No Trivia’s Rap Release of the Week: Killa Kyleon’s ‘Lean On Me’ Mixtape
Houston's fast-rapping Screwed Up Click member brings lyrical concepts, codeine, and thrilling bravado
Sorry, but Yeezus just looms large over everything right now and it’s tough not to constantly compare or contrast everything that pops up to its bro-talkin’ electro-grind. Plus, even though it’s pretty critically unstable, it’s a helluva lot of fun to compare little slept-on mixtapes to the major-event rap albums; especially when the buzzed-about rap album just ain’t all that. So, when Killa Kyleon’s mixtape Lean on Me begins with a flanger-filled version of Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” (almost reaching Dipset-absurd levels of sampling cheez) and the Houston rapper runs through a list of dead rappin’-ass Houstonians (many of their deaths at least tangentially connected to codeine-laced syrup), then celebrates the drank, compares himself to the children of Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King, calls himself “the messiah” (all in a breathless shout-rap voice), and it hits with a thrilling, low-stakes fever pitch, it’s a nice messy reminder that Mr. West doesn’t own conflating disparate things into a muddled though still incredibly powerful message.
Indeed, Killa Kyleon’s career is marked by this doesn’t-entirely-make-sense-but-works approach to hip-hop. A Big Pokey-approved member of the Screwed Up Click, he is a pen-and-pad traditionalist — maybe even a “lyrical” rapper — who also has a thrilling Third Coast synergy with bouncy Baton Rouge beatmaker Mouse on Tha Track. He’s so in his own world, though, that the best comparison for what he’s doing wouldn’t even be the on-point, metered-out rapping of say, UGK’s Bun B, but the concepts-and-metaphors style of underground-to-the-bone MC K-Rino, the Dirty South’s very own GZA. On Lean On Me’s “Batman,” for example, Kyleon rides a series of superhero metonyms: His car is the Batmobile; the girl at his side is Wonder Woman; he’s the Human Torch because he’s that hot of a rapper. It’s old-fashioned, structure-enforced MC-ing that hardly has a place anymore.
But that’s what makes Kyleon so compelling. He’s a man out of time who is more than willing to try and engage with where rap is headed and how it sounds in 2013. The final stirrings of trap appear here (“My Nigga,” “ESE,” and “I’m Leanin'”) because it is a regional rap mixtape, though it’s justified by Kyleon’s gruff sprint of a flow. He’s at his best, though, jumping up and down inside half-gorgeous, half-damaged post-post-soul beats that give him a lot of sonic details to weave syllables around: the daylight noir of “Street Life”; the Auto-Tune glitch and buzz of “My City”; what sounds like Mannie Fresh doing Clams Casino with a samba whistle on “Cadillac” (produced by Mouse on tha Track). Lean On Me is defined by old-school values (cohesion, tight songcraft, and a desire to say what needs to be said and then drop the mic) without beating you over the head with them. It’s a, um, lean album-like mixtape (nine tracks, 31 minutes) that in another era would’ve sat with hundreds of other regional rap CDs but sold pretty well because plenty of people knew exactly what it housed. But Lean On Me also occupies your ears more than many far-more-ambitious, big-deal rap albums. This is in-the-pocket rap music as comfort food in the best sense.