“Death Is Silent”, the path to a slow death
APOS Music / QN5 Music, 2010
“Kno, the architect of the Cunninlynguists”
The Cunninlynguists have established themselves as a must-see underground group of the 2000s, and all the Hip Hop heads nostalgic for the great Golden Age period have found solace in immersing themselves in this young group with a relatively 90s approach. Even though they are not fundamentally rooted in the boom bap, their style delights fans of that bygone era with quality work, while also satisfying listeners of the 2000s.
I’ve always been a big fan of this Kentucky band and each album was a surprise to me as their discography is evolving while keeping a trademark of their own, partly thanks to the prodigious work of producer Kno and his marked tendency for melancholy. Will Rap For Food had a rather traditional approach for an underground album, living from their passion, simply to eat, as its name indicates, without much pretension of commercial success. Southernunderground, on the other hand, offers sounds more rooted in the South with the musical creativity of Outkast, a definite source of inspiration for the group. The band will continue on conceptual albums with A Piece of Strange and Oneirology, respectively an album based on sin and the other on dreams, perfect concept for Kno’s melancholy. I voluntarily omit Dirty Acres which, although very qualitative, is not, in my opinion, the most interesting of the band. Each of the albums could be analyzed in detail so much the work of the group is prodigious, but each thing in its time.
“The autumnal album”
A few days before the Day of the Dead, and incidentally Halloween, it is the perfect time to dive back into the solo work of the famous producer of the Cunninlynguists with Death Is Silent. Summer is behind us, the sun sets earlier and earlier, the evenings become quieter, the smell of rain intoxicates our lungs, the trees start to shed their leaves to create a brown carpet on our floors. Autumn takes us into a form of sadness that makes the transition between the joy of summer vacations and the end of the year celebrations by the fire.
I insist on this autumnal period because the listening experience is so important for an album like this. Each album has its moment, it is not an album to be listened to during the beautiful sunny afternoons of summer or the good mood of spring. Those who know the album will know what I’m getting at. Sit quietly on your couch, and do nothing but let yourself be intoxicated by the sadness of this album. But be careful, don’t get too depressed while listening either, it can be dangerous, so much so that it will put you in a funk and put you in a depressed state that is hard to get out of.
“Kno’s melancholic genius in the service of death”
Death Is Silent is without a doubt the darkest and saddest album I’ve ever listened to, and indeed, it’s a concept album about death as the name suggests. Death is definitely silent when Kno takes it over, all joy, all cheerfulness, all hope are annihilated, reduced to nothing to slowly sink into sadness and melancholy.
As we know, Kno has a very melancholic tendency, the conceptual theme will not arrange things, and it will even add sadness. Each of the tracks takes a theme related to death with the emotions that go with it. The introduction sets the mood with an eerie production of incessant drums and a dull bell-like sound, accompanied by distant whispered and resonant voices, and weeping at the end of the track. A church atmosphere that announces the beginning of a funeral.
Throughout the album, the production freezes in place. An incredibly dark, sad and gloomy atmosphere reigns on this album, which has the ability to melt the most insensitive and coldest of us. The whole is accompanied by strange voices and lyrical choruses that come to intermingle in the productions not to arrange the sinister atmosphere, like the chorus of La Petite Mort or Rhythm of The Rain. Kno uses slow and melodious rhythms, with a calm and haunting tendency, and a beautiful use of string. As usual, he draws his inspiration from both Rock and Folk, but for this album, we find the darkness of a Mobb Deep and a DJ Muggs reunited, without the aggressive side and while bringing a lot of melody and melancholy worthy of the lyrical songs.
“A black theme for an avalanche of dark emotions”
Although Kno only raps infrequently with the Cunninlynguists, he demonstrates here that he is largely capable of both writing and performing on the mic. Lyrically, in addition to being sad and melancholy, he includes unsuspected rhyme schemes with double meanings and metaphors. In fact, I’m not sure Kno wrote it all himself, but that’s not necessarily what you’d expect from him, and the lyrics are very qualitative and remain deeply rooted in the theme. While he narrates the death of his grandfather on If You Cry, he describes his own end in a pictorial way on I Wish I Was Dead, accompanied by Tonedeff. Spread Your Wings is about his experience with abortion. In this deep darkness, the album concludes on a slightly more optimistic note with Not At The End before philosophizing on the very meaning of death and the importance of death in existence on the final note, The New Day.
I won’t describe in detail the content of each of the tracks, the titles of the songs are almost enough by themselves, and even when we have the impression to catch a glimpse of a good mood with Smile (They Brought Your Coffin In), the second part of the track lets us know that we shouldn’t smile too much after all, even if it suggests that death is a deliverance. With its psychedelic and frightening production, this interlude with its deep vocal honors Kno’s Machiavellian production genius. Graveyard with its almost upbeat and cheerful atmosphere is all the more demonic when you listen to the lyrics.
“An interpretation that hardly grasps Kno’s musical depth”
As a producer, he naturally gets some help on this album, with participation from fellow Cunninlynguists Deacon The Villain and Natti, in addition to the group’s recurring collaborators, Tonedeff and Tunji. The rappers all do a great job with calm, clear flows that blend in just about well with the slow beats. The low, rocky vocals provide an interesting contrast by bringing some toughness. The writing is remarkable and is probably, along with the production, the greatest strength of the album.
Yet Kno has this ability to create productions that could almost stand on their own, an instrumental album would probably have worked very well too. Kno himself and his guests only partially manage to seize the musical depth created by the producer in the interpretation, the rap hardly bends to the exercise, even if they succeed, with the beauty of the lyrics, to pay tribute to this sad melancholy. There is definitely something missing in the rappers’ interpretation, probably sadness and emotion. The plaintive songs with moving voices are poignant enough to, in part, correct this imperfection.