Hip-hop/spoken word supreme Khemist returns to leave his mark once again, dazzling the ears while challenging heart and mind with Khemtrails – a brief breath of fresh air in a saturated and stuffy genre.
Khemist has a lot on his mind. Over the years, the Logan Valley lyricist has shown himself to be a robust yet understated force in rap. For me, it was the poignant and blunt “Man Down” video that originally reeled me in to Khemist‘s music. Here was a man who rhymed comprehensively and competently. His no-nonsense, intelligent rhyme draws on all manner of political, social, and cultural issues without shying from harsh realities and home truths. Such lyrical lamentations can be somewhat uncommon among the sexual objectification, material bragging, and glamour of gang life found in more mainstream hip-hop. With this in mind, Khemtrails, a record of actual, integrity-laden substance, is refreshing.
The EP lauds the loose-jawed, putting mumble rap firmly underfoot. Complex and fast-paced, it’s reminiscent of past works like “Wolves” and “All In A Day’s Work”. You will find no syllabic slurring here: enunciation is king. Khemist is masterful at his craft, presenting his ‘flow-etry’ confidently (surely someone else has used that term before? If not, I call dibs.) Each bar is delivered clinically, efficiently, and passionately, whatever the topic at hand.
Musically, Khemtrails challenges the tropes of the genre, composed as lovingly as the lyrics. Influences of soul, jazz, and funk are each present, contributing to upgrade this six-track from a simple slice of hip-hop to an enriching musical experience that breaches genre boundaries. It is an album designed to engage a wider audience, though the rapping itself will still undeniably impress elitists and close-minded fans of the genre. As a multi-instrumentalist, Khemist has laboured over the creation of every track, giving each its own character. Opener “December 8th” starts up with a public transport announcement, instilling an instant sense of journey. Travelling on through the jazzy guitar stabs of “Khemist Bombaye”, we reach the creeping, sneaky bassline of “Samson”, that oozes from the speakers like the sound of a perfect stakeout.
Suddenly shift, “Upright” arrives with optimistic, acoustic charm – a far cry from preceding songs. Then single “I Been On A Budget” brings jazz and funk in tandem; part cop show soundtrack, part homage to the 90s tunes of acts like A Tribe Called Quest. It’s a lengthy track with plenty to sink your teeth into musically and lyrically, including a tasty drum solo courtesy of accomplished jazz drummer Anwar Marshall. Khemist expresses the struggles of being a starving artist clearly: ‘You don’t know how desperate I am/Cash rules everything around me’, he utters, increasingly frenzied as the track progresses. “Two Up Two Down” finally brings the voyage to an end with its jaunty, piano-led smoothness, wrapping up with a Santana-style solo that puts a delicious finishing touch on the record.
The immediate freshness of the music and the growing confidence are apparent when you listen to Khemtrails; something the Philadelphian acknowledges himself:
‘This is by far the most honest music I’ve ever made. Being introspective, and trying new things that I may have been hesitant to do earlier in my career –– like experimenting with and ultimately growing to love my voice.’
To say I have no complaints about this record is untrue. I have one, although it’s not really a complaint at all, from the objective viewpoint of music journalism. I’m sad it is only an EP – there. That’s it. Khemtrails was brought to a close long before I was ready. Alas, the endless repetition of those wonderful half a dozen songs will more than suffice, I’m sure.
Khemist built up anticipation beautifully for his latest effort. Fans’ tastebuds have been increasingly teased over the last month or so with brief, freestyle rap videos. These daily, minute morsels from the emcee were uploaded to his Instagram, and laid a groundwork of expectation that Khemtrails more than matches. One tune worth mentioning though, which was rumoured to be billed for the EP, never seemed to make the final track listing. Uploaded to his Youtube channel, it blew me away as much as anything he’s penned previously: “It Don’t Get No Easier“, featuring a motorbike (surprisingly enhancing to the sonic experience), the intricate drumming of Marshall, and not much else. It goes to show – freestyle or forethought, the man’s got serious skills.
My aforementioned complaint is a purely trivial annoyance of the best kind: it comes from a place of thorough enjoyment. Khemtrails may be short-lived in duration, but the numerous plays it demands will draw out fresh treasure with each new listen. A portrayal of plight, tenacity, and possibility, I can only hope that this EP is heard and circulated enough to garner Khemist the attention and opportunity he rightly deserves, in return for the years of diligent grafting and sheer heart he has poured into his passion and livelihood.