Album Review: Rahlan Kay – Relationships: A Sucka 4 Luv Story

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Rahlan Kay
Relationships: A Sucka 4 Luv Story

Beginning sometime in the late 90s, a loose confederation of Hip Hop MCs, producers and DJs began meeting Monday evenings at Vince Woolums’ (founder of the Rotation party crew) home. It came to be known as the Iowa City Beats & Rhymes Society. It was the epicenter of musical ferment in Iowa City, gathering together people who were as excited about house, techno and drum and bass, as they were about hip hop. It was a place to premiere your latest beat, listen to fresh freestyles and strike up collaborations.

Rahlan Kay was a regular attendee, and stood out even then as someone who had his eyes on the prize. He was never there just for the party. He was an accomplished MC, but also produced his own beats and had a sober-minded focus on making his mark as a performer and musician. As others moved away or fell by the wayside, Rahlan Kay kept focused, producing several full length CD releases, several of which have been reviewed in Little Village.

Relationships marks a departure from previous releases in that Kay has focused on his writing and vocal performance, picking beats by other producers to back him up. 500 Benz, Josh Michalec and Austin Switalski all contribute varied textures. Benz starts things off with a bang on “Break The Chain” with a cheeky (and uncleared) Fleetwood Mac sample. Michalec’s “U” beat weaves 70s R&B with a stutter-swing beat. Rahlan Kay’s flow over these varied, always deeply melodic beats is as self-assured as ever, but he’s become more relaxed and authoritative. Over the years he’s tried on various vocal styles, but on Relationships he’s in the zone, using a simultaneously conversational and poetic cadence reminiscent of Jay-Z.

Each track is a tale of love: delirious, unrequited, lost, or on the edge of becoming real. Rahlan Kay isn’t Barry White, or Rick James. He’s open hearted and romantic while staying clear-eyed about the promises, challenges and dangers of love. Relationships is a concept album about the most tired preoccupation of pop music, but he pulls it off.

kent williams lives and works in his own fantasy unicorn kitten land.

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