Album Review: Kuniva – A History of Violence Vol. 2

by Apu

hiv

8/10

Coming back from doing a tour with a couple of his group members and stealing the show more often than not on D-12’s Devil’s Night Mixtape, Kuniva has gone solo again with the follow up to his official debut, A History of Violence. Released about a year later than originally planned, this project was pushed back until 2016 because of his work with D-12.

Before I go any further, I advise all 3 of you who are reading this to check my recap of A History of Violence (Vol. 1). I promise I’m not saying this [entirely] as a plug for views!

The first thing that can be said about this album is that overall, it is much more powerful than its predecessor. It’s evident even from the release of the lead single, “Dear Uncle”, that Kuniva approached making this album from a totally different perspective. It’s more heartfelt, thoughtful, and passionate. There’s nothing here that has the sort of carefree, almost ignorant attitude of “Born This Way” or “Where I’m From.” The entirety of the album is more mature and artistic. The two years Kuniva spent working on this left him a more seasoned artist, let alone emcee.

With this project, Kuniva put a larger focus on songwriting, more so than just rapping and lyricism. In fact, the straight “lyrical miracle” lyrics are less prevalent on many of the songs; for the most part, he opted towards writing songs with a message and focused less heavily on the rhymes and wordplay. That is probably my biggest gripe (well, actually, my only grip) with the album…and even then, it’s not really that big of an issue, because it’s not like Kuniva dumbed anything down, and there were still several instances where he did come with the battle lyricism that he’s known for. He’s shown the caliber of his lyricism on each of his previous projects, and just shifted focus on this. There was less room for it. He had something that he wanted to make sure he got across this time, and didn’t risk sacrificing the message with unnecessarily complex rhymes or metaphors.

The hooks are noticeably stronger, more present, and in many cases more melodic than they were on Kuniva’s previous material, which is artistic growth that I’m personally very glad to see. A stronger hook is what separates a good rap from a good song. He also started playing with his flow a bit. He had shown flashes of implementing double time flows on D-12’s comeback song “Bane” but since then kept it a little simpler on the D12 mixtape. However, from the very first track on this project onwards, we get to hear him weave in and out of different pockets in a way that I honestly didn’t expect. His flow has become crisper, and he’s managed to make it sound as though it’s both more precise and more relaxed at the same time.

Kuniva also started using his delivery to add to the buildup of his verses to give a more dynamic feeling towards the songs. On many of the tracks, he would start adding more of an edge to his voice as the verses went on, which helps keep the listener not simply engaged, but nearly clinging onto the words he’s saying. The majority of this album consists of very personal music, detailing the difficulties he’s had in his life as vividly as the best of them. His delivery matched the pain that is written so well that you would think he was sitting in a psychiatrist’s room recounting it as opposed to just rapping pre-written lyrics into a mic. I firmly believe that Kuniva’s delivery is one of the most impactful out right now. At times on this project his delivery, paired with the intensity of the stories he told in his lyrics, could figuratively kick you in the stomach.

My son’s looking up to me more, watching my every move,
Trying to mimic his dad, I try not to show him my tool,
He’s asking questions now, fuck I’m supposed to do?,
Finally told him what happened to Bugz and Uncle Proof,
The pain of explaining the real, leave you with screws loose,
To be able to watch your homie murdered on Youtube.
(Mama I Tried)

That’s not to say that the entire album is full of heavy subject matter. Songs like “Ride Slow,” “All I Know,” and “Trouble On My Mind” serve as Kuniva’s way of giving the listener something easier to listen to. At the same time, they still manage to capture the [relatively] lighter side to Kuniva’s life, rather than being just filler tracks for people who don’t want to listen to such serious music. They detail Kuniva’s life on the block, largely leaving aside the topics of personal strife and police brutality. They definitely don’t feel out of place though; in fact, they make the album feel more fleshed out. Block Symfany and Mr. Porter do a great job at offering production that flows well from track to track, and making each song settle in well. Each of these tracks, incidentally, are the only tracks with guest rappers on them. I personally feel as though Kuniva’s verses on these tracks vastly overtake the guest verses, who were strong in their own right. I do want to say that I’m relieved that the chemistry between Denaun and Kuniva still exists, and I look forward to the Brigade project that they announced in the outro of “Trouble On My Mind.”

The final track, “End of the Beginning,” has a small interlude between verses where Kuniva mentions how he’s found that people don’t really know that he’s his own person outside of D-12, and that he needs to show people who he is by himself. The production (offered by Block Symfany and Mr. Porter) help separate him from the devious D12 sound overall, and allow him to develop his own persona through his soul-bearing delivery and lyrics, which have become possibly the most vivid and deep out of anyone in his group aside from the obvious member. If there was something he could have released that would show people what he has to offer, this is it. This is the project that he needed to get people to stop using their bias against his group as a reason not to take him seriously. He succeeded in creating a cohesive project that puts on full display who he is as an artist and emcee. It is not a perfect album, but he has cemented who he really is behind his group persona, and he can keep building from there, which is what the phrase “end of the beginning” seems to imply.

Too often, you’ll see somebody release a sequel to an album and have it be essentially the same thing. No advancement in sound, no change in content…nothing different is offered. It’s basically just an excuse for an artist to not evolve and come with the cop-out of “but…but yeah but this is just the next part, it doesn’t make sense to change anything!” This album is a sequel done right. Kuniva uses this album as an opportunity to expand on what he was talking about in Vol. 1. He carries more of a narrative throughout it, aided by the interludes. It’s almost like he had the first disc serve as the prelude to his life story, where he gave bits and pieces, and he decided to dig deeper on this. While the lyricism may not be as complex, as a full body of work Vol. 2 absolutely dwarfs Vol. 1, and stands by itself as a great project.

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Retrospective Review: A History of Violence, by Kuniva

by Apu

HOV

On December 16, 2014, Kuniva released his official debut studio project, A History of Violence. It followed a long stream of mixtapes (Retribution, the Midwest Marauders series, and the Lost Gold mixtape). Unlike the music that was on the mixtapes, Kuniva used all original production (primarily handled by Block Symfany, a production team composed of Rio Da Ghost and T.Boyd out of Michigan), and made actual fleshed-out songs, rather than just long verses and freestyles. Overall, it’s a very solid solo offering. It set the stage for him to grow and dig deeper in his later material.

The best part of this project to me is how Kuniva put it together. It sort of sounds like he sequenced the album very deliberately. The first 4 tracks seem like they’re from the perspective of a younger, more rowdy Kuniva. Those tracks tend to celebrate the street life. It opens up with the posse cut “Michiganish”, featuring Aftermath artist Jon Connor, Mass Appeal’s Boldy James, and Detroit legend Guilty Simpson. It starts things off fairly simply, being a competitive cypher of sorts. The following few songs, “Born Like This”, “Where I’m From”, and “Baileys In Bangkok,” all have a similar sort of vibe. They’re cocky and rowdy. They sound a little ironic and tongue in cheek, almost as though Kuniva was trying to rap the way a younger kid would rap. The content and the way it’s done makes me think he was talking about the street life, from the perspective of a kid living it, rather than someone reflecting on it.

Then comes “Derty Headz”, which is a very powerful song dedicated to fans of his and D-12. It has an anthemic hook and verses that drop all sorts of history about his career. He talks about Proof recruiting him for the group, the beef they’ve had, and the adversity they’ve faced from within since Proof passed. This song is the major turning point in almost every way. Here, flashes of reflection and maturity start to show up. From track 6 onwards, it seems to shift to his perspective now as a man nearly 40 years old after having seen massive success with his group, mournfully reflecting on the hard times in life but looking ahead with a drive to keep moving now that he’s out. “Light Work” and “Where The Hoes @?”, both offer fiery production and strong verses delivered with the hunger and confidence of a man who has seen his fair share of hardship. The title track, which is quite possibly the most personal and poetic song Kuniva has ever released, has him speaking on his past up to the point when Proof was murdered in chilling, almost uncomfortably rich detail, his voice oozing pain over him reflecting on it, and the album ends on “Shoutout”, which sounds like where he’s at now, looking forward into the future with hope after everything he’s been through.

The music on this project is good. There’s no denying that Kuniva is a strong rapper and has been doing nothing but improving since D-12 World. His delivery has become a lot more convincing and his writing has gotten sharper. The production is great too. Block Symfany (and Enrichment, on the title track) were able to provide Kuniva with a backdrop that deviated from the typical D-12 sound. It gave Kuniva the chance to step out of that style and develop his own identity, which is something that he hasn’t had the chance to really do much in the past outside of his Retribution mixtape. I think the first half of the album is a little shaky and unfocused at points, but every song from “Derty Headz” onwards is great. The title track might be one of my favorites of the entire year of 2014, period.

However, what really makes the album good is how it lives up to its name of being a “history”. Kuniva put the album together to actually make it almost like a song-by-song history of his life, from rapping competitively at the Hip-Hop Shop and living in the streets, to when D-12 were at their peak, and ending it with an adult perspective on life. It’s really special, because oftentimes artists don’t do that kind of thing when putting their projects together. You generally hear about Kendrick and the like putting their albums together in a manner like that, but honestly, Kuniva managed to pull off an album concept as well as anybody else. Even if it wasn’t fully intentional, he still clearly had an idea of progressing the sound and content of the project in a way that made sense, as opposed to putting the songs together in an arbitrary order and releasing it onto iTunes. That, to me, is what really makes it good, and not just another hip hop album.