Music Review: Blk Flanl's 'Blk Flanl II: For The Imperfect, For The Diligent'
Blk Flanl II
When the sky turns green and sirens drone in the Midwest, we know something bad probably won’t happen to us, but if it does, it’s going to be life-changing. Filmmaker Morgan Cooper (aka Barrel Maker), burst into the Kansas City hip-hop scene less than two years ago with his debut full length Blk Flanl I. The raps on his second album Blk Flanl II: For The Imperfect, For The Diligent are ominous enough to demand attention.
The album begins with a half minute of quiet vinyl crackles and a single drum note, immediately setting the scene for its eerie and challenging tone. Ten uncomfortable seconds of dogs barking as if they're in cages and birds chirping opens “Guns Up,” and a siren-like synthesizer builds tension as Cooper calls out his “street homies” for shooting stray bullets while intoxicated at the “wrong place/wrong time. They don’t see the mamma crying.” The music halts. “Kansas City put them guns up,” Cooper commands, and the song jolts back to action with yells from someone who sounds like they just got shot.
It’s scary. Producer Denzel Williams, aka Conductor Williams, treats silence as a tool to make Cooper’s message resonate. Throughout the record, Williams weaves together old-timey vocal samples, traditional hip-hop drum beats, sparse electronic sounds and one essential subtlety: room to breathe as Cooper bounces between his personal philosophies and stories.
At the record's highest point, "Frequent Flyer," Cooper is “feeling like a jet plane” as he tours his music around the country. At its lowest dip, "Out The Blue," he fails at convincing a friend not to retaliate after his cousin's been shot to death.
Either way, there's an overriding theme: rejecting the labels assigned to him as a young black man.
Cooper might have grown up with a “leaky roof and grits and ramen noodles,” but when someone told him "no" he “started looking for some loopholes” to build his future, he explains on "Clarify." Then he plays clips of Iggy Azalea and Slim Jesus, rappers making a profit off a culture he thinks they robbed.
The back-and-forth between a broad focus and a narrow one makes the album feel like listening to a friend rather than a sermon. Cooper never yells, he just tells it as he sees it.
“The grind’s real when you’re young and black," Cooper raps on "Rise Up," adding, "they don’t want to shake your hand/they think a gun attached." Whoever “they” might be, they'll likely empathize with Cooper after listening to Blk Flanl II, an album that frames the life of one hard-working young artist who has to work harder because of the color of his skin.
Hannah Copeland is an announcer and arts contributor at KCUR. Follow her on Twitter @hannahecopeland.