Last Friday, Kota the Friend released his sixth studio album in collaboration with Statik Selektah. And much like his previous releases, put any track of his on shuffle and you’ll be instantly engulfed by the effortless flow and phenomenal production quality of his music. What makes this 28-year-old Black, Brooklyn-born rapper stand out the most, however, are his lyrics.
Being an independent act, Kota clearly takes full creative liberties with all of his work, which is shown through his words. In his music, he often speaks on themes of (male) emotional vulnerability and connection to our inner spirit. These themes came up in his latest album, To Kill A Sunrise as well as in his prior discography.
Despite his lyrics being often vulnerable in nature, they still resonate with positivity. Vulnerability begets strength. And Kota is strong in showing the softer sides of himself.
In his track, “The Cold,” he states, “Water in my soul, the pressure on my back / Pushing through my lows.” And in the following track, “The Love,” he says, “I’m giving it to you broken / And still, you cherished and want it / You love me openly homie / And that’s exactly what love is.”
In “Live & Direct,” he starts the second verse with, “Me and my brothers speak about our trauma … How long can a man carry a world before he cry for help?”
Later on in the aforementioned “The Love” Kota states, “Love is patient, perseverance, consideration. Deeper than appearances, quick to air out imitation / Bring out your power and pushing you past your limitations, taking you to your destiny and your liberation.”
Kota successfully draws the connection between the emotionally vulnerable nature of love, and that vulnerability is what ultimately brings us in touch with our higher purpose. With every track he elicits the ongoing battle towards self-attunement. Ultimately, Kota never fails to remind us that the “point of our existence isn’t physical.”
Going back to his track, “The Cold,” he says, “I’m living my life in tandem with all the shit I believe / Movin’ in unison with my spirit, toward the dream,” and “I’m focusin’ past the physical, hear it and take it literal.”
These references to the spirit serve as a reminder of our broader purpose beyond the material world. Kota often conveys his contradictory tendencies to value money and material possessions and how those distractions keep him from being who he truly is. We see this in the way he discusses his ego, which he also makes many references to throughout.
In “Go Now,” he says, “Pull off on my heart and leave my ego on the curb,” and in “Day Glow,” he states, “I put my ego on the shelf, so she can love me for free.” Here, we see this inner spiritual battle between being proud of oneself versus remaining modest.
In his previous album, Lyrics to Go, Vol. 2, in the song “Santa Barbara” we hear him remark, “Say that I want happiness but it seem like I’m scared of that, so I’m never idle or I might get suicidal” followed later by, “I just sit and wonder what is holding me back and why it feel impossible just for my soul to relax / And I’m feeling so conflicted ‘bout this shit that I’ve been given, I’m livin’ to get up out of this cycle that’s turning’ vicious, for real.” In this song, he illuminates the allure of grind-and-hustle culture that pushes us away from being the divine beings that we are.
While Kota recognizes that it’s important for us (especially Black males) to have a sense of self-affirmation, he also recognizes the importance in staying humble. When I hear his music, I feel like he’s speaking directly to me as a Black man, allowing me the courage to affirm my own existence as an African-American in an extremely anti-Black world.
His track “For Colored Boys” from his album FOTO epitomizes this the most. In this song Kota speaking to his newborn son claims, “We are creators; we don’t go beggin’ for placement where we are not wanted,” later followed by, “Why conform to a society that hates you, and spent all they energy tryna break you?”
Much like his previous work, To Kill a Sunrise carries with it this same radical confidence and confirmation necessary to brilliantly and boldly be who you want to be.
This is clear in “Sunrise,” where states, in his titular line, “They been tryna kill a sunrise but you can’t contain the sun.” A powerful lyric, embodying the essence of the entire album. Subsequently, in the final track, “Sunset,” he says, “Walk to the sunrise / Run to the sunset,” while finishing off the album with, “Know that I’ma even win if I lose … Look into the mirror, there ain’t no one like you.”
These lyrics embody the highs and lows of living, the ongoing process of being able to affirm yourself. Kota the Friend contains life’s beautiful contradictions into a 33-minute album. His music is serene, spiritual, and subversive, breathing a breath of fresh air into the genre of hip-hop and rap. It reminds us that when everything that we see seems to be out of control, we can always close our eyes to listen and learn.
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