Kota the Friend and Statik Selektah Are All Smiles on 'To Kill a Sunrise'

BY Luke FoxPublished Mar 30, 2021

It feels supremely fitting that Kota the Friend would drop his latest platter at the outset of spring. Breezy and light, the fiercely independent Brooklyn rhymer's To Kill a Sunrise is easy-listening rap music custom-built for porch beers and bike rides. No filler, no skips.
Kota's new joint is a tight 10-track, 34-minute project that hums along cohesively thanks to sole producer Statik Selektah, who expertly caters his soundbeds toward the lyricist he's working with, and Kota's knack for sliding into the grooves like syrup. The unapologetic jazz leanings here — horns! pianos! melodies! — harken back to a warm and nostalgic era of the genre. But Statik, who cut his teeth as a DJ first, makes certain to ground every track with hard New York kickdrums and snares, spicing the proceedings with scratchy flourishes (the BDP chop on "Live & Direct," especially). The producer earns his co-marquee status on the LP.
Longtime heads will experience flashbacks of early Gang Starr or Unspoken Heard. More recent vibe comparables may be early Joey Badass or recent Bas or Blu & Exile. Fine company, all. Cuss words are scarce, and Kota's rare bouts with anger or pain are always spun optimistic. "Lotta people just focus on how empty their glass is," observes Kota, determined not to be one of those people. Every regret comes packaged with hope: "Mama, I'm gonna find my way." Wise beyond his 28 years, this is a young father and grown son that positions himself as a role model, an example.
The Friend's wholly positive outlook includes a relentless work ethic, a setting aside of vendettas, and a healthy diet. It's been a minute since we've heard a rising hip-hop star preach the merits of self-improvement and "emotional growth." Kota has reportedly turned down three deals from major labels in favour of controlling his own creations, his own image. "Seen a lot of people movin' fast-paced end up last place / Slow and steady how I move now," he raps.
If there is a downside to such a grounded approach, it's that Sunrise could use a 'wow' moment, a mood-shifting cameo. In that respect, the record doesn't quite match the allure of 2020's excellent EVERYTHING. A deeper dive into some of the surface-level introspection would also go a long way. The emcee alludes to some father-inflicted childhood trauma ("Live & Direct") and a stuck romantic relationship ("Go Now"), but the listener senses there is another level of writing that could be plumbed here.
That's alright. The prolific, poetic Kota has a whole career ahead of him. And on its own, To Kill a Sunrise works nicely serves as an ideal soundtrack to a lazy Sunday or the first barbecue of the season.

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