What it means to be a “good rapper” isn’t as clear as anyone might think, but I don’t believe that many people would compliment Kilo Kish as an emcee regardless of what segment of the rap world they hail from. To put it simply, she uses the same flow for the entirety of her new mixtape K+ and that flow is slow, plodding, and often imprecise. At times it seems obtuse on purpose, at other times it just sounds unpolished. Her characteristic vocal lilt works well at times, but it is often flaunted to the point that it seems unnecessary and even annoying. What’s particularly impressive about K+ in this regard, however, is that it took me four listens to notice. Skills are buried particularly deep on this LP, hidden under layers of intriguing production, surprising vocal headway, and complex emotions.
While her language is pretty romantic, Kilo Kish is a rapper who makes experimental music in which she complains about, clowns on, and swoons over the boys she likes. Even so, it’s a little bit hard to pin down what exactly the listener is meant to make of her music upon first listen. Her songs are weird, experimental, and altogether not radio-friendly and yet ultimately their most apparent strength is that they are both cohesive and catchy.
Listening to her first extant feature on loose Odd Future affiliate The Jet Age of Tomorrow’s 2010 track “Want You Still”, her rapping is quick, conversational, and sloppy. K+, in comparison, is practically pop-rap: her sound has been pared down to its most potent elements. Since that first feature, she has gained an amazing ability to pen hooks that are neither obvious nor tedious, something that just about every other avant-rapper isn’t really capable of doing. Her choruses are often half sung, in her own take on the style of the day, lending a new availability to her sound.
While the tape’s production is most definitely avant-garde, consisting of a spacey take on the prevalent Odd Future click-boom in which she began, it is particularly impressive in its restraint and interplay with its vocal counterpart. In a corner of the rap world where experimentalism often doesn’t lend itself to either simplicity or listenability, Kilo chooses producers (from Earl Sweatshirt to the Internet) that will both bend your mind and get caught in your head. “Trappin”, for example, is not much more than a warped high-hat and what sounds like a chopped-and-screwed ambulance, but its negative space and selective rapping practically turn it into “Drop It Like It’s Hot”. Because of their relative minimalism, most of these songs are growers: they may wash over you at first, but their impressive directness will keep you coming back.
The accomplishment of K+, however, is larger than pop melodies in avant music. This is the rare “cloud-rap” full length that actually plays like an album. What could have been 30 minutes of misty production covered in unorganized piles of talk-rapping, or worse, a collection of fragments that are interesting but not fully realized enough to be anything more than an overblown mixtape trailer, Kilo Kish has made a mixtape that is as replayable and fun as it is above the clouds.