Kay has long been my favorite Saskatoon rapper, amongst a legion of very talented and prolific artists. I'll say it again and again, our city has spawned some of the most talent and interesting artists I've had the pleasure of meeting. That being said, I have some of Kay and Factor's albums STILL in the CD changer in my vehicle, from 5 years past. I've been hyped since learning of a new full length collaboration between the two through the Laika EP the pair released last year. Some strong songs filled in that release, including the lead single "Theme Song" with a video directed by Stuey Kubrick:
The Aquanaut's lyrics are always both astute and resonating. I find myself connecting with his lyrics more often than not, which is a nod to his ability to craft concepts and chains of words that captivate his listener. There was a time in 2010 with Nickelodean Ethics where the soundtrack of my life was narrated by Kay. Even when songs dive into socio-political realms, Kay manages to help you navigate the issues he wants you to understand and feel for, with his balance of cryptic metaphors and point-driving slogans.
Kay and the crew, video shoot for "Who Needs Enemies," Railway Bridge, 2009
Because of their musical history together, I feel as though Factor and Kay's collaborations are generally the backbone of what Saskatchewan's hip hop scene is known for. Sonically, Factor has influenced a number of artists across North America, whether through direct collaborations, or through his ethereal brand of instrumentation, in an artist to artist confluence. Again, don't get me wrong, our province has a variance of sounds so distinct, that our bell curve would nearly be flat. Kay and Factor just simply have a sound that speaks of the generations of Saskatoon before and after today, hip hop or otherwise.
On to "Letters from Laika"
Over the last couple of releases from Kay and Factor, their sounds have matured drastically. Kay has moved his songwriting forward in a way that borrows from other genres and mixes emotions with repeated phrases and melodies. "Letters from Laika" exemplifies this philosophy that he has been cultivating over the last few albums, with songs that blur the lines of hip hop. This trend isn't new in the rapmosphere, but Kay's brand of folk music is definitely a lane of its own. "Radio" uses classic rap call and response relationships in a new way, over a rolling beat. By the time the hook comes along, you know your role as an audience, even before it's hit you. Factor's beat puts me in a vehicle, swiftly moving down the highway, windows open, prairie rap music blasting through the open plains. Pip Skid might even be riding shotgun, with touch in the backseat. Factor opined to me once, that Kay had written one of his best songs, in reference to this track, and I have to agree.
With "Steppenwolf" came a new video, and one that matches the imagery of the song:
I assume the song borrows its narrative from Hermann Hesse's book "Steppenwolf" and not the magic carpet riding band. I feel with this song, though the chorus calls to the masses, Kay is being his most introspective. The duality of the artist is apparent in his work here, over a symphonic Factor production. This generation we live in, I think, feels a large disconnect with their own meaning and reason for living. Kay has always been one to ask you to think about who you are and what that means. With Steppenwolf, I feel he is appealing to the baser instincts we all feel, driving our motivations in the day to day, and the longer trajectories we place our lives in.
Another thing I notice with this album is the waves of emotions the album rotates through. There is a subtle transition between songs, and within two tracks, Kay has moved from heavy topics, to the fun bouncing track "Young Sagittarius," a lilt through the flowery fields on Titan. A love song at its core, Kay sings his feelings through the hook, with a twangy ennunciation of every word. I find this is the most memorable track for me on the album with his flow and approach to the execution. As I said, Kay has evolved his approach to song writing and this hip hop archetypical song is done differently this time. The beat is the most pop sounding on the album, with light synth layered over a plinking piano line. Kay's melody on the hook settles in like space dust from the Orion belt on the milky way. Tasty. You definitely understand the relationship he's reconnecting with by the end of this song.
The Aquanaut rapping with Rewind painting behind him, Parking Day 2012
"Black Stones" has one of my favorite pieces of Factor production on it. The drums click along, a train rolling through ages, under the guitar roiling, providing Kay with a hazy backdrop for his tale of exploitation and the lesson to be learned. History is always apparent in his words, as well as its cyclical nature. His education is unerringly displayed on this song. I think he's spent a lot of time with this one, and this topic is one that Kay holds heavy in his heart. Strings from Factor capitalize the thick meanings in Kay's lyrics, another great example of their synergy. I don't have production credits in front of me, but I suspect there might have been some live instrumentation help from Enver or Levy (or both) on this track, (as well as a number of others)
The album closes out with "The Story Lives on" which sounds like it may have started as a Reform Party song, restylized for this release. The instrumentation sounds crisp and has a very "live" feel. Factor layers in some background noise to widen the silhouette of the song, with Kay waxing a long forgotten tale. This song builds a strong tragic image in my head, some fantastical realm that mirrors one of our own past timelines. Kay's voice rises and falls, wanes and whispers to emphasize his message.
Eleven tracks roll by quickly, as the structure of the album is quite fluid, demanding repeated listens. "Letters from Laika" is a focused effort from the two and one of my favorites, (though that tends to change with each new album). I haven't come close to digesting everything this album has to offer quite yet, but I definitely suggest you take your own trip through it, as Kay's writing really deepens here. I always find the history of culture to be an interesting study, and Kay and Factor take you on a trip here both in the rap realm, and the historical sense, through a slightly different lense of view.
In addition to this release, Kay has also birthed a book into the universe, which contains the lyrics from nearly all his work. You can buy the package at the Circle into Square website here: http://www.circleintosquare.com/item/letters-from-laika
As a digital only release, you can download the album either through the link above, or via itunes, direct to your iPhone here: