By opening with a chorus of “you’ve never heard something this before” Kenan Bell begins his album with a bold claim. Unfortunately, his freshman LP Until the Future fails to live up to that first-line boast or even succeed with a more conventional sound.
Currently unknown and underexposed, Kenan Bell, a California native and teacher by day, has made a few moves that could soon change that. He recently began a nation-wide tour with underground legend RJD2 and has a song (“Like This”) featured on the NBA 2K10 soundtrack. Impressive for an up-and-comer, but without a solid product, they probably won’t mean much.
Bell has a voice and delivery that do little to distance him from other rappers grinding in the underground. With a flow that is equal parts stumble and staccato, Bell occasionally looses the beat or relies on awkward pronunciations and emphasis to fit rhymes together. It often sounds like his lines require a great deal of effort to get out and as a result the album never proceeds at a smooth pace.
Even with a mediocre delivery the album’s sound could conceivably be rescued by a stellar selection of beats. Unfortunately this is not the case. While far from bad, the production, like much of the album, is forgettable. Tracks rely on subtle guitars, light drums and indifferent electronic melodies that are able but hardly dynamic. No disasters but no bangers either.
The mildly catchy and unobtrusive beats place Bell’s rhymes on prominent display. Sadly, such a position leaves them vulnerable to scrutiny. They don’t hold up. His lyrics are a mixture of confessional quips and punch lines. He likes to rhyme about himself from the position of a likable everyman discussing relationships, hobbies and daily tribulations. Unfortunately without a notable amount of charisma or knack for diction, the descriptions of his world are bland. He also delivers the occasional atrocious line (i.e. “No such thing as all black, except BM’s, this is my rhapsody, last of the bohemians”) that kill whatever momentum a verse may have had. Kenan Bell is neither clever nor consistent enough in his lyrics to make the largely shallow content engaging.
There is nothing to get excited about on Until the Future. The beats, delivery and lyrics are all competent, but hardly unique or inspiring. In hip hop’s saturated internet age, all-around mediocre is simply not enough to justify the hard-drive space.