Year after year, Boston-born producer Statik Selektah has put out quality albums comprised of today’s top up-and-coming emcees. From Joey Bada$$ and Rapsody to Action Bronson and Mick Jenkins, the talented beat maker utilized Hip Hop’s signature hard snare and a host of jazz-tinged samples to shine light on rising rappers, gaining clout and respect throughout the industry in doing so. As the genre changed around him, Selektah harkened back to Hip Hop’s Golden Age, a selling point for many of his fans.
After 2015’s Lucky 7, which featured a mix of artists both old (Smif-n-Wessun) and new (CJ Fly), Statik Selektah has returned for a collaborative project with Slaughterhouse member Crooked I – a.k.a. KXNG Crooked. By partnering with the freestyle aficionado, Selektah swapped a large feature list for the album’s lone guest: longtime Statik Selektah collaborator Termanology. Filled with gloomy tones and dark guitar riffs, Statik KXNG sees the two accomplished Hip Hop artists try–and largely fail–to fuse their respective sounds.
On 2014’s What Goes Around, Statik Selektah largely relied upon the use of traditional jazz instrumentation – much like his Golden Age counterparts– for his beats. From the title track to songs like “Thrill Is Gone,” the influence of jazz can be found, whether it’s in the saxophone notes of the former to the light piano of the latter. When listening to Selektah’s music, it’s apparent that the producer’s niche is a rare mix of hard-hitting drums and laid-back, jazzy instrumentation.
Two years later, remnants of this style can still be found on Statik KXNG, with piano keys rising and falling on the album’s first song, “Hear Voices.” Much like his previous work, there is no overreliance on 808 bass as the snare is used to keep the tempo steady. However, by the next track – “Magic & Bird” – the jazzy notes are gone, replaced with a rock-esque guitar riff. Selektah’s use of strings will have some reminiscing, as will lines like “I’d rather slide into place with a chick who got a murder case between her thighs and her waist,” from Crooked I, but the change in tone will feel decidedly different for fans of the gifted producer.
While unfamiliar, the beats found on Statik KXNG aren’t so far out of Selektah’s realm that fans will demand a refund. “Magic & Bird” carries the dark undertones of What Goes Around’s “Carry On,” and while “Lost a Fan” trudges along slowly, the underlying bass guitar is in keeping with Selektah’s use of instrumentation. As the album pushes on, it becomes apparent that the issue isn’t Statik’s beats or Crooked’s rhymes, but their inability to merge the two.
“Couple of hoes in my bathroom, they probably snorting coke/When they get out they’re gonna gobble dick until they’ve got a sore throat/I don’t judge a soul man, I was born poor and broke/Had to get the last laugh because niggas took me for a joke,” raps Crooked on “Bitch Got Me Fucked Up,” who spends the majority of the track reflecting on his past.
While the story is certainly interesting, Crooked’s tale of brutal hardship and struggle doesn’t match the beat laid down before him, which has a somber tone but isn’t dark enough to match the aforementioned line. Even worse, these mishaps prevent Crooked from delivering his menacing tone with conviction, as the threats and bold statements fall flat with each lackluster performance.
Yet for all of Statik KXNG’s faults as a unit, there are a number of bright spots, most of which can be found when the duo play to their strengths.
On “Everybody Know,” Crooked I doesn’t hold back. “If I told you my life story man your stomach would vomit / Now I’m big enough in the game to light a blunt on a comet,” he growls, taking a menacing approach to his rhymes overtop an ominous beat. This is where he excels, his lines exuberant, boisterous and boastful.
A track later on the standout ‘Dead Or In Jail” the duo seem in sync, with Selektah putting down a jazz club vibe and Crooked I fitting his braggadocio inside that space with lines like, “It’s funny how you niggas think you’re harder than the hardest. / Picture me debating, no time to argue with you artists. / If you do a song with me I’m probably just targeting your marketing, and then I take ‘em home with me and win that argument regardless.”
A seesaw of sound from start to finish, Statik KXNG finds itself in position to fall through the cracks–a mediocre album with a few highlights created by two esteemed Hip Hop veterans. While each is known for their own respective skill set, their struggle to consistently find a balance between their differing sounds leads to a project that lacks consistency, and will ultimately make fans crave their solo work, and not a future collaboration.