Bar Exam: KHAM – Problematic (First Listen Album Review)
I first heard Kham on Adriansings’ album 1994, and even then I valued the way that he can command a track. I’m happy to review his debut album today, just after Culture Villains announced their partnership with Amplify/RMG. It’s clear that Kham’s got a lot going for him, let’s dive into his music.
For those of you unfamiliar with my bar exams, I am sharing all of my notes from my true first listen to the project. I provide in-depth thoughts and commentary on anything from flows, rhymes, beats, creative direction, track placement, and concepts.
Elementary – At the top we’re greeted by swelling digital sounds like a robot is waking up and getting ready to take over the world. Kham is walking us through his school days. “If it’s real let me know.” There’s a lot of production on his voice in spots. Some doubling and some textures that make him sound bionic. The song slows down and turns into an interlude at the last minute.
L00k – That track hands off well into this one. The beat is scooping underneath the vocals that are layered upon each other. The instrumental has a lot of space to it in the verse. Kham’s flow on it is nice and easy.
“Me and all my bros like to start convos/act like adults ya’ll too childish/bills got due dates car high mileage/
No transmission yet I’m driving/ya’ll boys funny trying to be reknown great Gambino ain’t that childish”
He sounds dope, and I love the way this flow fits well with everything that’s happening. I’m just not sure he needed to use the word “childish” twice in this scheme (I probably don’t have all the lyrics correct, I apologize.) The theme of the chorus resembles track one, with the teacher/school concepts. The sounds used musically so far have a futuristic vibe, but if they stay this way, I’m gonna get tired real quick.
Recognize – Spooky introduction. I really like the slow burn on the music here. “One man after God no facade yuh/I see many faking praise with applauds yuh.” His command on this track is off the charts. The instrumental ebbs and flows along with his emotions. Verse two!! Sheesh… he’s dropping combos and for a left hook he changes the style for a few bars. Sometimes when the production does too much with the emcee’s voice it can ruin a moment, but for this song, I really feel like that moment elevated it even more.
GRIT – Begins with a high pitched loop sounding like a fire alarm going off. This one has that big sound that doesn’t let up. Kham is so comfortable in the booth, he’s like a seasoned veteran. Here he’s showing off ad-libs and his versatile styles. Shifting to falsetto for the last line of a rhyme is really tough to pull off but he does it. “If you ain’t improving homie you losing” As far as performances go, this is dope. I got a little fatigued with the beat staying at the same level for most of the song.
Problematic – The feel here at the start is far different from the last track, giving my ears a break. Idk why I keep saying futuristic and bionic, it’s just that some of these synth and bass patches sound to me like they’re from the TRON soundtrack. I appreciate the consistency when it comes to the overall sound of the project though. Another thing to enjoy here is how he’s not content with keeping the same textures throughout each song. For example, the last song didn’t change up much, but this one continues to evolve. Great moves to keep the listener engaged.
THUG – These tracks are quick. They come and go in a blink. Six tracks in and there’s not been a feature yet. Kham is able to bring so much personality to the mic, that’s not even something I miss up to this point. He’s got presence and charisma, and various styles that he’s perfected so pressing play on this project is like enjoying a very fulfilling buffet.
Botham – “What’s a good time for a black man in America/What’s a free life when you gotta hide cuz they scared of ya.” He’s addressing racism and the climate we’re dealing with right now. Kham’s taking a step back to show what these events and the unnecessary loss of black lives mean for him. He’s listing people who have lost their lives to police officers. Atatiana Jefferson, Jamarion Robinson, Philando Castile… etc. It’s a deep and emotional tune. Best on the album.
Never Had – Here are the features! The beat and the flow drop in at the same time to start off the song. “Nothing is new on the face of the planet.” Big bass with music box-like chimes and horn samples really add to what the artists are able to bring. This song SLAPS. Kham, CZAR Josh, and J. Crum bring various styles to the table with their flows. They all bleed into each other and complement each other so well. Phil J’s hook sounds perfect. There’s a lot of room underneath the vocals. This song is sonically the best as far as mix, production choices, and performance.
“Treat a beat like target practice this my bow and arrow/Every weapon formed against me turned to bone marrow/
This for every Sunday that His eye been on the sparrow/Make another legacy refined under God’s mantle”
Uhaul – More digital textures on this intro, and Kham’s vocals on the hook to start out are very autotuned and falsetto. The flow is slower and relies on pauses to bring the lyrics and punchlines out. It’s also very melodic, almost Xay Hill-like.
“I put my dreams up in a uhaul had to skirt/I spent too much time trying to fix things that won’t work”
Harmony – This beat has like an Outkast flavor to it. It’s like southern boom-bap if that makes sense. The vocals are clean, and the handoff from the verse to the hook by Stephanie Nicole is seamless. This song is constructed well, but at this point, it’s not really poppin’ for me. The second verse picks up a little bit of energy when Kham digs into his vocals and some effects are added.
Wright Way Freestyle – He’s talking about his focus, how he’s been overlooked and growing as he navigates staying hungry in his craft. It’s a reflective track that shows Kham is grateful for where he’s been but is pushing hard for the promise of a bright future that will be here before he knows it.
To conclude, this is an incredible debut album from Kham. It’s got depth, good production, and great performances throughout. Sonically, I was ready to reach another level in my listening experience, as I got a little weary of a similar feel to the instrumentals. It’s great that it all feels congruent and that it belongs together, but too much of it being similar can wear a person out.
I was really impressed with Kham’s flows, his style, and creativity when it came to the overall crafting of each song but I just wish the production matched what he was able to bring. These things caused me to slump in a few areas of the project. While some places I noted that the production was able to enhance his performance in certain spots, which gave us some real bangers…on the whole, I feel like the production lessened the replay value of the project for me.
Overall Rating: At The Bar
Honestly, it’s trending up – there’s just some room for growth in a couple of areas that I’m excited to see happen in the future. Props to Kham on a solid album.