Album Review – Rahlan Kay: Now You Know

Rahlan Kay
Now You Know

Rahlan Kay is the new hip-hop handle for Rowland Gibson, who has in the past been known as Genuyne, DNA and Testfyi. Rowland is a producer and MC from Cedar Rapids who has been a regular in the Iowa hip-hop scene for over ten years. He’s nothing if not persistent. There’s more than a few sketchy MCs around who are legends in their own minds, but Rowland’s different–he’s church folk, a family man and dead serious about his craft.

I’ve always known the man could rhyme, but previous releases have felt a bit too safe. On Now You Know, his beats are built out of dirty samples, put together with a looser rhythmic style. Tracks like “Dream No More” will get trunk lids rattling with the big 808 kick and his inventive cut-up job on R-&-B samples is major league. This is the first of Rowland’s CDs that rates releasing the instrumentals.

Rowland’s vocal flow has evolved as well. At the outset, “Begin” boasts a new drawling (Drahlan?) delivery that creeps behind the beat in perfect rhythm. Rahlan sings the vocal hook in “It’s Time” with great conviction and soul. In “It Is What It Is” he weaves the verses deftly around a fierce marching beat, dropping lines like “H E double hockey shiver me timbers the world is so cold, more than any winter.”

And that is the central conflict in Rahlan’s work: He is relentlessly positive and correct–he never drops a line he couldn’t say to his pastor. But he seems to be straining against that self-imposed limitation and that tension adds emotional weight. “…it seems like praying ain’t working, God,” he says in “Come Home,” a track that invokes the image of Christ’s night of tortured prayer in Gesthename, and it’s a lot deeper than some of the praise raps on his earlier CDs. Ending up with the modestly titled “The Masterpiece,” Rahlan Kay seems like he’s finally found his groove.

Kent Williams

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