In 2020 it became apparent that life was really about opposites; a terrible year by every measure brought forth some of the best music that has been released in recent times. Across genres, last year represented a special moment, with notable work from the biggest musical acts on the planet. The flood of inspiration, like in the biblical holy book, fell to the known and the unheralded. Emerging from years of craft honing, introspection and a recent name change, the artist formerly known as YCG delivered a rap clinic with Good Enough?.
In a mere 11 tracks Kondé Oko spins an intricate rap odyssey that navigates his own battles with himself, getting laid and all the thrills and spills of being young and unhinged. The most remarkable thing on first listen, is the apparent ease at which KO performs famously daunting tasks. In just under half an hour, perhaps a testament to skill level as much as urgency of thought, Good Enough? manages to paint jarringly vivid trap scenes, showcase KO’s staggering production chops (Wusdawurd?, Pt.2 requires speaker treatment) and perhaps most importantly announces a talent long ignored.
A student of many crafts (with production, creative direction and sound engineering among a few of his known competencies) and a keen experimenter, the Kondé Oko way is self expression as art. Long time listeners will be familiar with his liberal yet masterful use of conversational samples, adding a certain welcome theatre to his bumping rap bumpers. A sort of hidden secret in rap circles, appreciated by those that know, KO is ready for his unveiling,
Shortly before Christmas I reached out to YCG, as I knew him at the time, hoping to get a few quotes to furnish this piece. As it was the season for giving, I got a little more than I expected. Over a half a dozen Facetime calls that probably combined for a few hours we discussed a mutual love for Mafeni, the importance of Earl Sweatshirt, the shifting perception of rap music in Nigeria and much more. In the midst of discussing what rap nerds are prone to do- who had the better verse on Pusha T’s now infamous Drug Dealers Anonymous for instance, we spoke about the new EP.
JA: Listening to the album/tape, I can’t help but feel like you’ve found your sound. The songs fluctuate in energy but there’s a coherence that shines through. Did it feel that way during the process?
KO: I wouldn’t say I’ve found my sound, I don’t believe in it. I think artists have styles and no matter what sound they operate in, they’ll still sound like themselves. I definitely had a feeling I wanted to channel on this project though, so knowing all the songs tied into a single vision to someone else makes feel like I hit it.
KO: Nothing that wasn’t already planned, honestly. I think the name just helped it seem like a visible step for myself internally. I don’t want to give anything away on what it means for the sound. That said, the music I’m making now is a lot more in line with where I’m at mentally than sonically.
JA: We all went through periods in 2020 where it was tough, damn near impossible, to create, how did you overcome that?
KO: Very privileged statement loading but 2020 has been my best year as a creative. I had months with nothing to do but create or go crazy. I wish I had something helpful to say but I probably welcomed quarantine a lot quicker than other people because I genuinely would rather be by myself.
JA: Would you say the tape’s title has anything to do with your music’s reception (or lack of) till date?
JA: What would you like this tape to say, if it’s possible for albums in this age to have a singular message?
KO: I honestly think the project speaks for itself, and I think it’s certain discussions to be had but I can’t tweet about it like I’m pressed. So if I come with a project like this and it’s still radio silence, what else?
JA: It’s very popular to hear people talk about what qualifies as “real rap”. I myself have these conversations, who would you say you rap for? And how does that show up in your process?
KO: I’ve been rapping for myself only. I think it’s great that it’s connected with people but I’m genuinely making music for myself to enjoy. It’s why I’ve been so invested in every step of the process because I don’t care if it’s a good song nearly as much as I care about making what I want to hear.
On Good Enough? razor-sharp wordplay meets self awareness, evidenced as the tape transitions from breezy anthems about youthful anxiety to jolting politically-charged fighting songs. H1 N1, blessed by a ridiculous Baby Brit feature, is just the right combination of energetic and catchy; a sleeper gem that turn up playlists are built on. On Edgewood, KO brings mosh energy with a track that packs as much punch as it does verse. Everything, the EP’s outro reveals the more noir, pensive reaches of the KO range, a bag the rapper has long revelled in.
By the time I was done poring through my (mental and written) notes from our conversations all I could think about was the journey. Kondé Oko music, like all the best rap, is for the bumpy, unpredictable trip that is life. Despite contending with weighty topics of youth, the isolation of a global pandemic and stubborn industry resistance to his art, the EP soars. A talent as witty as he is thoughtful, there are many reasons to get excited about what is to come next from the elusive lyricist.