Thursday, December 25, 2014

Rest in Peace Kevlaar 7

May 27, 1977 - December 23, 2014


Nature destroys us
Time destroys us
We destroy ourselves
Angels wings clap, 
I feel the wind in my cells

- Kevlaar 7

This morning I learned the devastating news that Kevlaar 7, a master lyricist/producer with the Wisemen from Detroit, died this past Tuesday from complications related to a blood disorder. He was 37 years old.

Kevlaar was one of my favorite hip hop artists of all time, a poet with a magnificent gift for stringing together intricate and inspiring bars who was also a highly talented producer. He was also a friend. A lighthearted, down-to-earth, humble and extremely intelligent person, Kevlaar would often reach out directly to his fans (I'd just had a text message convo with him a few weeks ago). A beloved friend to many, he was a proud father of two children who he frequently posted about on Facebook and mentioned in songs. He even included a clip of his young daughter saying "I'm learning, daddy" on a track from his first album, and put an image of his son on the cover.

In this blog's five-year history, I've spilled many words on the work of Kevlaar 7. The first piece I ever officially published was a review of Kevlaar's EP Who Got the Camera? for Slant Magazine. He and his younger brother, the Wu-Tang affiliated emcee/producer extraordinaire Bronze Nazareth, have brought an unparalleled approach to their craft and quickly became my favorite contemporary artists, of any genre. Unfortunately, during his career Kevlaar's work was relatively slept-on and underrated for such a great talent. A poet with a vast perspective, his verses were often inlaid with hints of his words living on and inspiring listeners long after his death, hence the title of his first album Die Ageless.

When I heard the news this morning, I had an immediate physical reaction. My heart sunk into my stomach and my hands were shaking. It was complete shock. Kevlaar had always been an active voice not only through his music but through social media, regularly posting articles and news throughout the day. I learned a great deal from him. He had a passion for science, especially astronomy, and was a strong advocate for healthy eating through a plant-based diet. A friendly and irreverent person, he was loved by many. Despite his talents and reputation, he was an extremely humble and accessible guy. I could always rely on him to respond quickly to any text or e-mail. The thought of him being prematurely silenced by death just didn't seem possible. His energy seemed too powerful, too important, too necessary to possibly be taken away. In this tumultuous moment in history, we need poets of perspective like Kevlaar. I feel deeply saddened, a heavy depressing gravity in my chest when I ponder proceeding into the future without Kevlaar 7 actively supplying us with his inspiring gift.

I've been a passionate fan of hip hop music since I was a young kid and once I learned about him (around 2006) there was hardly anyone whose work I looked forward to hearing as much as Kevlaar's. A new piece of music from Kevlaar 7 would always be devoured; played over and over again to catch the wordplay, double entendres, and mesmerizing flow. I can remember a conversation with him a couple years ago where he declared to me that his confidence in his artform was as strong as ever. He felt he could step on a track with any emcee in the world and shine, commanding respect and admiration. I'm convinced he was as good as anyone out there, an individual embodiment of the cutting edge in lyrical hip hop's evolution. If that sounds like hyperbole, I suggest reading some of the analytical pieces I've written about his verses.

In loving memory and reflection on the life of Kevlaar 7 (real name Kevin Cross), I am including links here to the many in-depth pieces I wrote about his work. Rest In Peace Kevlaar 7!!! You will be sorely missed.

I give you power with my words
It's a gift and a curse
Like nursing a dead flower 
back to life
I watch you grow
Then let you go
until my final hour

- Kevlaar 7


An analysis of a track Kevlaar devoted to his deceased cousin.

A thorough track-by-track review of Kevlaar's debut release. A very timely piece with meditations on the growing epidemic of police brutality.

(alternate version posted at Slant Magazine)
My first official published article, devoted to an important and far-ahead-of-its-time project.

A line-by-line breakdown of one of K7's most impressive tracks, written in a verse which parallels MLK's most famous speech. "I have a dream today that the devil vanished/ re-plant this in our handbooks/ teach our children the answers."

Interview with Kevlaar 7 and Bronze Nazareth 
Discussing their work and their album Children of a Lesser God.

A lengthy track-by-track review of his most important album.

Reviewing his last full-length project.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

An Attempt at Comparing Wu-Tang Clan Members to 90s NBA Players


Continuing my series on the Wu-Tang Clan in commemoration of their new 20th anniversary album "A Better Tomorrow"...

Wu-Tang is forever. Wu-Tang is for the children. Wu-Tang is...getting kinda old. The youngest member of the crew is Method Man and he's now pushing 44. Certifiable superstars of the 90s, the nine-member collective of emcees known as the Wu-Tang Clan is still actively making music as we approach the year 2015.   

Whatever negative criticism their new album A Better Tomorrow has received tends to zero in on its production and some of the poor creative decisions made by RZA. Nobody has said these guys sound old or can't flow on a beat anymore. Twenty years deep into their careers, the Wu generals made it quite clear they can still rap (witness 48-year-old GZA spit rapid fire on "40th St Black/We Will Fight", for example).

To give us a sense of just how old these guys are, I thought it might be interesting to seek out comparable NBA players for each Wu member based upon the year they were born. (Note: my first thought was to do this with baseball players but I was surprised how boring the player lists were for the birth years we're focusing on.) Then I matched up the players whose attributes bore a subjective resemblance to the unique styles and talents of each member of the Clan.

There is nothing scientific about this, of course. It's just a fun thought experiment.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Wu-Tang Clan's Original (and Better) "A Better Tomorrow"

Following my ranking of the Wu-Tang Clan's catalogue of group offerings, this begins a series of posts based around the new Wu-Tang album "A Better Tomorrow" and the factors surrounding its creation and release. Stay tuned for more this week.

For the Wu-Tang Clan's 20th anniversary album, the group's de facto leader Rza intended to craft a record that dealt with the current issues affecting our world today and the dire need for positivity and change for the future. The new album is entitled A Better Tomorrow and features a title track of the same name. That track should have been a "Part 2". Unfortunately, there is no acknowledgment at all made to the group's previous song with the very same title (and similar message), "A Better Tomorrow" off the Wu-Tang Forever album. Maybe it's because the earlier track, from the Clan's peak period, is of far superior quality to anything on the new album. The original "A Better Tomorrow" manages to be sentimental and positive, while keeping it raw.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Scenes from Adventures in the Iberian Peninsula, Part 1


Back in April of this year, I had the privilege of traveling to Lisbon, Portugal and Barcelona, Spain for a two-week vacation with my girlfriend. Documenting that here is long overdue. Here are some pictures from that unforgettable adventure.

Lisbon's reputation for having a rich street art culture was part of what drew us there, so you will notice lots of street art photos here. We even went on a Lisbon Street Art Tour that was excellent.

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