Kassa Overall’s music sounds free. On Animals, Overall’s third album and first for Warp Records, the drummer, producer, MC, and bandleader demonstrates the limitless potential of jazz, hip-hop, and beats, exploring and pushing new spaces for improvisation and experimentation. Attempts to blend jazz and hip-hop are certainly not new, but despite the common heritages from which both genres draw, they have often reinforced formal boundaries rather than expanded them. Kassa Overall is part of a newer generation of music-makers who have approached things a little differently, such as Flying Lotus and his Brainfeeder label or fellow jazz drummer and producer Karriem Riggins.
Similarly to these contemporaries, Kassa Overall’s approach to music is imaginative, expansive, and eclectic. A deep appreciation of and skill with jazz and hip-hop are seamlessly woven together on an album that goes in multiple places with many different voices thrown into the mix.
Some of Animals feels spacey and light but is thoughtful and introspective. “Ready to Ball” uses open jazz piano chords and voicings, typically tight drums, and Kassa Overall ponders the pursuit of success and fame, his vocals pitching up and down like Madlib’s alter-ego Quasimoto. “Make My Way Back Home” expands on these reflections with a slightly denser musical collage but is still as affecting. “At a loss for words, I can’t complain / I sow the seeds and pray for rain,” Kassa speaks more spoken word than rap on an atmospheric track boosted by trumpeter Theo Croker and the ethereal voice of Nick Hakim.
Animals is feature-heavy, and Kassa Overall uses everyone to his advantage. “Clock Ticking” has an appropriately deranged Danny Brown verse and chorus. Meanwhile, “So Happy” somehow balances the refined soul stylings of Laura Mvula against thrilling strings and a jaunty, almost circus-like refrain from Francis and the Lights.
Much may be said of the live instrumentation across Animals, but a worthy note should be paid to electronic production. The unmistakable sounds of the Roland 808 drum machine can be heard on “No It Ain’t” and “The Score Was Made”, the former aided by horn player Andrae Murchison and the latter by the similarly adventurous collaborator pianist and bandleader Vijay Iyer.
The dynamic variety and range on offer are also impressive. “Still Ain’t Find Me” is a wild and stirring piece, powered forward by percussionist Bendji Allonce and the piercing saxophone of Tomoki Sanders, proudly carrying on his late father’s legacy for the spiritual and avant-garde. “Going Up” is an entirely different ride. Featuring a Dilla-esque beat, twinkling keys, strings, and elevated by brilliant performances from alternative rappers Shabazz Palaces and an unexpected appearance from none other than the based god Lil B, it’s both a peaceful and open-hearted closer.
Animals pushes jazz and hip-hop further. Kassa Overall, through his own performance, arrangements, production, and enviable talent with bringing together a broad but complementary roster of collaborators, has created a record worthy of your time, and that of anyone interested in free-thinking music.