For all his painstaking reticence, the second finally discovered the Koreatown Oddity. A veteran of Los Angeles’ scuzzier hip-hop outposts, the multi-hyphenate artist spent the 2010s alternating between summary rap information and nervy beat tapes, often showing in a rubber werewolf masks. Following the 2019 demise of collaborator Ras G, KTO shed his psychedelic trappings for Little Dominiques Nosebleed, a gnarled work of autobiography centered on a succession of childhood automobile accidents. At instances wistful, others free-associative, Nosebleed’s whipsawing chronology turned the highlight on a rapper who’d lengthy averted it.
The follow-up, ISTHISFORREAL?, is a return to marginalia, one in dialog with the work of art-rap forerunners Quelle Chris, Open Mike Eagle, and R.A.P. Ferreira. 9 years into his recording profession, KTO is now lodged comfortably in a scene of cerebral loners of their thirties and forties, loosely primarily based in Brooklyn and L.A. however extra firmly rooted on-line. Like Eagle’s Anime, Trauma and Divorce and Quelle and Jean Grae’s Every part’s Effective, ISTHISFORREAL? approaches present occasions obliquely, filtering them by means of the distorting fuzz of memes, late-night cable, and barbershop chatter.
The album’s discourse is dour and claustrophobic. On “Historical past Stress,” the ambient drone of grief and police violence is condensed right into a blunt, visceral chorus: “The strain of historical past’s attacking.” He invokes nervousness as a dwelling, respiration factor, but ISTHISFORREAL? is animated by questions. Over the syncopated cleves of “An Countless Run,” KTO raps with a rigidness approaching spoken-word: “What’s the sign/For niggas to know/What course shit is gon’ go?” He inverts the inquiry for the melodic “Detached.” “Am I detached or desensitized?” he sings. “No grass is greener/All of it will get fertilized.”
KTO favors a stiff, virtually mechanical supply, however he’s hardly ever sure by the strictures of language. “Misophonia Love” (misophonia: a situation characterised by sensitivity to repetitive and comfortable sounds, as respiration, chewing, clicking, and many others.) pairs ASMR vocals with new jack swing-style 808 drums as KTO’s narrator fetishizes the act of chewing almonds and rubbing collectively gymnasium socks. Within the first refrain, his exact diction makes the track’s title sound like “Me so humorous in love.” On the second, the inflection is delicately shifted: “Me so phony in love.” Even the extra lighthearted moments are wealthy with subtext.
Like a De La Soul undertaking, ISTHISFORREAL? gestures at a working talk-show idea with out actually committing to the bit. As an alternative, KTO deploys a breadth of kinds to match the file’s expansive themes. “Existential Landlord” wanders into noise-pop territory; “Homeboys in Outerspace” and “Hellloooo???” veer into full-on sci-fi. However the title observe features as a centerpiece, returning to Nosebleed’s tone of diaristic poignancy. After some quirky editorializing (“When y’all consider Karen, it’s a racist white bitch/After I consider Karen, it’s an auntie we miss”), KTO expresses gratitude that, through the month of July 2019, his new child daughter briefly occupied the identical earthly airplane as his good friend Ras G. The track concludes with a jarring edict: “I want I might say that it was uncommon/To hop on a airplane from a promenade to a funeral.” Within the context of ISTHISFORREAL?, paranoia is nothing roughly than a survival intuition.
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