Kokayi, the singer/rapper/songwriter/producer behind Robots & Dinosaurs, out last week on QN5 Music, is nothing if not prolific. Since the release of his debut album in 2007, the D.C. native has offered up six releases through projects like Dastardly and the Caesarz. He’s also collaborated with the likes of Ethiopian singer Wayna, whose Grammy-nominated “Lovin’ You (Music)” he co-produced. A consummate genre-bender, Kokayi flows in and out of hip hop, funk, electro and afropunk.
What’s clear from this latest release, though, is the extent of his craft. Aside from a production credit by fellow DMVer Oddisee, Kokayi wrote and produced every song on Robots & Dinosaurs. The result is a record that is as sonically consistent as it is interesting. Kokayi smoothly blends horns, strings and synthesizer sounds to arrive at a sound that is distinctly his. Some hooks, like the opening track “The Onceler’s Theme” and “Believe It,” are catchy and have radio potential.
However, Kokayi could benefit from taking to heart the popular adage usually reserved for writers: “Show, don’t tell.” On the cringe-worthy single “RoxTar,” Kokayi tries to convince the listener that he’s more than just another rapper by name-dropping dozens of rock artists and laying down a cliche guitar solo that makes it hard to take him seriously as, well, a rockstar. A remix of “RoxTar” is even worse and should have been left off the album.
Some much-needed subtlety could have helped showcase Kokayi’s impressive beats and well-crafted melodies, rather than bury them under a barrage of over-produced vocals. While the music is solid on practically every track, Kokayi’s vocals can be jarring––at times his singing is grating, as on “OverThere (O.R.S.),” and his raps can seem forced, as on “Only.” These blunders, sadly, distract from what are his clear talents as a musician and beat-maker.
Still, while it may not be the breakout record he was hoping for, Robots & Dinosaurs is an admirable effort from Kokayi. And, as prolific as he’s proven himself to be, it’s surely not the last we’ll be hearing from him.