By his own admission, Kev Brown is a producer first, rapper second. As he once told me, writing rhymes feels like homework, making beats comes naturally. So it’s unclear what clicked for Brown on his new album, Fill in the Blank, his third record in 2018—this is his best vocal performance since 2005’s landmark I Do What I Do. Brown doesn’t discuss anything groundbreaking: He talks about shoveling the snow, using an inkpen from Vietnam, and old Mary J. Blige songs. Much like rappers Mick Jenkins, Open Mike Eagle, and yU, Brown finds comfort in the mundane. He isn’t lying about what he has for the sake of phantom street cred or likes and retweets on social media. Brown is a regular dude; his music resonates because he’s in the trenches, dealing with the BS like the rest of us. As with any of his releases, none of these songs hang around too long; he usually spits one verse—in his usual laid-back flow—and cuts quickly to the next track. Brown does this masterfully on Fill in the Blank, leading to a seamless 30-minute suite of incisive lyrics and superb instrumentals.
Of all the greatness here—the mid-’90s Flipmode stomp of “Walkin’ The Gauntlet,” or the ‘80s-inspired head nod of “Strictly Hardcore Bboy”—“Cold Reign Pt II” is the album’s best track. Using a wistful vocal sample and a J-Zone-provided drum loop, Brown takes another step toward his creative independence, a theme he started on this summer’s Homework. “Charity must be my middle name, take advantage wit no shame, breaking the chains,” he raps, aiming his ire at certain collaborators. Near the end of the album, on “Inspiration For The Outside,” Brown gets nostalgic: “Toys R Us closing down, ain’t nothin’ sacred, it’s like Doc Brown holding the picture, and the picture faded.” Equally introspective and pensive, Fill in the Blank is classic Brown, a low-key gem making a huge impact without overstaying its welcome.