Kilo Kish Defies Stylistic Definition

by Roxanna Pell , Arts Editor

Odd Future affiliation and Beast Coast seal of approval aside, the buzz surrounding Brooklyn-based up-and-comer Kilo Kish has stemmed largely from an uncomfortable difficulty to identify not just her style but her actual title. Not quite a rapper and even less a singer, Kish seems to be shooting for the newly and vaguely emerging multimedia-savvy poet-musician category.

With a new mixtape floating around the interwebs and a slew of uncategorizable art projects in the works, Kish is a trueborn child of new media. Her genrefucking, medium-irrelevant approach to making music seems to perfectly embody the pervasively “DGAF” attitude 2013’s cyberphilic emerging artists have toward their seemingly exponential artistic output.

Following her pioneering debut EP, Kish returns to the mixtape market with k+, her feature-drenched second release. Replete with social media lingo and self-referential Skype interludes, k+ borders as close to information-age commentary as an album can without actually saying anything.

Presumably as part of the “collaborative multimedia project” k+ claims to be, Kish includes recordings of conversations with collaborators held during the production process, going full-on meta with discussions of the songs themselves. While this candid backdrop makes for an interesting additional layer of experience to the mixtape as a whole, the cuts add little substance to the album beyond their atmospheric effect and ultimately feel out of place. Interspersed throughout a short and sweet compilation devoid of anything resembling filler, the recordings almost feel like arbitrary transitions between tracks.

In the context of Kish’s indiscriminate artistic vision, k+’s hybridization of social and artistic media makes sense, making it seem as though Kish is attempting to transcend not only medium but art itself.

“This is an attempt to purposely highlight our imperfections and reject the finality of ‘the finished product,’” Kish has emphasized regarding her mixtape’s rough composition. Her outlook comes as a breath of fresh air in a genre inclined to overproduction; amid swaths of perfectly manicured releases, it’s encouraging to hear that someone in the game still believes every record should have a little grit.

However, the sparkling production quality on k+ as a whole suggests otherwise. While Kish can’t be held at fault for her ear for beats, the layered rhythms and gliding shifts in tonal balance on k+ sound a whole lot like the “finished product” that the work supposedly isn’t. The result is a collection of beautifully produced tracks connected by technically unscripted interludes that still manage to sound contrived. Still, k+ demonstrates Kish’s willingness to take risks that challenge the conventions of her prescribed genre and hint at more refreshing innovation to come.

This promise of originality is both part of what makes it so exciting to witness the rise of experimental hip-hop’s new princess and cause for concern. While Kish made a splash with her first release, Homeschool EP, a definiteively similar sound on her follow-up suggests that fans may have been guilty of mistaking novelty for quality.

At the time of her appearance in the game, the artist’s characteristic style of drawling non-rap stood out against the traditionally aggressive flow of other lady-emcees like, say, Nicki Minaj. However refreshing Kish’s vocals may be, a second mixtape consisting of more of the same may be a red flag that one was enough. Initially intriguing and easy enough on the ears for a track or two, Kish’s aloof monotone ultimately leaves something to be desired. Her talent has certainly remained consistent across two albums, but talent that is merely reliable isn’t likely to grab audiences’ attention for too long.

Kish’s unremarkable flow puts the most of the weight of her skill as a rapper on wordsmithing capabilities that linger somewhere between charming and unsettling while falling just short of poetry. From Facebook events to Instagram hashtags, Kish drops trivial, topical references that are as appropriate to her generation as they are cheeky. This cyber-sensibility, as well as its resulting creepiness (“You know I’m always watching / Only cause your eye’s a sleep out / I’ll meet you, I’ll meet you”) allows the tone of k+ to hover listlessly in a lyrical realm that parallels Kish’s verbal intonation. Though Kish’s rhymes accompany her rhythms well, her knack for strangely relatable imagery isn’t quite poetic enough to make up for ultimately lackluster vocals.

Cronos’ production more than makes up for what Kish lacks in performance. Equipped with some of the freshest beats that have cropped up in the mixtape-verse in some time, k+ is a tour de force of skittering drum tracks and swelling synths. Blips of auto-tuned vocal samples sprinkled throughout are reminiscent of James Blake’s reinterpretation of the capabilities of digital production. Grandiose strings and halting bass on “ghost” sound like a strangely palatable combination of Lauryn Hill’s “Everything is Everything” and Chingy’s “Everybody in the Club Gettin’ Tipsy,” which is perhaps reflective of Kish’s developing signature blend of alternative electro-hip-hop.

The perfectly ambient “creepwave,” k+’s hype-generating single, remains its eeriest and most entrancing track, while Jesse Boykins III’s crooning on “turquoise” adds some much needed tonal variation to the album. Playful beats on “iou” are as taunting as Kish’s lyrics (“I could be the one you want / Your bed’s a mess, but your mind’s made up”) and characterize the infectious dance-chill line k+ walks.

Where Homeschool EP established a category-blasting, inherently modern niche in experimental rap, k+ does little to either expand or solidify this multimedia subgenre’s place in hip-hop. Despite a flow that borders on gimmicky, Kish has consistently demonstrated the scope of her overall artistic vision. Aficionados of all media would be well advised to keep an eye out for Kilo Kish.