Published Jul 15, 2016Southside Chicago rapper Kembe X's debut album, Talk Back, is defined by a distinct sense of self-awareness and social commentary.
The album begins with sombre themes and downtempo production on songs like "Buried Alive" and "Carpenter." Despite being low-energy, they include some of the most thought provoking wordplay on his album. Then, over the course of 14 songs — many of them released prior to the album — the intensity increases, with his last songs being the most animated.
X is at his best when he is accompanied by soulful production, and when he's able to perform with no restraints. By inviting producers such as Bentley Hazelwood, Hippie Sabotage, The Antydote, Crooklin, DJ Fu, Aaron Bow and Teddy Walton, he ends up with a variety of sounds that are all well executed.
The underlying message in Talk Back is about the importance of free speech. By sampling philosophical discourse instead of funny skits, he makes it abundantly clear that he's serious about what he means, talking employment and education but shying away from the politics tackled by some of his favourite rappers: Nas, Common and Kendrick Lamar, all influences you can hear reflected in his music.
For a heavily anticipated album, Talk Back certainly doesn't disappoint, but it doesn't surpass expectations either. Kembe X tries to find a balance between mimicking his idols, using popular rhyme schemes and finding his own voice. Unsurprisingly, his best songs are the ones that don't sound like anybody but himself, and they help to pave a new lane here for the Chicago rapper. (Closed Sessions)