The Brooklyn-based rapper KOTA The Friend’s latest album, “Everything,” is the kind of release that merits a full listen, cover to cover, with limited distractions. Though some of the tracks stand alone as singles, like “Morocco,” “Always” and “B.Q.E,” the latter of which was released as a single before the full-length dropped on May 22, “Everything” is in large part a concept album centered around ideas of possession, materialism and fulfillment — in other words, what it means to have everything.
Though it is becoming increasingly common for rappers and hip-hop artists to include samples of phone conversations or television show dialogue in their work (Anderson .Paak and Drake do so especially well), KOTA The Friend takes this stylistic decision to a whole new level, including two tracks entirely of spoken word recordings set to stripped down music. The speakers, actors Lupita Nyong’o in “Lupita’s Interlude” and Lakeith Stanfield in “Lakeith’s Interlude,” discuss what having everything means to them. Both of these tracks, each just under a minute long, bring a level of artistry to KOTA The Friend’s album that elevates “Everything” from the rapper’s earlier work and sets him apart from fellow artists in the rap and hip-hop industry.
Both Nyong’o and Stanfield communicate that “everything” is not something material but rather a state of being. For Nyong’o, “everything” is based on interpersonal relationships. For Stanfield, “everything” is not something that can be achieved during a single lifetime but something that people should strive for with love and hope. The somewhat fuzzy recordings of both actors’ responses amplify the unique qualities of their voices in such a way that the tone and pitch of the words are just as meaningful as the content.
Stanfield and Nyong’o’s spoken tracks set the tone for an album that is all about words; throughout “Everything,” KOTA The Friend’s greatest strength lies in his lyrical prowess. “Summerhouse,” the album’s opening track, stands out for its imagery and poetry, and the second rap verse after the first chorus is particularly memorable. The artist raps, “Never givin’ ’cause I am addicted to the better livin’/ I’m my father’s child with a better vision/ When he talkin’ business then you bet I listen/ And the bed I made is the bed I live in/ I could get a house with a better frame and a better kitchen/ But the bed I made with my bad decisions gon’ remain the same/ I just make it sound better than this.” The artist’s raspy voice and measured style of rap allow his lyrics to come through and speak for themselves, while the background track augments the words without overpowering them.
The other standout tracks on “Everything” are “B.Q.E,” featuring big-name, New York City artists Joey Bada$$ and Bas, and “Long Beach,” featuring vocals from Hello O’shay and Alex Banin. “B.Q.E” starts off strong with a catchy horn loop that plays throughout the track. Unlike some of KOTA The Friend’s rap-heavy songs that feel more like filler tracks, “B.Q.E” is fast-paced and energetic, showcasing each rapper’s unique talent and style — each rapper has their own verse touching on their home in the city — tied together with a catchy chorus referencing New York City’s Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. The track is a celebration of the city that the three rappers call home, and its energy is infectious.
“Long Beach,” the track that immediately follows “B.Q.E” on the album, is another tribute to a geographic location: in this case, Long Beach, California. In this song, backed by frequent collaborator and vocalist Hello O’shay, KOTA The Friend tells the story of spending time at the beach with his unnamed female love interest. “Long Beach” is the most melodic of KOTA The Friend’s tracks, and according to an interview with “On the Radar Radio,” the last track he made on the album. Backed by female vocals and a jazzy, upbeat sample with a quick drum beat, the artist sings in the chorus, “I can change the story if you let me/ Promise in the mornin’ won’t forget me/ Lately I been missin’ California/ I am far from perfect, but you get me.”
The song starts and ends with the chorus, a musical ode to Long Beach and a few remembered moments of uninterrupted, summery love. Though KOTA The Friend never explicitly mentions the concept of “everything” in the track, it is clear that the story he tells is centered around feelings of fulfillment and love. “Long Beach” is uplifting, hopeful and romantic; while many of KOTA The Friend’s tracks are complex and at times heavy, the song remains light without sacrificing any of the rapper’s artistry.
It is something about the attention to melody and rhythm in the choruses and the lyrical rawness in the rap verses that make “Summerhouse”, “B.Q.E” and “Long Beach” the most successful tracks on the album. Though “Always,” “Mi Casa,” “Morocco” and the title track, “Everything,” are notable as well, they are less memorable and accordingly have racked up fewer individual listens on Spotify. Meanwhile, “Long Beach,” “B.Q.E” and “Summerhouse” have jumped to Spotify’s list of KOTA The Friend’s most popular tracks, alongside “Colorado,” his 2018 single, and “Alkaline” from the artist’s 2019 album, “Foto”.
However, KOTA The Friend clearly didn’t set out to create an album full of hit singles; he is the kind of rapper that values artistry above popularity. Every one of the tracks on “Everything” is thematically linked, and though some songs stand out, none is quite as meaningful without the accompaniment of the rest of the album, particularly the spoken word pieces. In a world where music streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music make it easy to listen to individual tracks and playlists, KOTA The Friend stays true to the concept of the album with “Everything,” and it pays off. At its lyrical best, “Everything” is poetry set to music, an ode to places that feel like home and an exploration of when and how, if ever, we can achieve fulfillment.