Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
For all the subgenres that have emerged from the Los Angeles beat scene, Kiefer Shackelford has forged a path totally unique from that of his peers. As a trained jazz pianist deeply involved in the Stones Throw world, Shackelford has a take on electronic music that merges the chopped-up soul of J Dilla with the expressive soloing of McCoy Tyner.
On his debut LP, Kickinit Alone, Shackelford looks for solace in personal pain. It’s a record of deep remorse and feelings of alienation and loneliness. “I’m very emotional, very sensitive,” he said at the time, for an interview with Bandcamp, “and for a long time I saw my own sadness as a weakness.” That he’s able to express these ideas without vocals—instead relying exclusively on the emotiveness of the interplay between his piano work and the boom-bap of his hip-hop backdrops—is a testament to his unique artistry. On his newest album, Happysad, he creates a landscape that’s even more bittersweet, shaped by bouts of loathing and proclamations of self-love.
The album opens with “Dope Nerd,” a funk throwback that recalls the hazy psychedelia of labelmate MNDSGN, whom Shackelford also plays keys for on the road. Over a melting synth line and head-nodding drums, his melodies are meandering, running up and down scales more in service of atmosphere than a display of chops. “Memories of U” is the closest approximation a beatmaker has gotten to a full-on ballad since Dilla’s Donuts, while “Socially Awkward” showcases Shackelford gloves off, going crazy on the keys over a beat that wouldn’t sound out of place on an A Tribe Called Quest record.
Kiefer’s relentless pursuit of his signature combination—jazz-infused piano solos and thumping beats—helps make Happysad extra cohesive. With growing success and confidence in his highly unique musical voice, Kiefer may not be kicking it alone, but he’s still in a world by himself.