|çThis is K-The-I???'s second album of "densed-out boom bap" and first collaboration with producer Thavius Beck. Beck, who recently worked with Trent Reznor on Saul Williams' Niggy Tardust, complements K’s literate, dystopian verse beautifully with what Mush has aptly dubbed "Blade Runner beats."|
K has a booming voice, an impressive vocabulary, and a commanding presence. His delivery is a bit of an acquired taste, however. At times he sounds far more like a very irate poet than an MC (I warmed to it though). I also found his lyrics to be needlessly abstruse at first (“Ewoks are just mechanized tumbleweeds”?), but the lyric sheet revealed that almost everything makes perfect sense (except the sci-fi stream-of-consciousness of "Cell-Shaded/Daydreams/Nightmares", which probably would only make sense to Kool Keith). Generally, K is a damn inventive and clever lyricist and avoids nearly all traditional hip-hop cliches.
The fact that he is a big, loud, angry guy is also quite an asset, as indie rap is often too non-threatening, introspective, and over-intellectual for my taste. He usually only missteps when he attempts to be confessional or when he attempts a refrain; radio-friendly songcraft is not his strength. I’m not sure if he needs to become better at structuring songs or needs to abandon structure altogether. The tracks that work best seem like Beck handed K a tape and said “here’s an amazing beat, just go crazy over it for two minutes.”
Thavius is nearly a mixed blessing, as he comes extremely close to decisively upstaging K on his own album (especially during the first two tracks). "400 on the BPM" opens the album with an absolutely crushing industrial crunch coupled with an elephantine primal roar. Then "Before the Session" follows, which sounds like a spaced-out IDM remix of Ministry’s "Dream Song." If the album ended there, it would be perfect. Those two tracks hit like a truck and show that these two at their best can hold their own against anyone in hip-hop today.
As for the rest of the album…well, it’s pretty good. However, Beck never recaptures that early intensity and fades into the background a bit. Not completely, of course: the sci-fi samples in "Marathon Man" and the combination of spectral backing vocals and minor key keyboards in "Man or Machine" are quite impressive. K is, for the most part, consistently inventive and impassioned on the mic and all of the guest MCs turn in strong performances. However, the individual components never really achieve the synergy of the first two tracks for the duration of an entire song again. That said, Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow is packed with some great moments, if not great songs.
Beck and K have all the tools needed for becoming a dominant force and it would be unfortunate if they didn't collaborate further. I just hope they stay fixated on being bludgeoning and futuristic as the occasional choruses and anthemic electric guitars have me worried. That stuff should be left to those who are less talented and idiosyncratic. - Brainwashed