Finding new music and new musicians and artists who strike chords (literal and otherwise) within us is not always easy when new music drops every day in every genre by more and more artists, yet with less and less seeming to have actual substance. With every genre flooded with faces, names, and sound-alike sing-a-longs, what does it take to stand out in music right now? Truthfully, it takes the bravery of being honest and vulnerable in a landscape of bravado and machismo. It takes having a sound that sets you apart from the thousands of others dropping new shit every day. It takes stepping aside from the needs of the mainstream to make a music that is so true to the artist that, as a listener, you cannot help but feel it, too. On those notes alone (pun intended) the Nat Love album by Kweku Collins might be some of the best music I have heard in years, my love for Kid Cudi aside. But before I tell you about Nat Love and Kweku Collins sound, I have to define it, and the best part of his music is that you cannot do that. Genre-defying and expectation exceeding, Nat Love deserves recognition on a level it probably won’t get because it actually has substance and depth and we know how much that shit scares people these days. They just want a catchy hook repeated at them until they can vomit it out in their sleep. Nat Love is so much more than that.The realest moptherfuckers will recognize that and will make it rise to the top, like it deserves.
First off, a little bit about the man himself. Kweku Collins is a mere 19 years old and lives on the outskirts of Chiraq (for real). Though do not get fooled, he has a sound and wisdom that his age does not hint at. Had someone told me this dude was a 40 year vet to the scene I woulda believed it on sound alone, but nah, dude is still young as hell is dropping fire at 19. Makes me wonder what he will be making in 20 years. My mind cannot even fathom if this is him still getting his toes wet.
For me, dude came out nowhere. Some peeps I know are aware that I have a very distinct sound I love (dare I call it drug fueled hip hop? Nouveau trip hop? Island hip hop? All of those labels will make me sound like a music douche and undermine the actual music as well, but you’ll know the sound once you hear it) and they had me listen to a track called Delilah off his premier E.P ‘Say It Here while It’s Safe.’ I Loved the track and this was just the time that Nat Love was dropping so I snagged myself a copy and was floored by what I heard. This is an album that is not able to be labeled with any one sound. Though he raps sometimes, he does it over intricate beats and synth sounds that feel like they are born more from outer space than our own Earth, so calling him just a rapper isn’t fair (shoutout to Death of a Salesman, as that may be his most “rap” track on the album and is an absolute earworm of a song that perfectly capture racial tensions in this country right now between African Americans and wayward police officers with itchy trigger fingers.) It is also that depth that sets Kweku Collins apart from the herd. This is not a dude rapping gun bars or dropping songs about how much “pussy he smashed’ which is the most common trite we get now. This is an artist wearing his heart on his sleeve. Take the song Stupid Rose for example:
“If I’m a rapper, than she’s a bad bitch, not that she isn’t, that’s just invalid.”
In my opinion, that line kinda sums up Nat Love’s whole vibe and Kweku himself. If you look at that line as a meta reference to him knowing what sound he is repping but also showing, though he recognizes it, he is not going to perpetuate it, says so much about his whole steez. It supersedes the overused tropes and norms of modern music, and in doing so, becomes something great. And even their simplistic nature of Stupid Rose with the depth of what the song is really saying (roses do wilt but love often does quicker), you find yourself inside a catchy anthem that gets stuck in your brain. But do not get fooled. This song may be poppy, but the album itself goes from ethereal to dark and back again, so do not get too attached to one sound, as Kweku’s Nat Love captures a variety of sounds, from pop synth to spitting fire bars over acoustic chords. I won’t lie to you and tell you it is not drug fueled music, because it is, but in the best ways. Take the song Ego Killed Romance (featuring an amazing hook sung by Jamila Woods that will get stuck in your head forever). This is a song the defies explanation. It sounds like the beam of a star shooting from satellite to satellite before exploding in the most beautiful supernova you have ever seen/heard. That doesn’t make sense, but if you hear the song, it will make sense to you, and my point in this whole review is that everyone needs to hear this song and this entire album. It spans every sound you could imagine, addresses loss and longing like very few artists dare to tread these days, and is so unique that it refreshes my lost faith in music. I wouldn’t be committing this to print if I didn’t think it could potentially have the same affect on some of you.
Of course, there are still a couple tracks I really need to discuss. Ghost is one of those dark, late-at-night songs that could just as easily be about actual ghosts as it is regret. The sound of the song captures the feel of the title, and the “Right there out your window” hook is creepy as it is contagious.
Outsiders is a quiet nod to the book and movie of the same name, with some heavenly acoustic guitar playing over some thick drums while Kweku asks us all to “Stay Golden” for him. A nod to to this, for those blissfully unaware:
I grew up on that book and movie, so as soon as I heard him say “Stay Golden For Me”, I welled up, I won't lie. Not because of the movie, either. Just because we all have a proverbial ‘Ponyboy’ we lost to some tragedy in our lives. And this lullabye, mid-record, makes us all remember that person, whoever they were to you and I.
Vanilla Skies (another subtle pop culture nod on his part) nicely harkens back to the R&B tracks of the 90’s you would put on to let your significant other know you ‘wanted some’. But it also has a cool, laid back 70’s soul-vibe to it, so you can bang to it or smoke a blunt to it, and both feel just as fitting.
The Rain That Wouldn’t Save (this dude comes up with the best song titles, by the way. Someone needed to say it) is another standout track due to the fact that it sounds like a ballad, yet, Kweku spits some sick, monotoned rap over some mellow guitar chords and it sounds quite unlike anything else out there. There is a heart beat like cadence to how he spits his lines in The Rain That Wouldn’t Save, and even though it has no actual chorus (which few artists do but I love), the bridges that break the songs verses in two both say some profound shit that stops and makes you reassess your own life.
“Cuz I believe in the power of my N*’s but ultimately it’s gonna be up to me to get with it” followed later on by “Finally the opportunity has arisen for me to contribute to something that I see as bigger.” Heady stuff and it will just make you look at your own life and wonder what you could be doing differently or for the betterment of yourself or the world. When a song is SO GOOD, it makes you feel guilty about how you live, you KNOW you on some other level shit. Then the song is just acoustic guitar and piano and fades out softly like the raindrops in the title. Stunning, really, and a perfect way to end a perfect album.
But REALLY, I need to give it up for the song 1:30, Curbside (again that name game strong AF). Though the whole album is tight from the intro the the final track (the aforementioned Rain That Wouldn’t Save), 1:30, Curbside is some dark, muddy, creepy, dank shit that has a beat so grimy you need to wipe your ears after listening. It is simplistic, not overproduced at all. If anything, it is a minimalistic track, but the tone of the song nails that feeling of being fucked up right around 2 a.m, somewhere you maybe shouldn’t be. And the chorus of the song hints at a greater conspiracy behind the wealth and fame and popularity in the rise of the urban culture scene, even going so far as to call out the long fallen Kanye West, singing:
No one man should have all that power.
Power makes a good soul go wrong.
And then he goes on to say “If you run the streets, they run the world…...and if I die for you, then we all die for them.” It is an indictment on the very scene he finds himself in (though may be an indictment of Chiraq as well, who’s to say? Just here to speculate). Regardless, the heavy weight of that song will stay with you long after you hear it, and may be the deepest cut on the album (in this writer’s opinion). One night I repeated it for about an hour and half straight, just zonin’ out my window, staring at the dark.
So at the end of the day, do I think this is a good album?
Obviously. I think it is a great album.
But honestly, for me it is more than just an album. Every track is fantastically unique in its own way, he sings as much as he raps, the production is insanely tight and each beat and hook will make you realize that Nat Love is one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ albums (for me, at least). Not only do you love the music, but the actual messages in the songs seem as if they are speaking directly to you, across genders and cultures.
If anything is more worthy of a perfect rating than that, I don’t know what it is.
Kweku Collins Nat Love album is a fantastic and varied listening experience that takes you from from drunken curbsides at one thirty in the morning to the outer reaches of space and back again. Sonically pleasing to the ears with writing as tight as it is well-constructed, Kweku Collins may have just kicked the door open and taken over the game for those of us who like our music to have some substance as well as being catchy and unique. Is it hip hop? Is it pop? Alternative hip hop? Trip hop? What does it matter when with a record this good? Real art trascends the need for genres or labels, and that is what this is.