Detroit has been home to some of the most prolific voices in the hip hop world. Detroit natives like Eminem, Danny Brown, and Big Sean have set the hip hop world ablaze and claimed it as their own. There are so many Detroit rappers who dominate the rap game that some of the more underground local artists get lost in the shuffle, even though they are just as deserving of attention. Lil Kelso happens to be one of those artists. While he has managed to generate a small (albeit, loyal) online fanbase, the content of his last project, Suicide Note, suggests that Kelso’s voice deserves a much larger audience. Just last month, Detroit dedicated an entire day (June 29th) to Big Sean, yet few Detroit residents are giving Lil Kelso the time of day as they should.
Suicide Note is a melancholic odyssey detailing the hardships which Kelso faced between the ages of 17 and 20. In that time-frame, Kelso dealt with his depression, the women who have come and gone from his life, coming up as a rapper, and the death of his friend BigFella. From such themes and tragedies, Kelso uses the album to reflect on it all while telling a tightly knit story with raw energy and sorrowful undertones. Kelso displays a certain level of vulnerability and honesty that is missing from most rappers today. It is rare in the rap game when an artist is capable of venting his fears, frustrations, and insecurities while also expressing an ounce of humility.
It also helps that Kelso is supported by features from names like Levi Lyric, Mike Kelso, Vinnie, Jessie Bleu, BeRtO, and T.D. Boss. All of whom serve strong contributions to the album and add something special to the stories which Kelso tells for the album. The production team of Lyric, Boss, and J. Evans help provide a tone which not only fits Kelso’s melancholy to a tee, but also paints a powerful picture of Detroit itself. Kelso’s lyrics trace an outline for what Detroit is all about while the engineers behind the beats help bring to life the atmosphere which Detroiters are familiar with.
Lil Kelso happens to have two major influences for this album: Langston Hughes and Kurt Cobain. In the case of Hughes, some tracks (such as “Dream Deferred”) are directly related to and inspired by Hughes. The name of the album itself is a direct reference to Hughes’s “Suicide’s Note” poem. The spirit of Langston Hughes also lends to Kelso’s Slim Shady-lite alter ego, Llangston Hughes.
In the case of Cobain, not only do several themes of the album relate to the Cobain tragedy, Kelso dedicates an entire track to Cobain titled “Ode to You.” In this track, Kelso correlates Cobain’s mental breakdown at the hands of the media to his own fears of being famous. On one hand, Kelso wants to be a famous musician, but on the other, he sees what fame did to Cobain and wonders if it’s worth it. On a side note, Kelso ends the track by pleading with the listener to help those struggling with depression. Which would have made for a poignant end to the album.
While there is much to praise about this project, Suicide Note isn’t perfect. Then again, no album in any genre is perfect, but there are some criticisms with the album that need to be addressed. The main gripe that I have with this album is that it is just too long at nearly an hour and a half. Granted, the time spent on this album is more than worth it due to the sheer quality of the music, but 90 minutes is a lot to commit to for one album. An album risks feeling like a chore to sit through rather than an enjoyable escapade.
Still, do not let the length of the album discourage you. Anyone remotely interested in the hip hop genre would be doing themselves a disservice to ignore the work of Lil Kelso. Die hard hip hop heads especially would appreciate Lil Kelso as one of Detroit’s best kept secrets of the underground rap scene.
RATING: 4.25 out of 5
Listen to his album here. You won’t regret it.