Leif (Kolt) – Chaotic Neutral

Leif (Kolt)
Chaotic Neutral

As a hip-hop aficionado, I have enjoyed reviewing albums from all different points of the game – from indie acts like Sage Francis to mainstream mainstays like Cam’Ron. However, despite their various levels of success, each of these acts is fully developed as an artist. I’ve always been curious to know how fully-realized, unique MCs like Sage Francis sounded like when they were just gaining their footing and before they worked out the kinks in their sound. And now, thanks to the lovely management at DOA, I get that chance to indulge my curiosity in the form of an unsigned rapper named Leif (Kolt).

Leif (Kolt) belongs to the indie camp of hip-hop, exhibiting all the characteristics of a traditional Anticon rapper: he’s intellectual, he’s abstract, and he’s more nerd than gangster. His subject matter is sometimes intensely personal, sometimes highly conceptual. On “Flicker,” Leif ruminates on relationships: “I’m putting in work / making my back hurt / trying to find that angel who’s pulling up her miniskirt / she’s called opportunity / I know the name but the syllables are new to me.” On “Alpha Individual,” Leif raps “Burnt out / from the smoke in my lungs / another carbon-copy in the flames I’ve become / … watch the smoke curl as a symbol of the ritual / fine / personality is habitual,” emulating the so-called “emo-hop” of Anticon vets like Sole and Sage Francis. Impressively, Leif immediately catapults himself into the higher ranks of such acts, rarely allowing any painfully inadequate turns of phrase to discolor his otherwise immaculate rhymes.

Avoiding the temptation to over-saturate his lyrics with private details, Leif often adorns his rhymes with remarkably well-crafted figurative speech. On “Flicker,” Leif raps: “I need to levitate and colonize the moon / I need to hibernate and sleep until the clouds mushroom.” These oddball couplets help diversify the flow of the album and offer an interesting backdrop upon which to situate the more personal commentary.

However, given Leif’s considerable lyrical talent, the production is disappointingly bland. First of all, it’s a hip-hop album – bring the lyrics higher up in the mix! Even worse, this mistake would be more forgivable if the beats were interesting at all. Unfortunately, they consist mostly of cheap-sounding percussion and unremarkable attempts at melody. The exceptions include “Raistlin,” which features a driving beat sliding over malevolent keyboards, slithering far below the mix, assaulting and unsettling the subconscious. “Interlude” is home to one of the album’s most effective beats, a brushed percussion line mopes along with echoing bells in the background, creating a genuinely somber mood. “Wearwolf” features a barely-there chorus haunting the nooks and corners of the skipping percussion while Leif adjusts beautifully, toning down his delivery to match the atmosphere of the beat. Despite their strengths, though, these three beats – as notably superior as they are to the others – still would miss the cut on a well-produced album.

Leif is also limited by his delivery; he treads primarily in the upper octaves, and his voice is nasally and over-expressive. He also tends to over-enunciate his words, lending his flow an aggressive element that isn’t always appropriate. Long-term, Leif would benefit from varying his delivery and dropping some of the nasal aggression in order to smooth out and diversify his flow.

In the end, Chaotic Neutral is a pretty good hip-hop record, especially from an unsigned 20-something. But the album is most important as a showcase for an underground MC with enormous potential to make a splash in the indie scene. Given a record deal and some top-notch production, Leif (Kolt) is fully capable of producing music on par with that of the likes of Sage Francis, Sole, and Aesop Rock. Chaotic Neutral should get some labels’ attention, and rightly so; with a little grooming, Leif (Kolt) could be a significant presence in the indie hip-hop scene.