From the blue grasses of Kentucky to the peach trees in Georgia, CunninLynguists founder Kno and company have been blazing a trail of classic southern underground since the turn of the new millennium that has allowed them to tour the globe, garner endless amounts of critical acclaim, and become household names within the hip hop community. In many circles, their first three albums– Will Rap For Food, SouthernUnderground, and A Piece of Strange— are unforgettable bodies of work. From the loose-tongued and loop-heavy debut to the cinematic hip hopera, each album shows a gradual maturation of sound and content, while Kno slowly morphs himself into a master producer. But, since hitting their peak in 2006 with the conceptual masterpiece A Piece of Strange, Kno and the CunninLynguists continue to roll with the serious and ominous tone from their most celebrated release and run it into the ground. For his debut solo album, Death is Silent, Kno collects bones and ash from the past two group projects and continues the trek through the catacombs of human emotions, this time setting up camp around the inevitability of death and its impact.
It has been awhile since Kno has appeared in front of a microphone and as the brooding bells pound beneath the drums of the opening track I was reminded why. Kno’s syrupy croak smothers the beat instead of engaging it, causing an immediate disconnect; rather than the vocals accenting the surrounding beat like Natti seamlessly does in the first verse of “If You Cry”, Kno’s vocals choke multiple layers of his productions, stripping them dry. This was an issue on numerous songs throughout the album but were saved by strong accompanying guest spots from Nemo Achida, Deacon the Villain, Tunji, and Tonedeff, as well as songs like “Loneliness” that packed enough body to cradle Kno’s odd tone. The lyrical performance on the album can be best summed up in one track, “Graveyard”, where decent wordplay and one liners went to die and reincarnate themselves into numerous cringe-inducing lines over one of Kno’s more refreshing production performances.
Despite the vocal miscues, one of hip hop’s finest producers pounding pads today has done it again. Known for his compulsive song construction and cinematic pieces, Kno provides a crisp yet foggy world full of atmospheric keys, emotional electric and acoustic guitars, haunting vocal samples, strings, woodwinds, and electronic pads that feel cold, calm, and perfectly complete like the end of a midnight storm. Unlike many other 2010 producer/rapper albums, Kno avoids haphazard song sequencing and concepts, which allow the album to unfold comfortably and spin like a complete piece of work– a true sign of a great producer and an album that is sure to grow and unveil unheard layers with repeat listens. The beauty and phantasmagoria embedded in the beats are enough to make the instrumental version of this LP one of your top albums of the year.
This marks the third straight release where the CunninLynguists have given us a healthy dose of shoe-gazing rap and the second straight release where they have attempted to transcend emotional hip hop, but have fallen short. Kno’s flirtation with becoming a true sonic savant was slightly de-railed with another waltz in the shadows; however, the tiny glimmers of fresh sounds and styles that peeked through the layers of coffin soil give all Kno fans hope for what’s on the horizon as he walks away from his own funeral and into the future.