When I listen to an album, I have a tendency to get enamored with it, glorifying all of its positives while dismissing the majority of its negatives. It’s because of this that I usually have to sit on an album for a lot longer than normal to let the honeymoon phase fade. And Nat Love is probably the best example I can give of why it’s so important to let an album breathe; slowly understanding the subtle nuances and cracks in what initially appeared to be impenetrable armor. Had I reviewed Kweku Collin’s latest release the first week I heard it, I’d have pushed for a score much higher than the one above. But after many, many days of listening to Nat Love, it’s become apparent that this is an album that wears its homages on its sleeve in lieu of originality, one whose literary approach grows more insipid with each repeated listen.
Kweku Collins’ approach to music on Nat Love recalls a lot of artists who’ve come before him, as well as an equal amount of his contemporaries. Vocally, Kweku is occasionally reminiscent of Chance the Rapper and Kid Cudi, most notably on standout track “Ego Killed Romance”. Lyrically, Nat Love bounces around from OutKast and Kanye West iterations to a romanticized approach to scholarliness. “Stupid Roses” is the half-brother to The Love Below’s “Roses”, a lesser version of turning the symbolic rose into an image of disgust. “Vanilla Skies” features the entirety of André 3000’s closing lines of his “Int’l Player’s Anthem” verse. And “1-30, Curbside” features a saturated, bemoaned take on Kanye’s “No one man should have all that power”. These references to other artists are meant to evoke comparisons and nostalgia, but all they end up doing is remind us of those who’ve come before Kweku, those who’ve offered original, groundbreaking additions to the direction of hip-hop. When I hear a watered-down delivery of “Play your part, pimp”, I can’t help but want to go back to the UGK version and stop listening to the purposeless referential onslaught of Nat Love.
And it’s not just other musicians that Kweku calls upon throughout Nat Love. He seems to be under the impression that the themes of love are given extra depth through an evocation of classic poets and authors. And while it’s true that turning to these writers can give a stronger sense of poeticism to the music, it’s grossly apparent that Kweku’s literary knowledge extends to and ends at his senior year in high school. It’s possible he uses the most well-known authors and books to give a feeling of relatability to his listeners, but when hooks are dependent on lines like “Edgar Allen, forever more” and “Imma be a Johnny to your Dally, Outsiders”, it’s hard to give him the benefit of the doubt.
But even with the never-ending assault of transparent and cringe-inducing lines, Kweku strikes a balance between romance, authority, and vividly creative production choices. “The Rain That Wouldn’t Save” drops the references and explores his personal struggle with separation after graduation, and how the disappointment others cast to him for some of his choices affects his relationships with them. This track also features a Wyclefian acoustic approach to hip-hop without any of the political implications, which stands tall as a refreshingly light choice to close Nat Love. And “Ego Killed Romance” pairs soft, high-pitched piano hits with buzzing bass lines; but what’s most notable about this song’s instrumentation is the subtle tempo change-up that Kweku effortlessly raps over and takes control of.
It’s moments like this that give promise to what Kweku can bring. From the harrowing delivery of “It’s right there out your window” on “Ghost” to the half-submerged, watery approach to trap on “Nat’s Intro”, Nat Love gives glimpses of mastery. As a debut, this record shows a lot of potential for an up-and-coming artist hoping to break through in the genre of music that most demands innovation. And as a fan of that genre, I’m guilty of romanticizing many aspects of it, possibly even revering that which doesn’t deserve it. But it’s clear Kweku is a fan too, another victim of oversaturating romanticized views in hip-hop and literature. And in spite of all the juvenilia that seep throughout Nat Love, there are glimmers of real talent and honest inclinations that Kweku will hopefully flesh out on his next album.
– Zach W.