Published Jan 23, 2015On his sophomore record, Square One, Kenn Starr's lyrics are like Chinese finger traps. At first they seem like child's play. Then suddenly, mid-verse, the rhymes become shockingly tight. Case in point: album opener and title track "Square One." The Maryland bred MC starts off simply: "… I'm givin' 'em classes/ Mr. Starr ain't given' no passes." But immediately after that, he leaps from book report to thesis: "I ain't grade on no curve/ I got a way with them words/ This ain't revenge of the nerds."
The same can be said for the next track, "Say Goodbye," which features the kind of "put your fingers in the sky, get 'em high" refrain that was overdone two decades ago. But on the closing verse, Starr surprises with a complex, introspective rhyme scheme: "Low budget for real/ Nights sleeping on futons/ Eatin' on lukewarm nuggets for meals."
These drastic shifts in style could be intentional — when he's at his best, Starr sounds smart enough to know the importance of restraint — but he doesn't need a bland lyrical base to accentuate his spiciest lines. Those subtler moments need some more seasoning, but Starr gets the recipe right on a few songs, like "The Definition," a sex jam with straightforward yet cleverly seductive lines like: "She's stacked like a Braxton, fine from the front, to the back, she's immaculate."
The production, meanwhile, is a far more holistic blend. Some of those beats were cooked up by fantastic producers like Detroit's Black Milk, but the bulk of the songs were handled by Kev Brown. Throughout the album he uses snares, horns, an accordion and more with a light touch that still simmers. The best example might be on midway track "Strangers," in which he uses a harp without letting a single note sound sweet or sappy, thanks to a snare that makes every strum reminiscent of the chemicals bubbling up in a street hustler's purest product. Leave it to Kev Brown to make harps sound hard. Hopefully Starr will soon bring such frequent finesse to his own subtler moments. (Mello Music Group)