Let me save you some suspense: Ravi’s latest EP does almost nothing for me. Yes, there are those who will fall at his feet because he’s done a barely passable job of imitating the quasi-gangster persona that a lot of younger trap rappers (who were neither born in the trap, nor in North Carolina or Atlanta) throw around. It’s unavoidable. This style of hip-hop appeals to a lot of people who think they’re getting a taste of the real “Dirty Sawt.” (I’ll spare you the disappointment. You’re not.) This brand of gutter rap works for a lot of people. It just doesn’t for me. With that in mind, unpacking “KITCHEN” was a practice in patience.
I’ll spare a small note for the music: it’s uninteresting and runs the same aural narrative throughout: faux-trap beats that are hollow and have very little in the way of originality. “K1THCEN” makes use of the same construction with little variance and it does less to differentiate one song from the next.
PAYBACK (feat. Coogie)
From note one, Ravi sets himself up of some sort of Don of the streets. His voice is resonant, the depth of his pitch causing a bit of reverberation in the ear and stinging in the chest. Beyond that, there’s very little to take away. Ultimately what we have is a song about a man demanding that somebody pay him back what he believes is owed to him. He attempts to be bold from the very first track, talking about touching pockets while not really understanding the ramifications of doing just that with very little backup except his feature, Coogie — who proclaims himself to be an “ATM trap daddy” (commence the heavy eye rolling). The metaphor is uninspiring, the act of claiming somebody owes him a debt and he’s come to collect. He speaks of a line of credit, both figuratively and literally: “Even my lyrics, inspiration and world is on your credit.” From the aggression of “PAYBACK” and throughout, Ravi seems to want listeners to believe that he’s ready to fight anybody in these streets for what he deserves, including respect as a lyricist. Whoever got on Ravi’s bad side has apparently upset the beast, or so we’re being led to believe.
For a song with a name that suggests a match between Ravi and an opponent of equal division, “Sparring” does nothing to illustrate the actual power behind any of his words. It’s a droning piece of music that buzzes with an unsettling irritation in the ear. Not to say that music can’t be challenging to the senses. Some of the best music pushes your tolerance level for disparate sounds and alarming peaks of feedback (see artist Clarence Clarity). It can be both an intellectual and aural exploration of how sound works. However, there’s nothing in “Sparring” that suggests Ravi intended to subvert the mechanics of melody and sound to force his listener to consider the intellectual weight of his lyricism and production. As with 80 percent of the album, it’s all a lot of overblown puffery about his supposed untouchable hustle, how he works harder than most, making his bed the sofa in the studio.
This song more, than the others, makes it distressingly difficult to take Ravi seriously as a rapper. Even the delivery gets sloppy toward the end. Perhaps this is a bit of imagery on his part, taking enough body blows to the point of being wobbly on his feet, his timing painfully off. But to be honest it just adds to a list of things that makes his turn as a rapper so frustrating: all that intellect with a thin semblance of originality and unappealing delivery. “Sparring” is a short song, indicative of all sparring matches (short battles with either a rival or someone in your squad to ensure your skills are sharp), so there’s not much to take away from it.
FRYPAN (feat. Double K & Microdot)
Just so we’re clear, though I doubt anyone close to Ravi’s (or that of any up-and-coming South Korean rapper) camp will care, using the drug and trap cultures to define one’s work ethic doesn’t make one any more believable as a rapper. Attempting to sell an image of yourself by perpetuating imagery and ideas you know nothing about does more to irritate than convince that you’re as hard as you think you are.
Thus we get to “FRYPAN.” The metaphor is an obvious one, which is most likely the point. Ravi is comparing his studio to a “kitchen.” When I say obvious, nobody is trying to actually introduce the conceit with any subtlety. Double K quite literally says, “My studio is my kitchen,” while Microdot spits rapid-fire uninspiring quips about him being a world-class chef in the studio: “Cut the sashimi and pour all the ingredients. I’m a chef, no amateur.” Ravi himself opens the song proclaiming he’s mixing ingredients in such a way his customers (fans) come from far and wide (“Korea, China, Japan, West”) to pay top dollar for what he’s cooking. So profound is his pen, his studio has three Michelin stars.
PAVLOV’S DOG (feat. Cold Bay & Basick)
Unsurprisingly, “PAVLOV’S DOG” is the most interesting track in terms of carrying a metaphor. An unexplained instinct drives him to stay in the studio and create. No matter how far he moves away from the studio, from his pen, he always ends up coming back, without thinking about it. The song is also the most distinct in terms of composition. It’s more melodic, his voice clearer. There’s still a bit of a harder edge even in the lighter fare, but the song is less about posturing. Ravi gives listeners more to grasp onto, more of what makes him who he is. While he still uses ridiculous vocal effects (mainly the Birdman chirp younger K-hip-hoppers are so in love with, and barking sounds that are more Clifford the Big Red Dog than DMX), at the very least it’s less boisterous than what preceded.
The song’s placement is odd. On an EP that’s mostly about flexing one’s testicular prowess with over-the-top and uninspiring production and lyrical content that forces listeners to stretch their suspension of disbelief until it damn near snaps, “PAVLOV’S DOG” is an anomaly. It gives listeners a break, cleanses the palette before going back to more of the same.
From “PAVLOV’S DOG,” there seems to be a turn composition-wise. The music’s far less unnecessarily aggressive and more about giving Ravi room to put his lyricism and delivery on display. It’s certainly appreciated, if for nothing else to give the ear a break. In that vein, “Scarynightt” takes a more subdued approach musically. This suggests that Ravi is actually starting to open up and be himself. Push aside the facade and give us something honest.
But then … oh then … Autotune.
Oh, mine longtime enemy. You’re back again, imposing your dated warped and warbled nonsense.
I want desperately to believe Ravi’s conviction. He certainly is passionate. No one can doubt that. He seems to have so much to get off his chest. Unfortunately, that determination manifests itself in put-on attempts at “badassery” and sprinkling swear words throughout to prove just how hard-core he is. Combined with a few growls and screams to paint a picture of someone in a nightmare, and “Scarynightt” is another stab of disappointment in an album that seemed to make a turn for the more earnest at its end.
The album closes with track “SHOT.” What appears to be just another attempt at Ravi to paint himself as some sort of lyrical mob boss turns out to be a song depicting the rise and fall of two people in love. As with “PAVLOV’S DOG,” the title and conceit do more work to explain the narrative. The obvious story is simple enough. Ravi and his love interest gave each other a shot, proclaiming to love each other, but in the end, Ravi gets a shot in the heart when eventually his significant other doesn’t reciprocate. However, “SHOT” presents multiple layers. It’s not a stretch to infer that he’s also talking about his career as an artist. He’s given this shot to be part of the industry. He gives himself a shot at this lifestyle. His music gives him a shot of adrenaline and inspiration but in the same breath shoots him down from his own pedestal of accomplishment. Critics (like me, as it were) and anti-fans shoot away at his self-confidence, strangling him with his own insecurities.
The sound of gunshots (another unoriginal try at feigned toughness) notwithstanding, “SHOT” is very obviously the most personal piece on the album. He does away with the unnecessary ministrations that try to sell an image that just doesn’t work.
Ravi is … hard for me. On the one hand, I get it, he’s only imitating his favorite rappers, from a very newer school who use a growl but horribly illegible flow to make some sort of ironic point about hip-hop’s origins. Bottom line, I don’t buy Ravi as a rapper. More than his delivery, which in my estimation is painfully derivative, the lyricism when he’s trying to perpetuate this affected “gangsta” persona is just unbearably inauthentic. No one who actually knows anything about hip-hop or has grown up in the lifestyle he pretends to represent will believe he’s cooking anything up in his “frypan,” nor are his cohorts in features running anybody’s streets. Legitimately, there were moments throughout this mixtape where my eye was twitching uncontrollably from having to swallow whatever it was Ravi was trying to feed me.
But here’s where things get complicated. When he actually stops wearing this rapper costume, peels back the layers and reveals the complexity in his personality and his intellect, we get some truly impressive lyricism and a more natural flow, as in “PAVLOV’S DOG” and to a certain extent bonus track “SHOT.”
Do yourself a favor, Ravi. Drop the act and give us something we can believe in. Be yourself and stop wearing this cloak of dirty hip-hop. You’ve got an emotional core that does so much more to sell your authenticity as a rapper than whatever overexaggerated image of hip-hop you’re trying to perpetuate.
(Images via Jellyfish Entertainment, YouTube , pop!gasa, Soundcloud.)