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Carl “Kokayi” Walker once asked his son what he wanted for Christmas. His response: “robots and dinosaurs.” Initially, the Northeast D.C. resident was confused by the innocent request, before realizing that his son might be on to something. As Kokayi sees it, robots are the unfortunate young rappers with a zombie-like lust for all things popular, earning their stripes by emulating others. Dinosaurs, however, are irrelevant creatures and much too old to compete with younger emcees, most of them in their twenties. Kokayi, an elder statesman in the Chocolate City music scene, sits comfortably in the gray area. Granted, he’s no spring chicken, but he’s not ready for the gold watch and retirement home, either (just ask anyone who’s recently attended one of his energetic stage shows). Such is the foundation of Robots & Dinosaurs, a genre blending, mind-altering, middle finger to the somewhat ageist and racist business that Kokayi has endured for more than a decade. The former Opus Akoben front man proves unequivocally that urban music is a game for all ages, and that black people shouldn’t rely solely on hip-hop to express themselves. What results is an amazingly brilliant album that is easily one of the year’s best recordings — not just in the Nation’s Capital, but the entire industry.

Washington, D.C. is an unabashed hip-hop city; from street to street, it seems as if every young person with Nike boots and a composition book is a rapper, or at least aspires to be one. For obvious reasons, Kokayi stands out — not only as a hybrid rocker/emcee, but as a Grammy nominated producer who helps upstarts navigate a saturated entertainment region. Under that premise, it seemed as if Kokayi’s last recording, 2007’s Mass Instructions, was a straightforward salute to the District’s trials and triumphs, and reflective glimpse into his personal obstacles and successes. A song like “Stress!!,” for instance, ensnared its listeners through the clever marriage of thoughtful lyricism and boisterous electronica, which subliminally cradled Kokayi’s fans and kept their heads nodding in the process. But, with all due respect to Mr. Walker’s previous album, it diminishes when compared with the lyrical and sonic genius of Robots & Dinosaurs, which discusses suicide, condemns misogyny, and reminisces about love gone awry, among other topics. Instead of brutally attacking the aforementioned subjects, Kokayi delivers thoughtful messages that not only connect with their intended recipients, but provides everyone a brief glimpse into his surroundings. Quite simply, while Instructions was respectable, Robots is Kokayi’s Illmatic— a masterpiece that will surely be regarded as the artist’s crown jewel, no matter what he records afterward.

Overall, Robots is competent and efficient, much like the aforementioned Nas classic, which is championed for its quick and thorough analysis of inner city blight. While Kokayi’s album is mostly upbeat, it also has a dark and brooding side, none more sullen than “Autumn Rules,” where the artist sings candidly about his fight with depression and thoughts of suicide. “I hold tight to truth and I slice, but not quite through,” Kokayi sings over Oddisee’s moog drums and acoustic guitar. “Only,” with its subdued piano loop, is a tale written from the perspective of a perpetual bachelor. Here, Kokayi sings: “I’m not so lucky with love, yo/I’ve been around a time or two before.” On “Nicotine,” the piano becomes much more chilling and sobering, as Kokayi rhymes about an on-again, off-again love affair that begins at childhood and continues through adulthood. Still, Robots is not entirely moody, as demonstrated by the raucous “RoxTar,” which salutes rock bands in D.C. and beyond, and “Obdare,” the autobiographical centerpiece where Kokayi analyzes his place in music. “Ninety 5,” featuring QN5 label mates Substantial and Tonedeff, is an effective club-ready track about the Interstate 95 road that connects the three artists. (Substantial lives in Baltimore; Tonedeff lives in New York City).

Pundits, tastemakers, and some casual listeners tend to sort artists into their own neat categories. And in some cases, we tend to abandon these entertainers once their talents spill outside our carefully crafted boxes. Mos Def, for example, was heavily criticized for releasing The New Danger, not only because he experimented heavily with blues and rock-n-roll, but because it followed the classic Black On Both Sides, an undeniable staple in hip-hop. Common was also crucified upon the release of Electric Circus, which saw the Chicago emcee rhyming over folk and dance music, and singing alongside his then-girlfriend Erykah Badu. Kokayi, however, has lived outside the box his entire career, thus making it impossible to corner him into one genre. The psych-rock scholar grew up listening to Led Zeppelin and has never been shy about his affinity for electric guitars. Therefore, Robots & Dinosaurs is just another walk in the park for Kokayi. And if nothing else, at least his son got what he wanted for Christmas.

-Marcus Moore

Comments

  • Victoriousl @godliveswithin

    Hell yeah! Now that’s a review!!I can’t wait to cop this joint!

  • x.bush

    the correct name is Kokayi.

  • Preston Prescott

    This review makes me want to check this out. It sounds refreshing.

  • houstonz

    This album is dope. good lookin out, okayplayer

  • PurelyHipHop

    Can’t wait to get this CD in my hands and blast it out of the system. Until then, I’ll just read dope reviews (like this) to steadily boost my anticipation for R&D.

  • GeorgeJames82

    You can’t skip this one folks. Go grab the high quality digital from bandcamp and do your ears a favor!

    Excellent review.

  • o51player

    that about sums it up. kokayi got some dope shit, and cover art is lookin fresh also…I need a shirt with that

  • J11

    Downloaded “Autumn Rules” off QN5.com. Sick concept and song. I’m very interested to hear the full album.

  • Peren

    Album is pure greatness! Go cop!

  • Jon Jonson

    Amazing album. Kokayi is truly an innovator.

  • Super Eclectic

    the album is beyond dope. the review captured the message and the vibe, but doesn’t do enough to talk about how great it sounds. you can say the beats complement the lyrics and Kokayi’s sense of rhythm is on full display, but that doesn’t really clarify it. the tracks flow, his son is hilarious and this project is an absolute masterpiece.

  • andrew chen!@!

    great album! you guys should definitely go out and BUY it to support dope artists!

  • BinSeattle

    Great review, great album.

  • karakakashk

    Great review of an amazing album! “Only” is beautiful!

  • harrym

    Good review of a damn near perfect album. Deserves much more exposure.

  • del preston

    great artist, great album, great label. go out and show your support so we keep getting great music like this!

  • PAK

    truly a dope album

  • jainousthescribe

    This album is beyond fantastic. The review is also real great

  • Hello Kitty

    Hearts EVERYWHERE!!!

  • boy sand

    this dude is absolutely sensational

  • if 20 year old rappers are old

    then jayz and the rest of them better get some dentures and shit

  • chrisa

    Awesome review. Awesome album!

  • Cept One

    Robots & Dinosaurs is great been on repeat since i got it.