K.O’s long-awaited sophomore offering is finally here! I know this review comes a few weeks after this album was launched but I really wanted to give it time before I did a review. I was one of the people who loved Skhanda Republic and patiently anticipated the follow up.
It was always going to be a tough ask for K.O to eclipse the monumental Skhanda Republic which helped set the foundation for a type of South African hip hop that easily appealed to the masses. Of particular note was the single Caracara which blew our minds away back then and helped lay the foundation for the immense success hip hop acts are seeing now in the Rainbow Nation. At the same time this album comes a little later than expected since K.O was working hard with the Cashtime label and also dropping singles over the last 2-3 years.
The lead single ‘Call Me’ which was released earlier this year has already done very well with a video only about 2 weeks old at the time of writing this review and already surpassed 150k views. It’s a track that takes on a kwaito dancehall fusion which still sounds as Skhanda as ever. I really enjoyed the fact that for such a track he enlisted the talents of Runtown who has done very well on the Afrobeats scene recently and adds a certain flair. It’s also a unique track in that K.O actually doesn’t rap on it, he sings. I suspect the idea here was to ensure the song appealed to the wider market which makes sense for a lead single.
‘Above The Water’ opens up SR2 and features sultry songstress Shekhinah with her silky vocals. This song is a very personal introspection into K.Os journey to become who he is while addressing his immediate family. He thanks his parents for their sacrifice and acknowledges the major role they played in his upbringing. He touches on his relationships with his siblings and all in all that family is what he needs. That same seriousness of topic is also exhibited on ‘The Warning’ which is the darkest, melancholic yet most hard hitting track of the album. He clearly raps about his former Cashtime affiliates where it seems a lot of bridges were burnt. K.O doesn’t name drop but with lyrics like “What the fuck I was thinking extending my hand to some people I wasn’t even supposed to, my ambitions of being a mogul, my ambitions of being a mogul, now every platform they get on they seek to destroy, chatting petty shit, you dragging my name through the mud when these folks in the media probe you, you feeling emotional whow!”, it’s hard to miss who he is referring to. The writing is on the wall here. It would have taken only true honesty with oneself to get to this point considering that K.O has never been known to air dirty laundry in public.
SA Rising featuring the legend Black Coffee is one of my favourite songs on the album. Not many artists would ever think to address the very real, negative issues affecting society by the way of racism, politics, corruption, xenophobia, and other socio-economic issues. You’d think most artists don’t have an opinion on these matters, but not K.O. The questions asked on this track are unfiltered and should see him gaining much respect from South African peers and fans alike. The production prowess of Black Coffee is evident On Swagganova K.O goes on an egotrip and the song typifies what has made hip hop what it is over the years: competition. I don’t know of any rapper that does not pit themselves against a certain bar be it other MCs or something dictated by the game. This one is good to vibe to with a beat that has a mysteriously alluring confidence about it. There is a fair bit of experimentation with the sound that goes on here, true to the Skhanda rap modus operandi (MO), all in an attempt to stay within the current sounds that are palatable to the (South) African market. None of that making of trap beats and changing the flow because everyone is doing it kinda thing. This means even boom bap rap type songs such as the very vividly told Ghetto Episode don’t sound dated even if the base construct of the sound has been around for decades.
I find KO to be very comfortable in his rapping style and generally does not go beyond what he knows he is good at. This gives his fans a level of predictability albeit without the monotony. He always has great delivery and well-timed punchlines. I found it very easy to flow with the album and stay engaged.
Overall, I believe that K.O found a certain balance on SR2 that he hadn’t quite addressed on Skhanda Republic. It was his debut solo album after all. This offering is much more mature while giving a good account of where KO’s mind is at the moment; keen to close some chapters, move on and focus on bettering himself.
Standout tracks: SA Rising, The Warning, Pretty Young Thing, Call Me, Above The Water
Collabos: Shekhinah, Runtown, Black Coffee
Rating: 7/10 motos