Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, famously posited the idea that one needs 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become the master of a craft. Kool A.D. probably reached that number years ago. It may sound like hyperbole, but take out a calculator and do the math: in the four years since his critical darling trio Das Racist split in 2012, the rapper/singer/producer/novelist has released 14 projects. Three of those mixtapes approach Lil B levels of prolificness, boasting 100 tracks apiece; six of those projects, including two of the aforementioned 100-song tapes, dropped in 2016. That’s not even including the 12 beat tapes and EPs he crafted before leaving his group, or the eight projects he’s released as a member of other duos and crews.
But even if he wasn’t as prolific, listeners would still find a lot to love in Kool A.D.’s music. His hilarious rhymes are densely packed with a search engine’s worth of quirky art, culture and news references. The sounds he produces and raps over are almost as diverse. It’s difficult for a new fan to know where to start. Even he admits, “My name is Kool A.D., and I say a lot of shit/You don’t even really fucking need to listen to all of it.” Fortunately, we’ve got you covered: read below for our guide to Kool A.D.’s essential works.
While Kool A.D. was singing and doing much of the producing on his solo mixtape debut, The Palm Wine Drunkard, he was also rapping on the follow-up, 51, named after a bus route in the Bay Area. On this outing, he calls up an assortment of loopy, electronic and hyphy instrumentals—mostly courtesy of the talented Amaze 88—to back his laid-back, eccentric rhymes. “La Pinata” weaves namedrops between a splice of a “Mister Rogers” sample; he laces together a string of quirky internal rhyme schemes on “Al Green”; and the silky “Oooh” references different locales in his Bay Area stomping grounds. Add in a few self-produced tracks and instrumentals, including one with an understated beat behind a speech by Black Panther co-founder Huey Newton, and fans can begin to see Kool carve his own distinct lyrical identity apart from his Das Racist groupmates.
Kool A.D.’s double-disc mixtape 63/19—which continues his series of albums named for bus routes—is a lot to take in. It boasts nearly 40 tracks, with virtually just as many producers and special guests. The project is presented as a series of various outtakes, and plays like a collage of guest-heavy lyrical jam sessions. He adlibs pop culture classics on the Ad-Rock-produced “NPR,” provides social commentary on “All Skreets,” and namedrops everyone from Hunter Thompson to Mickey Rourke on “Beautiful Naked Psychedelic Gherkin Exploding Tomato Sauce All Over Your Face, Flame-Grilled Painting.” In the years ahead, Kool A.D. would release multiple mixtapes with a whopping 100 tracks. 63/19, is an early illustration of just how prolific Kool A.D. is capable of being. It may be tough to keep up, but it’ll keep your attention.
“Speak the English language, it’s the slang I learned to bang with/If I came from Denmark, then I’d probably freak the Danish,” Kool A.D. insists on “I’m On A Plane.” Word O.K. is arguably one of Kool’s strongest displays of pure rapping, combining his quirkiness and humor with loads of philosophical quotables. “When your ears listen to fears, and your eyes brim up with tears/you’re better never having shed a one, cuz you still couldn’t drink that water if you shed a ton,” he advises on “Open Letter.” He even keeps up with the lewdness of Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire on “Tight” in his own eccentric way (“Feel like 2 Chainz when I feel the two brains”); and when teamed with Talib Kweli and Boots Riley, he jovially rhymes. “Peace to the ocean and shit. Pacific, specifically/But it’s all the same ocean literally,” he says. That word salad alone is worth the price of admission.
O.K. is a blessing and a burden all at once: a sprawling, 100-track mixtape, crafted to accompany a novel with just as many chapters. It’s best enjoyed in kind: sitting down with small chunks at a time instead of all at once. But to Kool A.D.’s credit, this feels like a cohesive, digestible work. The rhymes are a bit less obscure than usual, allowing listeners to get through a song instead of forcing them to constantly rewind. Guest spots from Killer Mike, Talib Kweli, Toro Y Moi and dozens of others provide enough change-ups to hold attention—as long as you’re willing to take your time.
Peyote Karaoke was Kool A.D.’s third 100-song mixtape, and it still manages to outdo the breadth of its predecessors. This album has a 27-minute song, for goodness sake: “Hyperbolic Chamber Gleemix,” which appears to feature some 20 other rappers. But like O.K., the production and song ideas are easier to swallow than others, with some instrumental tracks and skits as palate cleansers, to make it as smooth a listen as a 100-track album can be.
While Kool A.D. showed his allegiance to the Bay early in his solo career, Official demonstrates that in perhaps the most focused way. He zones in with producer Trackademicks to knock out a solid, seven-song set of hyphy cuts. It’s short, especially compared to Kool’s other projects, but he bats 100 percent here: his party-ready, E-40-influenced rhymes dedicated to whips and women pair perfectly with Trackademics’ synths and 808s. Considering Kool A.D.’s usually obscure, rewind-heavy rhymes, the tape is a testament to his discipline to stay in whatever pocket a record requires.
Stylistically, Gods of Tomorrow doesn’t seem much different from what one would come to expect from Kool A.D. But what makes the album so notable is that it’s even denser than usual. You can count the amount of choruses on one hand: it’s largely just a string of raps, separated by beats. It somehow sounds both formless and focused at the same time. You can either get lost in his seductively sleepy flow, or spend your days and nights digging for the gems.
—William E. Ketchum III