To label Kokayi’s latest release as a mere Hip Hop album would be extremely limiting. The Washington D.C. native has managed to create a work that not only speaks to the current climate and decline of true artistry within Hip Hop, but also a revealing look at an artist who has accomplished more in his career than many of his more visible peers. Kokayi’s ability to tell stories of doubt, triumph, and sorrow yet still offer scathing and truthful critiques of an industry in flux mark it a success. The rapper/producer’s own doubts of his work and purpose are also revealed, although none of this wavering confidence is readily apparent. Robots & Dinosaurs is not intended for instant audio gratification. Instead, the album’s variety of moods and topics make for one of the most pleasant audio journeys in some time.
Primarily produced by Kokayi, save for one track produced by fellow D.C. alum Oddisee, the album begins with “The Onceler’s Theme”. The bass and keyboard heavy track is powered by Kokayi’s big vocals while Kokayi’s son provides necessary context that sets the tone and concept of the album up for the listener. “Shrping (What You Want)” is a straight-ahead rap track with Kokayi delivering expert similes and a confident delivery. This chest-out display is a rare moment of braggadocio but it works for the rapper; the chorus and added backing vocals bring everything together perfectly. The lead single “RoxTar” is a hard as nails and clever ode to rock music artists, using famous band names to form the basis of the lyrics. The track is a bouncy affair and legendary D.C. guitarist Stanley Cooper’s rock riffs are astounding.
“Wynter of my Discontent” is, in one word, amazing. Arguably the album’s strongest track, Kokayi’s flute-driven track is jaw-dropping but what makes the song work is the song’s content. One of many great stories present on the record, Kokayi’s performance is inspiring and there’s not one lacking element in this song. Somber as the song appears initially, there’s something uniquely triumphant about the track as it builds with the boisterous hook. “Nicotine” again showcases Kokayi’s expert ability to weave tales as he chronicles his relatable experiences with heartbreak. The track comes together with Kokayi’s background adlibs and the vocals on the chorus help the song along. Talented producer Oddisee provides the canvas for “Autumn Rules”, a track originally featured on an earlier Oddisee instrumental project. The song depicts a person’s struggle with depression and suicide and while many will expect an Oddisee production to soar, it achieves a higher platform due in part to Kokayi’s rhymes and harmonious vocals. “Drive” is a dull attempt to borrow the noisy, synth-heavy styling of the current Hip Hop sound; the metaphor of sex being depicted on this track is lazily delivered and doesn’t inspire a repeated listen.
The album ends with an unnecessary remix of the already excellent “RoxTar” (listed here as “Thrash RMX”). But beyond “Drive” and this final track, every song has at least one element that makes it a worthy listen. Kokayi has created a sound that’s entirely his own – a blend of rap, rock, electronica, R&B and whatever else he decides to throw into the mix and doing so with expert ease. If this album doesn’t make a best of 2010 list, it would be a complete travesty. This release deserves not only deserves measurable acclaim, but also a place in anyone music lover’s collection.