Listening to Camu Tao’s King of Hearts is like witnessing to the scattered musings and fractional tinkerings of an eccentric scientist possibly on the verge of a monumental breakthrough.
It’s raw. It’s unpolished. It’s unedited. And more than anything else, it’s unfortunate.
Two years following Camu’s submission to lung cancer — and a subsequently perplexing amount of label infighting — Definitive Jux finally released the emcee/producer/singer’s still in progress solo material posthumously. Rather than cleaning up his would be nationally distributed debut album, filling in what the Columbus, Ohio artist was unable to complete, the decision was made to present King Of Hearts to the public exactly the way Camu left it.
Consisting largely of Indie Rock and Rap hybrids with infused Punk interpolations and the occasional Prince and Elvis Costello channeling, the project is a stark contrast from the gritty boom-bappery of his previous work with MHz or Nighthawks or The Weathermen. As the story goes, Camu grew frustrated with the creative complacency ensnaring the underground Hip Hop scene and attempted to push past the margins. The result is something that vaguely resembles what’s deemed Hip Hop, yet speaks volumes to the mind state and artistic range of a man who knew his days were numbered long before he shared his condition with the rest of the world.
Song titles like “Death” and “Ind Of The World” provide a glimpse into his perspective and album closer, “Kill Me”, feels like a cryptic salutation. “Fuck me / Fuck me / Fuck me / Go ahead and kill me,” Camu croons in a spine chilling acappella, humming the potential melody in between bars that could have been included had he had time to finish the track. “Bird Flu’s” hopping snare and synth injections carry the weight since Camu’s only vocals appear on the hook — “Excuse me / I don’t mean to disturb you / But I am the Bird Flu” — yet another allusion to his condition.
But what’s most unfortunate about King of Hearts is the amount of untapped potential it reflects. Camu’s tongue twister delivery on “Major Team” rides perfectly with the sinister keys and hop step drums and “Actin An Ass,” while only 34 seconds long, is intriguing enough to wonder where he could’ve taken the concept. “Be A Big Girl” and “Get At You” are both loaded with commercial appeal and truly highlight Camu Tao’s creative range and penchant for creating infectious hooks and melodies.
From mic to plug, King of Hearts is scattered and arranged more like a playlist than an actual album. It’s experimental and progressive and clearly incomplete, which is a large part of it’s overall appeal. Camu was in the midst of a left field experiment. And considering that he began the project in 2005, a year before Gnarls Barkley blasted down the genre bending lane left wide open after Andre 3000’s The Love Below, he was absolutely ahead of the industry. At its best, the songs crafted are catchy and visceral, unlike anything expected from Hip Hop at the time he began this project. Had he finished; had he had the time and strength to see his outside-the-box tinkerings through to fruition, who knows what finished product he would’ve delivered to the world. Maybe a masterpiece. Maybe an array of madness. Either way, it’s unfortunate. And it’s a tragedy.