Tahj Kjelland doesn't pretend to be hard and cynical on any of his hip-hop projects, and I'm grateful for that authenticity. On his newest, Sol Dream, the local performance artist shows just how talented he is as a rapper and producer (with support from producers Ryan Maynes and Max Allyn) in making smart beats and confident rhymes. Songs like "Carnival," which throws in some old-school talkbox effects a la Richie Sambora in "Livin' on a Prayer," deliver a strong mixture of horns and drums, punching up the melody in a way that reminds me of Atlanta's Arrested Development.
Kjelland's album is definitely a positive raps project, but for the most part it still manages to offer enough tension to keep from feeling cheesy or preachy. There are big questions in these songs about how to live in a meaningful way and Kjelland's answers are sometimes pretty cliché, with lines like, "Be the change you want to see" and throwing around terms like "karmic connection." Fortunately, the artist relies mostly on his own lyrical prowess, so a few bumper-sticker type lines can be forgiven. The strength of this album lies in the details—Margi Cates, Emily Kodama and Andrea Harsell nail the backup vocals, for instance—and in the mixture of hard-driving hip-hop, sassy Latin rhythms and grooving reggae downbeats. This is music that can easily capture a room and get them on the dance floor. Stat.
Tahj Kjelland’s band Sweatshop Sneakers play the Top Hat for the solo release party Sat., May 14, at 10 PM, along with Shakewell. $5.
Tahj Kjelland's band Sweatshop Sneakers play the Top Hat for the solo release party Sat., May 14, at 10 PM, along with Shakewell. $5.