14KT: Nickel & Dimed
Mello Music Group

Nickel & Dimed is a splendid, fifty-seven-minute collection of sample-heavy boom-bap from Kendall Tucker aka 14KT. Associated with Michigan hip-hop outfit Athletic Mic League, Tucker caught listeners' ears with his 2008 debut solo LP The Golden Hour [Soundtrack] and four years later with A Friendly Game Of KT. His latest follows an opening song with fourteen instrumentals and then bonus vocal versions of six instrumentals, and his crate-digging skills are used to good effect throughout, with the producer working into his cuts a broad range of vocal and instrumental samples, some of them recognizable (“‘Toris” includes a John McLaughlin acoustic guitar flurry from Birds of Fire's “Miles Ahead,” for example) but many suitably obscure.

Tucker opens the album by featuring his own MC turn on “Five & Ten,” and he does a more-than-credible job, even if the tune's primary ear-catcher is its greasy, snake-oil guitar riff. The album's instrumental side gets underway when “RightSo” drops a huge beat under the track's radiant keyboard phrases, which “Imonit!” quickly boosts with its own Dilla-fied pulse and tinkling synth swirls and vocal accents. At times, Nickel & Dimed plays like 14KT's own Donuts, with tracks such as “Lincoln Lux,” with its loping groove and soulful vocal snippets, calling to mind J Dilla's classic set (for the record, Tucker's described Dilla as his favourite producer and his unofficial “musical mentor”).

Tucker's the kind of imaginative producer and skilled beatmaker who can take a cheesy sample and spin it into gold once he's done adding beats to it. In that regard, the punchy throwdown “Streamin'” sees a snare's mighty slap and somersaulting kick drums powering gurgling synths and wordless vocals, while “Rosey Posey” does much the same by undergirding ‘80s-styled synths with an enticing boom-bap swing. Real-world concerns come into play during “Packin' Heat,” which mourns the ever-growing body count associated with gun culture, and the album title itself references the degree to which artistic creativity is undervalued and poorly compensated. But there are moments of hilarity, too, especially in the lead-in to, ahem, “‘Toris” and its discussion about a particular female body part.

More than anything, the bonus vocal versions show how well cuts like “Imonit” lend themselves to vocal treatments: with Blu on the mic, “PAID” becomes even more wild and anthemic; “‘Toris” gets a soulful and funky burst from the addition of AB; and Black Milk & MED add urgency to the already urgent “Crown.” But it's the instrumentals that argue most powerfully on 14KT's behalf, especially when their boom-bap and loping grooves are as potent as they are on Nickel & Dimed.

October 2013