The title is accurate — Lyrics to GO, Vol. 2 is all about the message indie rapper Kota the Friend wants to leave you with. The flow of words — words of gratefulness, sadness and love — seems to tumble out of Kota on this mixtape. Lyrics to GO, Vol. 2 is not as carefully thought out as his previous album Everything, but it was released anyway because Kota has words he needs the world to hear right now, without delay. His lyrics stand on their own; there are so many things to say that there’s almost no time to form a perfect, catchy beat to match.
True to Kota’s earlier work, the rapper’s mental health challenges are carefully ruminated on as gratefulness fights to exist alongside them. This mixtape is a cathartic processing of these conflicting emotions. Over pared-back, sunny beats that let the ease of his flow shine through, Kota’s direct lyrics provide self-reflection. His words hold up a mirror to each listener — we can connect to this mixtape only if we choose to actively listen to it. The beats are designed to give the words the space they need but don’t do enough to draw the listener in without a bit of effort. Through his openness about his struggles, Kota seems to find closure as the mixtape progresses.
The starting tracks set the tone for the mixtape, with their beats made up of guitar or wistful piano, and full of grainy fry. In “Luke Cage,” Kota speaks in the second person, asking the listener to remember with him as he welcomes them into the album. The memories are a mixed bag. In “Clinton Hill,” he acknowledges hunger pains of the past in the same breath he speaks of his thankfulness. On “200 Dollars,” his nostalgia takes on a bite as he considers the gentrification of his hometown, New York City. He longs for the metaphorical green grass and pound cake he describes that are just beyond his grasp at the same time he reviles them.
His sadness begins to infiltrate the mixtape about halfway through. “Created everything from the darkness, I still wrote it / I still wear my heart on my shoulder / I’m still hopin’ for the best, I’m still awake when I rest,” he admits in “Broken.” Kota’s laid-back vocalization of these difficult words keeps the lyrics honest, instead of portraying a fabricated tortured artist. He acknowledges that life has suffering, but it isn’t all suffering. Pain fosters growth; Kota uses it to develop himself and his music. “Thunderstorm coming, I sit on the porch and sing through it,” he tells us on this same track, acknowledging all the little bits of life that make it whole. In “Emotionally Dumb,” he drives home this point by emphasizing that you can be grateful even when everything isn’t perfect.
In this same song, Kota drops lyrics that just about sum up the mixtape: “But I’m workin’ on it, no more escapin’ when I’m hurtin’ / No more self-sabotage, livin’ against my purpose / More appreciation for myself when I ain’t perfect / Every day I get up and grow, that’s what I chose.”
It is a statement of self-affirmation that we are all learning to make for ourselves, and hearing it from others allows us to share that experience. He accepts that growth does not mean everything is instantly better — it means you want to make things improve.
The profundity of these statements makes it seem a shame for them to be rushed out with not much thought given to their production. Although the minimalistic beats give the listener space to think about what Kota is saying, they don’t add much. The lyrics would have a similar effect being rhythmically read aloud at a poetry slam — there’s musicality in Kota’s flow, but not in much else.
And yet, for now, the words are enough. This probably isn’t a mixtape that will stand the test of time, but it emerges right after the close of a year that knocked us all off our feet again and again. On “Flowers,” the closing track, Kota acknowledges that everybody always wants more out of life — but right now, this is what he can give us. He released this mixtape, even though it is not his best work, even though it is bare bones and sounds like a lot of mediocre SoundCloud rap, because it was one of those moments when he couldn’t hold back what he was thinking. There are times where you finally find the answer you’ve been searching for for a while — Kota can’t keep himself from sharing his.
Daily Arts Writer Rosa Sofia Kaminski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.