Jazz and hip-hop have been linked for the duration of the latter’s lifespan. Artists pay homage to hip-hop’s origins in a multitude of ways – where Mick Jenkins reveled with his forefathers on his 2014 mixtape The Waters, Kendrick Lamar channeled addiction, depression and politics into a jazz-funk-rap medley for 2015s To Pimp a Butterfly. Sample flips have come to define the gateway between the two, but at times they turn the genre crossover into a race to see which producers can find the most obscure source material.

For his debut tape, The Business, Californian artist Sugi Dakks’ explores a new lane within the jazz-rap soundscape. Trained as a jazz pianist, Dakks brings an explosive energy across the tape as he battles with sin, depression and growth.

Dakks is the creative persona of Kyle Donald, a Los Angeles resident by way of Lakeport, California. His moniker pays homage to his African-American and Japanese heritage, further underlying the variety expressed through his music.

Despite his fondness for the ivories, Dakks uses the piano more as an accessory to his largely self-produced debut. As synths, percussion and bass swell on “Still Alive” Dakks’ struts across the piano, using the keys as an extension of his vocals. The Business establishes Dakks’ musical persona very much as a triple threat – when the spirit hits his energetic vocals soar an octave or two. As “Move On” crescendos into the hook, Dakks slides into his vocal chords’ upper reaches, while the end of “Still Alive” sees Dakks’ vocals climb to an elevation not even the preceding “Panic Attack” could swallow.

Sugi Dakks Press Photo
Photo Courtesy of Steven Roston

“What’s a life when a life hasn’t the life to live? Every moment is like a gift I might just sit this one out,” Dakks ponders on his third cut, “Move On”. Though the doubt put forth on this track and others comes and goes with the fluidity of a revolving door, its presence yields The Business with its most powerful quality: life. In conjunction with his vocal range, Dakks’ production and flair awaken the improvisational soul that accompanies a jazz pianist. He trades in the simple loops and chords for a living, breathing expression on The Business. “Fight for Your Life” tremors from the bellowing choral accompaniment and the chirping birds on “Relax” lead listeners into the “good, good life”.

As he injects variables in his verses and syllables, Dakks’ debut outing bounces around like a live performance. When he flies through the speakers on The Business, Dakks guarantees a type of artistry that ignores popular conventions. He’ll never lull listeners into passive acceptance. Instead, Sugi Dakks inspires a rash of genre bending ideas that run deeper than his discography.

The Business is available to stream or purchase now.