By: Daniel Hodgman and Gus Navarro
Bonus Cut has been around for almost a year now and in that time we have grown. Looking back on this past year, we would not be where we are today without the cooperation of the many different hip-hop artists we have come in contact with. There have been quite a few, but Red Pill and Hir-O have been two artists that have been truly supportive of what we’re trying to accomplish. In short, we cannot thank them enough. Our goal with this write-up is to say thank you to two people who have supported us. With that, we also want to take the time to highlight an album that is underrated beyond belief. In all honesty, a lot of people probably haven’t heard of this record. It’s not your fault but if you’re reading this then should listen to it and share with anyone and everyone you know. This record is a testament to the passion and amazing nature of collaboration within hip-hop music. Seriously, buy this record and support local music.
1. “One Simple Idea”
The opening track on The Kick begins like a camera coming into focus. Hir-O builds up the beat in a way only he can complete with scratchy guitar, piano, strings and a driving ride cymbal. From there, Red Pill takes us back to his eighth grade years, reflecting on his multi-cultural Detroit origins, eventual move to Howell, Michigan and his position as a white MC within hip-hop.
“Said I was on a bus back in eighth grade/ Livin’ in a city where they raise hate/ Kids from Michigan but Mississippi in the 60’s in their brain state/ Wonder how we from the same place/ Different form of but I’m from that same race.”
Pill shows us the complexities of his identity and the finesse of his words. The first track of an album sets the tone, introducing us to the artist(s). “One Simple Idea” is no exception as Red Pill and Hir-O show us why they work so well as a team.
2. “The Kick”
From the wailing introduction “One Simple Idea,” the title track of the album twirls until Red Pill throws true blat right out in front of you. “Said I could give a fuck if they feel it or not,” he rips, supplementing an attitude the listener can enjoy vicariously at high speeds. “Me and Hir-O got em waiting for that needle to drop.”
Hir-O’s layered production revels in its ability to run along with Red Pill’s firm and forceful grip. The percussion stands out to me simply because the strength behind my head-nodding to the 1s and 2s is stronger than 90% of the other music I surround myself with. With blaring horns that subtly hide in the background and a bass that runs sprints all over the track, “The Kick” is a perpetual machete that will slash through any song that doesn’t stand up to its attitude.
Along with “One Simple Idea,” “The Kick” sets up what this record is at its core: “No one can say you don’t deserve this shit/ To wake em up you gotta give em that kick.”
3. “We Are Not Like Them”
Full disclosure: this is the first song I heard from this album and it is my favorite. This track had me at the perfectly placed Beatles sample and sweltering bass line. The beat incorporates the boom bap roots of hip-hop, a twist of Hir-O and the flavor of Detroit with the 21st century on the side. For the main course, Red Pill comes with some of his best work to date. He does it all, distinguishing the struggles of the working poor from the privilege of the wealthy elite. This track isn’t about pointing the finger at anybody. It is about taking pride in who you are and what you have to do to get by. Be proud of who you are, where you’re from and turn this shit up.
4. “Half-Remembered Dream (feat. Steffanie Christ’ian)”
“Half-Remembered Dream” changes things on The Kick with a soothing sample introduction and a toned-down feel in general. The atmosphere is most revealing here, as it glides majestically through open space. Matched with Red Pill’s concrete verses about time and the past, and Steffanie Christ’ian’s wooing guest-spot, “Half-Remembered Dream” is playful yet stern, dreamy yet down to reality. If the Coen Brothers were to substitute Bob Dylan’s “The Man In Me” during The Dude’s dream sequence over Los Angeles in The Big Lebowski for a hip-hop cut, “Half-Remembered Dream” is my surefire pick to replace it. I digress.
Though subtle, “Half-Remembered Dream” will knock the listener on its ass. It will conjure up feelings of nostalgia, pain, happiness, sadness, worry and higher-thinking. At 4:39, it’s the second longest song on the album, but rightfully so, because if you were to cut anything out, that would be like removing the color from Marc Chagall’s Bestiaire.
5. “Like Us”
Red Pill exclaims in the hook: “So fuck all the bullshit/ Forget about the world/ Cause I don’t need a damn thing but my family, my friends and my girl.” Let’s be real, is there a better motto to live by when life is rearing its evil head? Do you, and don’t get caught up in the shit you can’t control. If you need a moment to just cool out and think about things if they aren’t going so well, put this on, you will feel better.
6. “Architect (feat. L05)”
The beginning of “Architect,” which features the infallible L05, is everything that Childish Gambino wishes he could do. Maybe I’m being too harsh, but it’s for comparative reasons, because “Architect” pours all over the listener with emotion and dreams that isn’t too showy or forced. Hir-O rattles and rolls with blippy synths that stutter, light cymbal tapping and a slow-moving piano melody that emulates the sounds of a high-rise hotel lobby or fancy restaurant. A more reserved Red Pill demonstrates his range perfectly on this track, and he reminds me of a hybrid between Slug and Blu. Don’t get me wrong though, Red Pill’s originality is too prominent for myriad comparisons; he’s totally his own.
7. “Waiting On A Train”
At this point in the album you’ve probably figured out that Hir-O likes to build up the beat, and that he’s damn good at it. This track has that build but it stays mellow to a certain degree. The small things such as cowbells and snare hits are what make this track from a musical perspective. Red Pill is at his most relatable talking about how hard it can be to get up and go about the daily routines of life that seem nothing short of monotonous. To a certain degree this song is somewhat of a downer. However, I find that hearing somebody talk about the feelings I have about procrastination and the struggle to get up every morning is uplifting, in that I know that at least there is somebody else out there that understands.
8. “Hir-O Told Me (feat. Greenlee)”
Through the cutting blue collar imagery, truth, speculations on life and “in-your-face this is reality feel” on The Kick, “Hir-O Told Me” is perhaps the one song that reminds us that hip-hop is also a space to let it all out, to rid ourselves of certain emotions and just go off. Guest feature Greenlee is a great addition and his line about “what the fuck yall know” wraps this whole song into context.
9. “The Second Kick”
Watch out y’all, here comes the interlude! Hand snaps and hand drums create a mood of reflection and confidence as Red Pill talks about self-determination and not getting down. The Kick deals with some heavy stuff and it’s always good to have a quick breather before jumping back into the fray.
10. “Best Rapper (feat. Ras Kente)”
One of the highlights of The Kick is its versatility. Between Hir-O’s range in exploration and Red Pill’s borderless flow, this record is confusing because each song could act as a lead-single in different hip-hop musical realms.
Continuing the cut-throat bombardment of “Hir-O Told Me” is “Best Rapper,” a definitive track with swing-funk riffs, oozing bass funk and a mesmerizing overdriven guitar coda. The production backing the verses is reminiscent of Blood Sugar Sex Magik-era Red Hot Chili Peppers, and boosting the song’s confidence is its lyrical setup: “I get em thinking that I’m corny as fuck/ And by the end you know that I tore the shit up.”
11. “Simple Words/ Nana”
“Simple Words” is that moment of vulnerability and honesty that distinguishes the MCs that take their craft seriously from those in the game just to say some battle rhymes and get out. If you have lost a loved one before, this song will put you back in that moment in time and wish for just another brief moment with that person just to say those simple words: “I miss you.” Following Red Pill’s moving verses, Hir-O keeps us in that place of reminiscence and momentary grief as the track rides out with a hard-hitting slow beat.
“Home” is as exotic as it is mystifying. The ambience flows in and out of the ears so effortlessly it almost throws you off as a listener. Red Pill’s front is displayed here, and for the first time it seems like Hir-O’s composition is laid out to merely parallel the spoken word. That is, until a beautiful breakdown that emotionally grips the senses. This leads to Red Pill slowing down, letting us delve into his mind for a bit. “For every time that I was taking bottles back just so I could take you out to eat,” he admits. “For every time we went to bed fully clothed after turning off that heat.”
“Home” could be considered a darkhorse, but I’ll leave that to the big name critics who think they’re “always right.” In each and every way, “Home” is the most emotional song, but Hir-O and Red Pill don’t just deliver it to you; they make you dig yourself, and damn is it gratifying.
13. “Michigan (feat. Jamall Bufford & Doss the Artist)”
There’s not much to say about this track other than that if you are from Michigan, you will be able to relate to this fiery track. Other than Red Pill, this track contains a verse from Jamall Bufford (FKA Buff 1 of Athletic Mic League) and Doss the Artist, both Michigan natives. Brimming with Michigan pride, you will appreciate this track if you are from the mitten. This track makes me proud of the hip-hop community of Michigan and to be able to call myself a Michigander. Let’s not forget Hir-O’s production on this fire-filled group celebration. There is a grooviness that incorporates that Motown, ride out feel in a way that someone who isn’t from Michigan simply couldn’t achieve.
14. “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien”
A conclusion you might not expect when you first turn on this cut. The beginning seconds are fluttery and airy, Dream Pop-like, and it also clinks with a backing banjo. When Red Pill opens over the percussion layout, you then realize just how accomplished this record is. The stuttering production and background synths and pads take you in a dream, and traveling over lit city streets at night, deep careening valleys with a city down below or the openness of space itself, “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” conjures up images of freedom and life, while also showing us the restriction of conclusion. For example, the high-rising sirens strewn over the track build until there is no more build left, and suddenly they cut and fade, representing a certain restriction we’re all faced with, offsetting the exploration of the synth-driven pads. It’s this little detail that gets me so wild about The Kick as a whole. Between Hir-O’s many sounds, rhythmic patterns, set-up and elastic range, and Red Pill’s many faces as an MC, The Kick brandishes multi-meanings and light & dark themes in individual songs. Allowing guest-spots and a free reign over many sounds, The Kick also represents hip-hop’s levels and branches.
We can talk about a record like Acid Rap or Nothing Was the Same all we want as listeners and students of hip-hop, but do those albums transverse as far into the culture as The Kick? Simply put: not even close.