COMPARISONS TO Kanye West aside, there’s flair here. More than one listen is usually a good thing, unless it’s a train wreck, and then I revisit for laughs. But forget the title, forget the artwork, forget the intro that borrows from Ghost in the Machine—this guy’s on to something. He’s a socially conscious product of the system, a sardonic lyricist with a little boy’s playfulness, and a marked improvement over stereotypically bad “redeemed rap.” And his sense of humor is just twisted enough to make a stoner laugh while he makes mama proud.
Robots Have Feelings Too is a mixtape, self-promotion by way of deconstruction—a verse here, a hook there, occasionally a whole song. Knine sounds so good because he knows when to stop: some of these tracks only deserve the minute or two they’re given. When the testosterone-charged “Cannon” fades abruptly into the dance pop of “You Don’t Know Me,” it makes the former feel for a moment as brazen and fresh as any one piece on Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III.
T-Pain and Eminem have divided equally the soul of rap—shallow decadence and soulless brutality. If the social commentary’s gone, Marshall Mathers is an angry white kid from a trailer park, and T-Pain’s top hat is all that disguises him as a pop giant. Steal their production techniques then rap about Jesus, and the results are disjointed and taped together. A host of “holy hip hop” artists have regurgitated those aesthetics for a few years now. Knine may very well believe the lie—namely, that the only thing separating an artist from his dues in the mainstream is a budget—but if he does, his obvious lyrical talent, as well as a knack for emulating without plagiarizing, thankfully offset it.
Knine is cut most closely from Kanye’s cloth. A sped-up soul hook on “My Way” and black choir sample on “Everything” taste most strongly of the famous college dropout, and when “But… He Said” opens with those familiar tones from the opening track of 808s and Heartbreak, it just feels right. It’s one of two familiar moments—he also raps over a piece of the Black Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow,” which comes off less as an attempt to capitalize on the success of a hit song and more like a parody.
A few moments stand out as bold and original. “Money” turns a clichéd denouncement of wealth into an insightful reflection on the fine line between greed and need. “It’s Not a Game” crams the names of 42 sports teams into a couple verses about Knine’s mission statement. The jazzy “Tried” features a soulful female backup vocal and trippy acoustic percussion.
Knine shows a great deal of promise. I haven’t listened to another Christian rap album that didn’t leave residual traces of regret or embarrassment. Ultimately, what’s unoriginal comes off as fun, what’s bold is still fairly accessible, and Knine’s story of conversion after a series of crimes and a drug problem is told with both humor and brash courage.
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