When a website is run by a person whose icon is a coffee cup, a coffee-themed release is going to receive immediate attention. This happy mix has the same effect as a strong espresso, and the barista-inspired dialogue clips are the froth on the brew. The subjects of sunshine and friends complete a positive trifecta.
Earlier this year, kamau kuru released Oxydental, establishing a template of dusty grooves, funk and winking humor. Officers chased bandits across a global soundscape of spurs and soul, from the Old West to Bombay. Recognizable moments dotted the plains, like familiar cacti. Then came autumn, when the artist concentrated on singles, released in quick succession: “Nu Blu,” “Honey” and “Heat,” all included here. It’s interesting to hear these tracks apart from the mix and to realize that they operate as tiny nuggets: compact distillations of beats and samples, riding on a running groove. “Don’t stop when you get it, don’t stop,” “yes, yes, y’all,” “like this” and other swift vocalizations mark “Nu Blu” as a classic hip-hop production, but the 70s vibe connects the decades. “Honey”s cover art looks like a hip-hop joint, but the single is laden with guitar, drum and chanson, replete with strings. It has a beat, and one can rap to it! “Heat!” shimmers, stutters and shakes, at 1:43 representative of the length of these tracks: 19 in 32 minutes. On its own this track may seem a fragment: add companions, and the perspective changes.
We just went a whole paragraph without mentioning coffee, which was hard to do, especially after quaffing a grande iced mocha. kamau kuru’s next challenge would be to fit the singles into a new template and establish a loose theme. Titles like “Straight,” “Cold,” “Sweet,” “Milk,” “Sugar Pills,” “Moka Express” and “Grinder” certainly help, and even “Honey” fits, as some like it in their coffee (I prefer maple syrup). “Good Strong Coffee” establishes the theme with an advert and scientific snippets, serving the same role as “Bandit Country” did on Oxydental. The horns of “Cold” hint at the danceable nature of this music, wafting through the air like the aroma of ground beans. “Put the Needle on the Record” surfaces on “Straight,” bringing a smile to the face (“I know that one!); but the artist has diverse tastes, closing the album with Procol Haram.
The only minor quibble is that the artist didn’t go all out with cafe culture; the n-word in “Solar Pt. I” may fit into cratedigger culture, but it’s not something I want in my coffee. Better to stick with the espresso roast, the cane sugar, the coconut milk and a single theme, to make the set go down as smoothly as the perfect latte: as the final narrator concludes: “Good, strong, coffee: pick one up, it’ll do the same for you!” (Richard Allen)