Kno – Death Is Silent

Kno - Death Is Silent

Better  known for his production work with down south indie Hip-Hop group Cunninlynguists, Death Is Silent is Kno’s debut release, not just entirely produced by himself but also featuring his rhymes. For those who don’t know, Kno has been at the forefront of making Cunninlynguists indie Hip-Hop royalty, a group that has evolved from its early but endearing comedy-rap to A Piece Of Strange, the pinnacle of indie Hip-Hop of the 00’s. A Piece Of Strange was itself in many ways an homage to OutKast of the ATLiens/Aquamini era, less creative and off-the-wall perhaps but nonetheless an album of singular focus, consistent and well-conceived from beginning to end with deep layered production and intelligent MC’ing. Post- A Piece Of Strange, Cunninlynguists dropped three entertaining but inconsistent albums that fail to measure up to their masterpiece, Dirty Acres, an imitation of what came before and largely bereft of artistic evolution, while Strange Journey Volume One & Two were looser than previous work, designed as guest-heavy mixtapes/albums. As such, with Death Is Silent, we are faced with two questions – first, if a renowned beatmaker can double up as a competent MC (most can’t) and secondly can Kno return to the kind of form shown on A Piece Of Strange.

In terms of production, there is little doubt that Death Is Silent is one of 2010’s exceptional releases in Hip-Hop. Most tracks are deep and heavily layered, in a genre more often not determined by minimalism – “If You Cry” boasts strings, trumpets and piano  along with a hazy, ambient backdrop, multiple vocals samples and some bouncing bass, while “Death Is Silent” is something like a funeral dirge, mixing dark doomsday pianos, and again multiple vocal samples, ranging from soul samples, a couple of bars from Andre 3000 and some constant female crying in the background. The effect is that the listener is rarely bored, the beat always interesting and often switching up. Even though every track seems intricate with numerous different elements sonically, Kno does go ‘minimal’  to great effect, particularly on “When I Was Young”,  which contains mainly dominant drums and energetic bass to create an impressive sense of momentum,  while the dark and dirty “Graveyard” features some brilliantly heavy bass and is the album’s nod to more traditional head-moving Hip-Hop. The overall effect is an album that  sonically seems to be meticulously created, impressively free from over-elaboration despite the many elements within, an example of a perfectionist in full flow.

Vocally, its maybe unsurprising that the best verses largely do not come from Kno, but rather from fellow Cunninlynguist Natti. Natti is in his element, his full-on domineering flow well suited to two of the album’s more epic songs – on “If You Cry” he offers an emotive and engaging picture of dealing with emotions and death (“inside you cry, outside you hindu/when my nigga died red eyes no tissues/ex-cons and killers finding shoulders to cling to”), while offering up an amusing slice of nostalgia on “When I Was Young” (“I thought cartoons came through the tv for free/But now that I’m grown I know everything’/’To think back to how strong she had to be’/’Because I was into everything like Vitamin C’).

That is not to say Kno struggles in comparison. Lyrically at least he does the idea of a concept album revolving around death and the morbid justice. “Le Petite Mort” is the best example of his lyrical abilities, the entire track mixing sexual and desolate imagery vividly (‘while I guide your little man in a boat, across the styx river’/’your body quivers beautifully as Jodeci sings the eulogy’). The entire track is a rather stunning allegory for ‘the little death’ (climaxing) and represents one of the strongest concept tracks in the Hip-Hop genre. Similarly, “I Wish I was Dead” shows off his story-telling skills, mixing the violent with the surreal (‘I can feel my blood circulate the whole of my body’/’Cos there is holes in my body, like a blow from a shotty’/’I’m assuming it probably, cos the hospital’s got me’/’I get up off the gurney and I am certainly wobbly…’). “Graveyard” keeps intact the lyrical narrative of the album whilst also offering a bit of a throwback to the days of Cunninlynguists joke/shock-rap (‘She don’t swallow, that claims preposterous/lets just say she has a populous esophagus’) along with Kno’s most confident and entertaining flow on the entire album. Largely, Kno sounds not uninteresting as such, but certainly monotone and flat which isn’t such a problem for the most part thanks to the dark nature of the production and the strength of the guests, but some will find Kno’s delivery rather boring. Adding to this is the overtly serious nature of the album, only really broken by a couple of lighter (“When I Was Young”) and mischievous (“Graveyard”) tracks. Without generalising, a concept album with morbid and dark lyrics, plus matching beats, may not be what some Hip-Hop fans are looking for.

Naturally these are points of personal preference – Death Is Silent cannot be regarded as anything other than one of Hip-Hop’s finest releases in 2010. It’s a considerable return to form for Kno, an album that is a proper sequel in terms of quality to A Piece Of Strange, and represents a rare success in Hip-Hop, a beatmaker’s LP that works well vocally, and a successful concept album.

Kno – Death Is Silent (Bandcamp)