On his sophomore album, Incognito, lyrical swordsman K.J. continues to show why Div7ne records is one of the hottest crews in hip-hop right now. Through shiny instrumental pockets and the New York native’s profound appreciation for hip-hop, K.J. delivers an experience that respects the origins of the art form and pushes it forward.
Welcoming us into the record through a lavish instrumental and technically proficient bars, “Silent Threat” sets the tone for what’s to come masterfully. This wordplay-drive lyrical monologue lets us understand what lit the spark within the upcoming MC’s heart, and hearing him talk about his skills behind the mic and the dreams he’s making his reality is quite inspiring. From here, the record continues to pick up with the song “Mr. Incognito.” Just as K.J. calls Marvin Gaye on of his influences, he samples his legendary track “I Want You,” which Kendrick Lamar also sampled on “The Heart Part 5.” With K.J.’s lyrical prowess rolling over this smooth but commanding jazz instrumental, this moment proves just how wide his skill range is. In the second half of this song, we are looped into another musical world that feels even more intimate and pristine, and within this section of the track, K.J. shows us his introspective side as he reveals to us some of his more personal thoughts.
With the opening tracks on this album selling us on everything we need to know about K.J., “’76 Cadillac Coupe” keeps the momentum rolling. Over a faint but glamorous loop, K.J. reveals to us more about his character including how he’s combated the worst of experiences and how he’s survived in a world of posers.
Over a beautiful soul sample beat, “Reina Canela Pt.1 & 2,” K.J. gives us one of the more lyrically fleshed-out tracks on the record in terms of storytelling as he talks about a relationship he’s had. From the highs and lows of this relationship, K.J.’s narration ability being on full display allows for us to see how good of a storyteller he really is. From the instrumental choices to the way he uses the song’s two halves to expand the track in different ways, this song is a defining moment on the record and one in K.J.’s musical journey to this point. Following this song, “Pimp Slap” is a much simpler cut as it’s just another lyrical exercise on this lp. The sequencing of these tracks was well curated as it eases the tension after one of the album’s most topically rich moments.
Over a minimalistic key-driven instrumental loop, “40s & Shorties” is a cut that puts you into the shows of K.J. From what sounds like the shaking of a glass in the background of the beat to K.J.’s words which he delivers with so much tension, this is one of the albums most pivotal moments in terms of getting to understand the personal side of K.J. After a skit at the tail end of the track we see K.J. team up with fellow Div7ne member Ja’King the Divine for the angelic “Kamikaze.” As these two trade bars back and forth over the soulful horns of this moment, they show why the movement they have been taking over hip hop with is so important to the future of the culture.
After this high point on the album, things continue to stay at this level of quality with “Kool Like Herc.” Over an upbeat soul sample beat, K.J.’s fast-paced cadence runs laps around this beat. As things seem like they can’t get better, “Black Fist” raises the bar even higher. Over an instrumental which feels pristine and polished with all of its subtle detailing, K.J.’s “message to the masses” about racism in America makes for such an important moment.
Serving as one of the most inspirational moments on the record, “The World is Mine” is another firey anthem filled with empowering lyrics and a hypnotizing instrumental loop. Following this track, “Royal Flush” is another enjoyable song that is dominated by K.J.’s commanding energy and presence. Throughout every track on the project, K.J.’s passion behind everything he’s doing shines light onto whoever is listening on the other end, and this is especially reflected on this cut.
Being another one of the project’s most personal tracks, “Memory Lapse,” shows K.J. looking back into an array of memories throughout his life ranging from family to watching Saturday morning cartoons. Between this track’s ominous instrumental and the raw emotion that’s sprinkled throughout K.J.’s vivid storytelling, this song truly feels like we are looking through the upcoming MC’s photobook, and it thrives because of this.
As we reach the albums closing leg, “The Undisputed Black Man” begins to bring the album’s themes full circle. K.J.’s technical strength shines through here, and the outro skit flows into the final track, “Fatality, The Final Blow,” seamlessly. Being K.J.’s second collaboration with Ja’King the Divine, this track further builds their collaborative chemistry as they trade wisdom-filled verses over production that is just as angelic and soulful as the rest of the album’s best moments.
Walking away from this experience and it’s safe to say that Incognito is an exceptional body of work filled with musical beauty and topical richness. From the lyrical skill to the pristine soundscape, K.J. shows off what makes him so special as an MC.
Listening to both this album and Ja’King the Divine’s Black Sun Tzu, another aspect that is on full display is how good Div7ne records as a whole is when it comes to creating concepts and sticking to themes. From Ja’King’s album feeling like a Samurai Cartoon to the Incognito feeling like a 70s movie, the ability this crew has to create distinct worlds in their music is brilliant.
Going forward, I am now a big fam of K.J. and the entire Div7ne records movement and you should be too!