Rap fans know what they’re getting at this point from Victor Vasquez – better-known as Kool A.D.: left-field, border-line absurdist free-associative rhymes, delivered with a “What, me worry?” grin in the vein of Alfred E. Neuman.
But after Das Racist split, Vasquez seemed to quietly retreat to the Bay Area for some reflection. His first DR-release was the lackluster Palm Wine Drunkard, and folks questioned his next step as a solo artist. But since then, A.D. has been pretty prolific, with multiple guest-track appearances and five mixtapes in two years.
Much in the vein of 19 and 63, Word O.K. is a fitting companion piece to December’s Not O.K.. And while not much has changed, the continuity is not necessarily a bad thing. This project is definitely still Kool A.D in his truest form (“The best rapper alive.”). He tells you as much in the opening, right before he humorously informs you that he just sent an e-mail to himself and is going to read from it. He’s still lacing solid production from familiar friends like Amaze 88 and Mike Finito, and again features guest spots from Del the Funky Homosapien and Ladybug Mecca, among others. But the whole record is smoother, tighter and – dare I say of an A.D. project – more polished. Word O.K. is a solid effort that falls somewhere ahead of Not O.K. but ostensibly short of the terrific 51.
Some of A.D.’s stumbles remain in the forefront, however. The former Das Racist artist still cannily cloaks his rhymes with humor to hide any deficiencies or insecurities. Clunky rhyme? Just a joke. Lyrics that devolve into jibberish? It’s intentional. Lines lifted wholesale from other rappers? He’s not just filling space, he’s paying homage. It’s a clever defense that allows him to frame himself as above the fray and inscrutable to the “white devil sophistry” of Rap Genius lyric-readers. “MoMA couldn’t frame it,” he raps on “I’m on a Plane”, drawing a parallel to the Is that art? world of modern art galleries.
He’s also self-referential to the point of falling into the reflecting pool. Within moments of the record starting, he’s not only recycled a line he used previously but called himself out on it in the next breath. Yes, he’s “Kool A.D., the navel gazer” but he’s also “the wavy bather, the lazy shaver, the gravy taster, the crazy caker, the paper taker, the lady chaser” and other descriptors he strings together in an aimless – but clearly skillful – graffiti tag. Much like Manny Pacquiao, the dude can string together vicious combinations but more often he simply refuses to be boxed in. He’s complex.
More so than just about any other rappers who say they’re “not a rapper,” Kool A.D. really feels like he’s not a rapper. He sells his art on Instagram. He’s writing a novel. He has some interesting ideas on the dangerous downside of ambition (“I’m On A Plane”), the potential of activism (“What can one man do? I don’t know. Probably a lot,” he raps on album standout “Life & Time”) and the frightening notion of corporations silently controlling our interests (“Special Forces”). And while these sometimes sound a bit like half-baked dorm room arguments – he even hits on 3-D printing – Word O.K. is consistently interesting and always entertaining. He indeed possesses the ability to “climb through raps to worlds untouched, and unsullied by human language.”
He’s an artist. He’s a bullshitter. He’s a dolphin. He’s ODB plus Mariah. He’s Kool A.D., and there’s only one like him.