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Kevin Gates’ Islah

Paul carbonella

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Music is nothing new for Kevin Gates. The Lousiana-born rapper and singer has been pushing out a steady flow of mixtapes since 2006, but didn’t really capture significant attention outside of Lousiana until 2013’s The Luca Brasi Story. Since then, Gates has captured major attention, gaining major popularity with his 2015 single, “I Don’t Get Tired,” which charted on Billboard’s Top 200. Last week, Gates finally released his debut studio album in a decade-long career, Islah. Not only is Islah a culmination of sounds that Gates has developed over such a long span, but it is also Gates’ first viable shot at mainstream success.

Kevin Gates (photo obtained via Facebook)

Kevin Gates (photo obtained via Facebook)

Gates’s music is fundamentally his own — other than some aesthetic elements, he doesn’t take many cues from rap’s current tastemakers. His sense of melody coupled with effective songwriting sets him apart from the rest, sometimes recalling 2005-era 50 Cent. His latest single, “2 Phones” features a reverb-washed backbeat and the distinctive chorus, “I got two phones/ One for the plug and one for the load,” which is perhaps the thesis statement of Islah — the attempt to subscribe to the demands placed upon him by newfound success, while also separating himself from other artists.

Kevin Gates also demonstrates some powerful technical ability on tracks like “Time for That,” utilizing some unique flows. He is an incredibly diverse rapper, able to deliver both emotional appeal as well as viable pop hits, able to make hits for rap purists as well as the crossover market. “Really Really,” or “Kno One” are strong examples over this, showing Gates’ affinity for strong choruses and accessible verses, while tracks like “The Truth” may be enjoyed by hardcore rap fans. Similar to one of hip-hop’s current hit-makers, Future, Gates can reach both hip-hop fans and pop-rap audiences.

Islah’s crossover appeal does not end with rap either. “Jam,” featuring Trey Song, Ty Dolla $ign, and Jamie Foxx, is a pure modern R&B track, and perhaps where Gates shines best as a feature rapper, the soft beat complimenting the harshness that his voice and lyrical content can sometimes display.

One of the strongest elements of Islah is its production. Gates truly has an ear for beats which compliment his melodic verses, favoring echoing, almost disorienting dark instrumentals. Up-and-coming producers like Beat Zombie and Red On The Track, which have several cuts on the record, show strong ability to capture the subtler elements of Gates’ sound throughout the record.

Overall, Kevin Gates’ Islah is a promising debut record from a musician that shows real artistic and commercial promise. He manages to balance a fine line, which is often difficult for rappers at his level to discover, — which is the ability to be accessible while not compromising lyrical or artistic ingenuity. It’s impossible to tell where Gates’ work can go from here, but Islah is certainly a good record for breaking into mainstream audiences in a significant way.

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Kevin Gates’ Islah