Go (Strange Music)
Genius, the title of Krizz Kaliko’s 2009 album, wasn’t hyperbole. The visionary Kansas City musician’s contributions have been essential to the remarkable commercial success of his longtime collaborator, Tech N9ne. Kaliko’s new release, Go, his sixth solo album for the locally based Strange Music record label, is another impressive showcase of his luminous talent.
Kaliko (42-year-old Kansas City native Samuel William Christopher Watson IV) is far more than Tech N9ne’s charismatic on-stage sidekick. His theatrical vocals provide the hooks for many of Tech N9ne hits and his electrifying rapping compels the competitive Tech N9ne to rhyme with heightened vigor.
Each of his solo efforts has reached the top 20 on Billboard’s Top Rap Albums chart, but Kaliko continues to be overshadowed by Tech N9ne. That’s partly because Kaliko makes eclectic musical choices that may confuse listeners who lack his expansive inclinations. In addition to rap and hip-hop, the inconsistent but entirely fascinating Go includes funk, indie-rock, pop and neo-soul selections.
For speed-rap enthusiasts, “Orangutan” is Go’s main attraction. The exhilarating throw-down gives several Strange Music stalwarts an opportunity to beat their chests, with Kaliko topping the efforts of elite Kansas City rappers Tech N9ne, JL B. Hood, Godemis and Ubiquitous.
Elsewhere, however, rap hurts more than it helps. Tech N9ne bursts in like a boorish party guest on a couple of songs. His brief outburst at the end of “Stop the World” spoils what would otherwise be Go’s best track. A despairing song about hopelessness, it’s like the flip side of Sam Cooke’s hopeful civil rights anthem “A Change is Gonna Come” — yet shortly after Kaliko laments that “it’s so hard for me to pray while I sit and wait in a line for change,” Tech N9ne incongruously blurts “a message to the mentally disturbed: don’t kill yourself or anyone else.” And Tech’s unwelcome coda to “Wallflower,” a sensitive song about bullying and social isolation, references “my scrotum” and “dykes.”
Kaliko’s penchant for gloom yields compelling music, but he also knows how to fill a dance floor.
The surf-rock guitar riff behind chants of “What we are is what we are” and “What we feel is what we feel” makes “Didn’t Wanna Wake You” one of the most joyous pop statements of 2016, while “Outta Line” recalls the insinuating funk of Prince.
“Talk Up On It” is also a flawless gem. The song’s video depicts Kaliko inciting a flash mob of jubilant dancers in Kansas City’s Union Station — compelling visuals that serve as another reminder that, rather than being exclusive province of insatiable Tech N9ne fans, Kaliko’s music should have all of Kansas City dancing.
Bill Brownlee’s writing appears weekly in The Kansas City Star and Ink magazine. He blogs about Kansas City’s jazz scene at Plastic Sax.