by Jeremy Winslow (@_pbnjer)
The YouTube algorithm introduced me to Kota the Friend. “For Colored Boys,” the seventeenth track off his debut studio album, Foto, was recommended to me, as I usually have a nondescript “lofi 24/7” playlist running in the background while writing. After three previous projects, Foto sees Kota at his most laid back, most vulnerable, most inspiring. While Foto clocks in at 19 tracks, the messaging reads loud and clear: the album is various snapshots of Kota‘s life, an endearing invitation to the mind and mood of the NYC MC.
Album opener “Full Bloom” is a slow burner, a monologue from an Uncle Phil-type reminiscing about time over scattered saxophone. “It’s your turn to rise up, it’s on you / So what you gon’ do with it?” Kota’s response, uttered just moments after the monologue concludes and threaded throughout the entire project, is acceptance and love. “We from the Earth / They couldn’t buy me, a n*gga know what he worth / I’m the product of the sun, rain, and dirt / My garden is in full bloom.” He uses the garden image expertly across the tape to illustrate what self-love looks like. Gardens don’t happen overnight, but with enough patience the flowers bloom fully in time.
For an hour, Foto flows like the gentle whisk of a breeze or the soft lapping of the waves. The project features mellow soundscapes with similar cadences to Australian producer Origami Beats, a carefully-curated selection of jazzy, lo-fi hip-hop replete with fuzzy static and spacious melodies (the only thing missing is an anime GIF plastered overtop). Songs like “Birdie” and “Chicago Diner” see Kota waxing poetic about unconditional love over simplistic, ear-worm beats of sparse production. Elsewhere, tracks like “Bagels” and “Sedona” show Kota openly confronting his struggles with depression, inviting us to listen in on his therapy sessions. Evidently, there’s plenty of wisdom to glean from Foto and thankfully, the whole project is so relaxing that it’s easy to comb through every detail with multiple listens.
Kota called Foto a photo album. “I want people to feel like they’re flipping through pages of my life,” he told HxppyThxxghts. “I’m snapping vivid pictures with the lyrics.” With seven of the 19 tracks having accompanying videos of Brooklyn and street functions and backyard kickbacks (and lyrics for convenient sing-a-longs while watching), Foto not only looks the part but acts the part. There’s a palpable, tear-jerking sentimentality to each track Kota presents, each bar Kota spits, each memory Kota confronts. With each song, Foto asks to reflect with Kota, not just on his life but on ours too. Through Kota the Friend, through Foto, we’re learning to candidly confront our own fears and aspirations because, like the NYC MC raps on “Koala,” “Every year is ‘bout the growth.”