If the Beastie Boys and Sleigh Bells had an illegitimate child, it would be King Shem. I like to describe his music as tripped out hip hop with a lo-fi rock sound. It doesn’t always fit a label, and you certainly can’t try to stuff it into a box. King Shem has been making music for years, starting off as part of the group Cooler Than Smack, then recording solo as King Shemrok Christ, all while managing his label DRC Records. He’s a little bit East coast, a little bit West coast, and constantly evolving. While working on his new album, King Shem managed to drop a mixtape Say Ahhh! on Bandcamp last week.
Say Ahhh! presents itself to listeners as a perfectly constructed album. I’m very old school hip hop, and love albums containing a good Intro to announce itself, and an Outro to wrap up the listening experience. Reminiscent of, and perhaps a nod to the Beastie Boys; King Shem manages to weave carefully crafted Interludes within his mixtape. They serve a few purposes; to cleanse the listener’s ear palette, set the tone for the upcoming tracks, and help separate the arcs of the mixtape. Say Ahh! contains three; my favorite being “Stranger”. The 1:32 interlude starts off sounding like the theme music to The Twilight Zone, and then smoothly transitions to a unique hip hop beat.
The mixtape’s first song, Are We There Yet?”, starts off strong. It’s a fast-paced love song to the hip hop that King Shem knows, loves, and breathes in daily. The perfect introduction to who King Shem is and what he’s all about. “Are We There Yet?” musically sets the scene for listeners. It is a song that demands to be blared on repeat and deserving of the first spot on your playlist.
Over an eerie hip hop beat, “Robin Williams” is full of contemplative and honest lyrics. This is our first glimpse into the King Shem who unabashedly raps about his personal struggles. The lines, “These scars are healing/But underneath the surface/I’m trying to overcome/These feelings that I’m worthless”, are raw, and will speak to many people.
“They Pray With Snakes” has a very hypnotic sound to it. The samples and beats used are flawlessly blended together to create a tune that will stay in your head long after the song is over. The next song, “How To Levitate”, continues the previous aesthetic, and rightfully deserves a spot on your go to relaxing playlist. The lyrics are clever, but you can automatically tell that the first arc of the mixtape is coming to a close as we hear a much more subdued King Shem.
“If You Love Hip Hop” takes the lyrics and choruses of well-known rap/hip hop songs and smushes them all together. It is the mash up to end all mash ups over a smooth trippy guitar beat. It’s fun and hip hop history all rolled up in one song.
The second arc of the mix tape begins with “Dig A Hole”. It builds momentum right away, and the rock and roll sound compliments the hip hop lyrics. “Leave Home” is King Shem’s tale of his move from East to West coast. It speaks of the people and the things he left behind; and how inthe end it was all okay. The lyrics and music combine to form an impeccable song. It might tug on your heart strings a little, as King Shem reiterates, “When push comes to shove/I walk alone”.
Next up, “100”, a song with a unique beat that is guaranteed to stay in your head long after the album ends. It serves as a good interlude between the melancholy “Leave Home” and one of my favorite tracks, “Encino Man”. King Shem manages to tie together the first verse with precision, “I’m a mental patient/Who pretends to be sane/Who pretends to be crazy/I’m Ichabod Crane/Forgive your enemies/Don’t forget their names/Cause they’ll be coming out the woodwork/When you get fame”. The backing track and samples go hand in hand creating a happy little musical symphony in your head. Bonus? King Shem gives a lyrical shout out to Cooler Than Smack fans, “I’m still diabolical/Back from rehab”.
“Titty Boi” is King Shem showing off his witty sarcastic sense of humor. Similar to “100”, it provides a hilarious lull before the next song wave hits. “Bonkers (Whiskey Mix)” is a new take on an old classic. The original version of “Bonkers” was released a few years ago, but King Shem manages to reinvent his own song with the Whiskey Mix. New fans will fall in love with this song, and older fans will welcome a fresh take on a classic.
The lyrics for “When Statues Bleed” are meticulously fused over a familiar sample, showcasing King Shem’s ability to find the perfect words to accompany a perfect beat. It’s another favorite of mine with comparisons to love, religion, death, and drug addiction. “Chris Brown” has a whimsical sound, and is another song whose lyrics are full of King Shem’s playful banter. There is something about the song “Neverland” that has stayed with me since I heard it. The line, “My dreams always outrun my depression”, is simple yet incredibly meaningful. King Shem says, “I don’t wanna grow up”, but this song is proof that he has, and will continue to do so by sharing his truth.
“Future Ex Girlfriend’’s sample track will be familiar to 80s fans. It’s a laughable peek into King Shem’s romantic past. The lyrics, “Baby swipe right/So I can ruin your life”, and. “Change your Facebook status/To it’s complicated”, ring true for dating in 2017.
The final two tracks on Say Ahhh!, are haunting, brilliant, and have a heavy tone. “Gorgon” showcases King Shem’s ability to not only sound dark as he raps, but create creepy beats that sound straight out of a horror movie soundtrack. “Sirens” starts off a little trippy, but the incorporation of a simple piano track turns the song into something special. It’s another track that must be deeply personal to King Shem, as he sings about heroin and ghosts dancing in his head.
Say Ahhh! takes listeners on a musical journey of the last year or so of King Shem’s life. It’s songs are perfect examples of what goes on in the mind of King Shem. His honest and witty lyrics get a chance to shine through amidst deliberately chosen samples and beats. King Shem reminds you to always expect the unexpected from him. He will bare his struggles, introduce you to his personal demons, and then make you laugh.
released February 23, 2018
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