[7 February 2011]
Name the rappers from the United States with the fastest flows. Kool Moe Dee? Heavy D? Bone Thugs-N-Harmony? Twista? Let’s go global and add Kaigen and Meiso to the list. Japanese-born, Australia-immersed rapper Kaigen joins Honolulu, Hawaii-based Japanese rapper Meiso to form Kaigen21Meiso.
Their collaborative album, Root Is the New Leaf, is an intense listen, if only to absorb the duo’s rapid fire delivery. With lyrics in Japanese and English, Kaigen and Meiso seem to be working overtime to express themselves, experimenting with speed and rhythm through a whirlwind of tongue twisters. The beats themselves tend to keep a steady mid-tempo cadence, sometimes going the banging industrial route, and sometimes more on the boom-bap side, but the rappers spit their words at a machine gun’s pace. The vocalists are aggressive, their rhymes sharp, jagged, and angular, providing a jarring contrast to their backdrops. Title track and opener “Root Is the New Leaf” is a true introduction to the album’s offerings, although its rhythmic change around the midpoint makes for an unexpected but sublimely intriguing surprise. Even in Japanese, you can discern a catchy sing-song-y chorus in “Lost & Found”, while “Original Gaian” brings an English chant into the hook.
It’s a dizzying listen, to be sure, and there are times when the pair’s flair for fast-forward delivery seems otherworldly. In that regard, the set is buoyed by two instrumentals, the season-tinged “Whimsical Heat Haze” and “Cool Summer Dusk”. The latter works from a shimmering, metallic palette, while the former is a swirling teaser with enough soft beeps and twinkles to make you think your cell phone is ringing. Even when the vocal delivery is a tad difficult to navigate, you still have to respect the architects on the beats for “Brave New World” (produced by Curse Ov Dialect) and its staccato horns, the mechanized timepiece of “Clockwork Lotus” (produced by Scott Da Ros), K-the-I’s handiwork on the title cut, and “Man Ov the Year” (produced by Omid). Like any experiment, some of it sticks and some of it requires revision. Root Is the New Leaf isn’t exactly head-nodding music, but it does bump. Hard.