(Self-released, CD, digital download)
Late last year at ArtsRiot, the rap duo of Kin & Learic put on a show that totally silenced a room full of rappers. Many months later, the material they unleashed upon an awestruck group of MCs has been released as the mixtape Unusual Subjects. The recording offers a strong dose of uncompromising, lyrical hip-hop, though it's not without flaws.
Throughout its 50-minute runtime, the album struggles with two self-imposed problems. The first is inconsistent sound quality. Few of the mixes sound finished, and none has the polished, professional sheen of Learic's other projects — most recently recordings with the Write Brothers and the Precepts. While it evokes the raw energy of independent releases, such as early MF Doom and Fondle 'Em Records material, Unusual Subjects is a project so focused on wordplay that it would be better served by clearer sound.
The second problem is that an album tackling "unusual subjects" winds up feeling inconsistent. Many tracks here would have been stronger if they were shorter. This is particularly stark on album lows such as "So Super" or "Scenes on Film," which come across more like laundry lists of referential puns than coherent songs.
These tracks also serve to highlight the differences between the two rappers. Kin is the less experienced of the two, having a single release with UnKommon under his belt. It's impossible to see the dynamic here any other way, even though Kin admirably keeps up with Learic. This is probably inevitable, given the latter's extensive résumé, which includes four full-length albums with Vermont's most famous rap export, the Aztext.
For more than half the tracks here, though, the combination really works. Kin steps up big. The same tracks that worked live at ArtsRiot dominate the album, especially "Black Blue," "Committed" and the dizzying, recursive wordplay of "Verses in Reverse," the album's high point. Taking an old Blahzay Blahzay line as inspiration — "My verse was dispersed in reverse" — Kin & Learic deliver a barrage of highly rewindable tongue twisters.
At its best, Unusual Subjects balances the earnest hunger of Kin and the calm confidence of Learic. This is clearest on the track "Biters," which Kin uses to take aim at rival artists, while Learic tags in to dispense good advice: "You don't need to sound like anybody in this rap biz / all that might do is lead to a quick profit / I'd rather get a thick wallet from killing sick concepts." Which is exactly what Learic has been up to lately.
Probably half of the top-10 rap projects coming out of the 802 this year will be his. While Unusual Subjects is not the crown jewel in that run, it is an ambitious and intense project worth checking out, and further proof that hip-hop in Vermont is thriving in 2014.
Unusual Subjects by Kin & Learic is available at datpiff.com.