Don’t let the new name fool you; Kemba, formerly YC The Cynic, hasn’t changed a bit. The Bronx MC decided to shed his former moniker for something of his own choosing, as the former title wasn’t his own. Be that as it may the change is in name alone as Kemba approaches his newest project, Negus, with the same focus and purpose as his former works. Various sides of Kemba’s artistry are explored over the course of the album, yet it retains a unifying quality that strengthens the emotions it arouses. Drawing on the tragedies that have occurred across the States, Kemba uses his music to paint a vivid picture of the struggles faced daily by our nation’s minorities.
In just twelve tracks, the New York native evokes such a wide variety of vibes that it’s hard to keep up emotionally. The intro provides a brief preview of what is to come but that’s just the climbing of the rollercoaster. Delicate singing of an incredibly beautiful message quickly transitions into a demonic counterpart. “Caesar’s Rise” continues this dark ambiance, with Kemba’s voice twisted and his lyrics angry. “Kings and Queens” mellows out while still maintaining hints of bitterness. For the most part, this is the pattern the album follows, fleeting spots of positivity and brightness abruptly juxtaposed by somber moments and impassioned lyricism.
These stomach-lurching drops and heart pounding loops mirror the subjects that Kemba raps about. Discrimination, racism, violence, it’s all there. Audio of police brutality incidents are present, an all too familiar tone in today’s world. The song “Already” goes as far to expose the fact that not much has been done even in the two and a half year period it took to record this album. All of the misfortune that has befallen our country in just the last few weeks makes this album that much more relevant, a trait that perhaps lends to the power that Negus possesses. Kemba’s personal experiences only deepen those feelings as they’re revealed through his lyrics. This album is as real as it gets.
As the rollercoaster pulls into the station, things flip for a more positive message and the album ends on an uplifting note. While the closing few songs turn things around the outro, “Brown Skin Jesus” is the highlight of the entire project. Intense amounts of soul creates a barrier that shields from the hatred all around and offers a moment of absolute peace. The opening track is revisited in the end, ditching the demonic twist and instead leaving an acute feeling of hope for humanity; a truly artistic ending.
The production throughout is excellent, laying a hand on all sorts of genres and styles. There are breaths of EDM surrounded by Kanye-esque autotune and sample-based beats. It’s amazing that the album is still able to have such a cohesive feel to it. Kemba, along with producer Frank Drake, curated quite the ear pleaser with their experimentation, a very difficult feat to accomplish in a world of finicky fans and pickier ears.
Negus is a timely gem that should not be skipped over. Thematic works such as this are special in the way they are able to create an auditory journey through the artist’s thoughts and ideals. That’s exactly what happens at the conclusion of Kemba’s latest and the journey is well worth it. Negus should prove to be one of the better albums to be released this year, an honor Kemba is no stranger to. Change would be a far more precious prize, though, and perhaps this album can bring it about.