A people’s champion of sorts, South Carolina based rapper Kenji premiered his latest project, Settling In, through Chillhop Records on April 5, 2017. His first project since 2015’s Visions, Kenji embraces a comparatively more stripped back sound to complement his equally uplifting and reflective subject matter.

Produced mostly by Philanthrope from Innsbruck, Austria, Settling In is a somber approach to the atmospheric genre of chill-hop, featuring downtempo compositions that avoid total lethargy. In terms of production, the intro track, “Blessed” is the most sonically saturated, featuring light female vocal loops, pianos and punchy percussion that keeps pace with one of Kenji’s more energetic cuts on the album.

Thus Kenji sets the stage for Settling In on “Blessed,” establishing an ode to the dreamers and believers taking steps to reach their goals. Furthermore, “This love in my heart is something I wanna pass to you, the flame lives on, I’ll be here when all else is gone,” is an apt bar and tagline for Kenji’s renewed musical goals, particularly considering he didn’t shy away from aspiring for fame and fortune on “Change” from Visions; just over a year ago Kenji rapped, “I wanna be like the people we praise, celebrities making millions when they only my age,” though such yearnings are balanced by aspirations to stay the same after fame and success.

Independent rappers like Kenji fall into the throes of desires, conflicting success, and at least a modicum of financial security, with staying true to the classical idealization of hip-hop culture. Kenji managed both of these desires, never sacrificing his tactical lyricism while maintaining honesty about his career goals. There is a certain enchantment with the ever-pressured struggle rapper; fans better relate to their ambitions while receiving a level of authenticity from a rising-star, something not as easily substantiated by a superstar. Kenji however, balances the ambition of an up-and-comer with bars generally relatable to anyone that finds their love, passion or muse. “Lost in Thoughts” best conveys this dichotomy, as Kenji dedicates the track to those “up at 3am looking for words in the dark,” as misguided efforts towards success are compounded by vice and poor judgment.

Unlike his last album though, Kenji enlists the help of a few fellow artists, namely Omaure, Juicebox, Tusken. and MonoMassive across Settling In’s 8 tracks. Only Juicebox offers a verse on “Cromb,” a trembling track that features Juicebox’s imagery driven bars that contrast Kenji’s heady and intoxicating delivery. The other three features each adapt their proclivity for laid-back production to Kenji’s meditative approach on the album. Particularly, MonoMassive’s production on “Steps” has a noir air to it, with a lone piano guiding the melody against periodic bass rumblings and Kenji’s recollection of music’s personal impact.

Over the approximately 24 minute run time Kenji bridges the gap between a personal album and an externally accessibly project​, featuring an essence of soulful maturity that accompanies long standing turmoil and practice. Settling In doesn’t redefine a sound or create a new one, instead it carries an aura of steady veteran mastery without the cynically destructive approach that can consume mainstream haters.

Purchase Settling In through Chillhop Records on Bandcamp.

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