Underground rap hero Kublakai has a new EP out called Wheels Up. It is, by far, his most personal piece of work and, probably not incidentally, his best.
Over the course of nearly a decade, the rapper has become proficient at riding a beat — technically he’s on par with the best in town, dropping earnest bars that fall in line with the Grieves and Macklemores of the region. He does similar things lyrically on Wheels Up, but the difference here is that nothing sounds forced. In the past, some of Kubi’s Golden Era-influenced boom-bap was formulaic: one part 16 struggle bars, one part break beat, one part sticky hook.
It was his fun-loving persona, sense of humor and outright dedication to the hip-hop craft that kept Kubi from sinking to the middle of the backpacker pack. Not to say 206UP doesn’t fuck with the classic formula, but things were generally predictable, musically, when it came to a new Kublakai joint.
With Wheels Up, the MC allows his affinity for jazz to rise more prominently to the surface. It shows in the freewheeling nature of “Moan” (named for the artist’s all-time favorite song, “Moanin’,” by Charles Mingus). Likewise, the vibe on the standout party starter “Morning Light” is looser. Kub’s still in the pocket, but he’s letting out — emotionally, physically — more than he’s drawing in. Call this his Waiting to Exhale moment.