upbeat production. The 28-year-old rapper doesn’t slow down for any song — every verse a steady flow of thoughtful lyrics and intricate delivery.
Statik starts off strong with the first song “Wolves,” using a steady kick and snare beat to keep it moving without overcompensating. Mix in some flute, record scratches and Kota’s intensity and you have a track that gets you relaxed and hype all at once. Kota sheds his rookie status with this one, rapping “Everything I’m learning just confirming what I knew / I am working, I am worth it, and I earned what I accrue.”
“Hate” pushes both the tempo and the haters out of Kota’s face. He introduces himself as “The rap Banksy, I don’t care how you paint me / It took a lot of negative energy to create me.” He thrives off anyone who talks smack against him. Kota references and pays tribute to the late MF DOOM, the highly celebrated rapper and producer who passed away this past October.
Piano and strings open “The Cold,” a motivational track about coming up from nothing and pushing through hard times. The sudden snare-heavy track has Kota looking forward and embracing his struggles, rapping “I be that example how the pressure make a diamond / And the pressure make a legend, live progressive on my island.”
“The Love” takes a more laid-back route production-wise, repeating a smooth, simple beat and piano fill throughout the song. While the production is softer, the lyrics hit just as hard. Kota treats this song as a love letter for his family, friends and son, rapping “Love is patience, perseverance, consideration / Deeper than appearances quick to air out the imitation.”
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The only song with a feature, “Go Now” has singer Haile Supreme taking over most of the track, leading the chorus and bridge with his silky tenor vocals. Kota only has one verse in this synth-filled serenade, but his pen game is as strong as ever.
Kota takes the high road in “What ya Sayin’,” wishing the best for those who wanted him to fail. Over a steady kick drum and hi-hat beat, he raps, “You hope I’m hurting and I hope you great / I live my purpose I ain’t perfect but I’m flying straight.” Clearly, Kota holds no ill-will toward his haters, but he’s not going to slow down to appease them.
Part of what makes Kota such a strong wordsmith is that he isn’t afraid to open up about his personal life. “Live and Direct” is an uncensored depiction of his struggles and emotional trauma while owning up to his flaws and mistakes. Opening up about his family life, he raps, “Me and my brothers speak about our trauma / About emotional damage handed off by our father / And how it wasn’t intentional but a cry for help.”
Statik opens “Day Glow” with ethereal synths, a sick bassline and a violin sneaking in behind the rest of the production. Here Kota’s rapping about living day-to-day and taking in the best of every moment. He gets real with the lines “I’m never racin’ s—, I’m savin’ my stimmy / I got a lot to lose but I don’t got a lot to prove / Misery and debt is a decision and you got to choose.”
While the whole album is strong, my favorite track is “Sunrise,” a song dedicated to the listeners that got him to where he is now. Statik comes through with fresh beats, a smooth saxophone riff and a backing choir. Kota strikes a chord with the lines “Peace, knowledge and dividends, love is still trumpin’ Benjamins / I’ma enjoy my time on this planet, f— it, I’m visitin’.”
Statik and Kota know that after every sunrise comes “Sunset.” The brass ensemble-backed finale has Kota reflecting on his past and where he could have ended up. In an auto-tuned chorus, Kota sings “Live my life, I make mistakes / Mama, I’m gon’ find my way / Foolish just might be my name / Every day I play this.” If life is a game, Kota’s playing to win.
“To Kill a Sunrise” is Kota’s second release of 2021. He released his album of lyrical snippets, “Lyrics to GO, Vol. 2,” back in January. Both albums are available on various streaming platforms, and while they differ in style, Kota’s wordplay shines throughout his discography.