Like the corner cypher on the New York corner that birthed his rhymes in the first place, Kota the Friend’s Lyrics to GO series is a timeless exploration of rap at its most innate self. There is nothing going on but jazz-oriented beats, dynamic bars, and relatable storytelling that come in tow with his freestyle sessions, turned YouTube playlist, eventually turned blooming EP series; and there never needs to be anything added to the mix. It’s rap perfection from one of rap’s most lyrically gifted modern names. It’s rap minimalism for a time in hip-hop history that could learn a thing or two about doing less.
But at the same time that Lyrics to GO celebrates hip-hop minimalism, it’s also a unique design for crafting music in the hip-hop spectrum. No one has taken the freestyle session or the street cypher to such wide-ranging lengths before, turning rap’s oldest pastime and building out new dimensions for it. But, for Kota the Friend, the entire coordination of Lyrics to GOhas been nothing if not fluid and organic. A fervent, tireless poet, Kota seems to craft rhymes all the time. Naturally, the eventual capturing of his lyrical shorts — his spells of conscious flow — came to be celebrated by his base. And as that audience grew at the hands of masterful albums like 2019’s FOTOand 2020’s EVERYTHING, so too has grown an audience eager to see the heart and soul of his craft, flocking to his yellow-subtitled, words-in-motion-while-Kota-stays-still YouTube page and celebrating his effortlessness at crafting one-of-a-kind bars. From the moment he unveiled the visual formula, Lyrics to GO was a go, and with the first edition of the EP format in 2020, so was a new way for Kota the Friend — and subsequently the entire game — to curate and exhibit the expanse of one rapper’s whole hip-hop creativity.
There is more than something genius about the business of Lyrics to GO– there is ultimately something trailblazing about it, too. In a reverse engineering of sorts to the fabled glory of visual album’s like Beyoncé’s Lemonade or — not to pull from the same family, but these are the two that immediately come to mind — Solange’s When I Get Home,that translate a timeless album into a short film, Kota is crafting a chapter of visual stories celebrating hip-hop’s timeless simplicity into a curated EP. He’s flipping the script, building project releases from individual, signature visual cuts that see him staying true to his neighborhood, staying true to rap’s roots, and yet also, ultimately, redefining modern hip-hop’s inception.
It’s a bold idea that requires an element of all-encompassing creativity to pull off. But thankfully for Kota, his adherence to being authentically himself — authentically honest and simple in a game that surrounds him with such vibrant braggadocio and hyper-glitz — his construction of that creativity doesn’t require too much outside of what’s already within. A recognizable neighborhood backdrop instead of a glamorous hotel room or beachside villa; whatever it is that he was wearing to run errands in the morning instead of designer fuccboi nonsense; something to really say instead of something to talk about just for the sake of talking the loudest; filmed without a filter, focused on the bars, and pulling into focus the roots of everything not only Kota the Friend is putting out, but also the roots of where every modern hip-hop artist draws from, whether they’re aware of it or not. Rhythm and Poetry — rap at its foundational pillar, but pulled into the realm of modernity through YouTube visuals that eventually become shared again through streaming platforms as a legitimate collection. Lyrics to GO is a freestyle mixtape series of a completely new identity — one for future generations to follow bridging the past of raw rap with the future of making and sharing music through technology and social media.
Intermixing his releases from full-length album, to Lyrics to GO edition, Kota the Friend is giving his loyal fandom (which apparently now includes the likes of Barack Obama and the Joe Biden inauguration ceremony) the chance to follow along the creative process of a rapper like no rapper has done before. Allowing his viewers to see the ins and outs of the daily cyphers and lyrical shorts through unparalleled creative consistency, Kota the Friend is redefining just how it is that rappers create. And he’s succeeding — musically, creatively, and popularly — by being unapologetically unique and focused in his creative and business-oriented ways.
For the corner of the musical spectrum that really requires the least to create — just a beat and an emcee — Kota the Friend has found a way to highlight and share even the simplest, most minimal of his creative moments with his ever-expanding circle of fans. He’s utilizing a shared approach of prolificity that grants equal weight to the perfected, produced, full-length classic album, and the roots of that album’s inception in the gritty, lyrical, conscious blurbs of rap’s storied past — in his raw short tracks. And as that will undoubtedly break ground for other artists to do the same in the future, it’s important to talk about just how momentous his doings are now.
Go listen to Lyrics to GO, Vol. 2. And go watch it, too.
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