Kev Decor is one of those artists who had hovered around the borders of my conciousness for a minute. DJBooth had been posting his music for just a shade over a year now, but while I personally recognized the name, had some glimmer of a memory that I had heard his music and liked it, his music had never really lodged itself in my brain. There really wasn't a good reason he hadn't made an impact on me yet other than I literally have hundreds of songs thrown at me every day while I'm also trying to figure out the rapper equivalents of Breaking Bad characters and dealing with Kanye beat tapes going viral and trying to get a Little Mermaid cake ordered for my daughter's birthday party and and and and and...
Like most people, especially in the age of the constant update, my brain's often an over-satured stew that's too full to add anything new, even when that new thing is right under my nose and it's awesome. And then, who knows why, I heard "$4." I don't even remember why I pressed play other than I did and when I heard it, I really heard it. And then I listened to it again, and again, and again. I was equal parts impressed and confused. This wasn't just some rapper with a dope flow that had flown under my radar, "$4" dollars had multiple beat switches, tempo changes, more instruments than I could count. You don't make music this....musical, this well constructed, as someone who's just starting out. You just don't.
So I went back to Kev's earlier music looking for answers, except there wasn't much further back to go. The first song we ever posted from him, "Up & Up," appeared to be only the second song he had ever released online. Ever. "Up & Up" wasn't as complexly constructed as some of his more recent material, but it was still far better than any artist's second song had any right to be, and that also meant that his music was improving at a staggering rate. Could the gap between the good but relatively straightforward "Up & Up" and his more expansive material like "LV BN BRK" really only be a couple months? Who was this guy? Where did he come from? Had he been perfecting his craft in silence for years like some sort of kung-fu monk training in the mountains? Had he been bitten by some sort of radioactive rap spider that accelerated his growth as an artist to ridiculous speeds?
I got the chance to have my questions answered during SXSW when I met up with Kev, because meeting up with people who would only otherwise exist for you on the internet is the only good thing left about SXSW. We kicked it for a while, we talked at length, he was open and personable and funny, he played me some new music, but I didn't come away with any answers. Not really. I mean sure, I got some biographical details. He's from Jersey, he first fell in love with hip-hop via the real-real underground shit (Immortal Technique, Apathy, etc.), he had gone to audio engineering school, where he had learned a lot of the production and mixing skills that made all those beat switches and small details in the music possible. And sure, I got some insight into his current process, how he's building a roster of musicians who can come by the studio to give tracks that live instrument feel (peep that bass line on "Cuckoo"), how he's determined to push his music further, how he tried to experiment without getting too lost in experimentation.
But when I sat down to write this, when I attempted to fold our conversation into some clean explaination of why I can't seem to stop listening to songs like "Biggest Lie Ever Told," why his "Thin Line" track makes me feel the feels I feel, none of his answers seemed adaquate. They felt like placeholders, stand-ins for the real thing. And as I thought it over, as I wrote and rewrote this profile searching for an answer, I began to realize that not having an answer was the point. Maybe there's nothing Kev could say that would make me understand how he creates the music he does, maybe he's not even 100% aware of how it happens himself. Maybe it's art in the true sense of the word, a creative energy that seems to come from a place apart from logic. Maybe Kev's music is so versatile because he hasn't locked himself into some simple "this is the music I make" explaination yet either.
That versatility is what makes his LV BN BRK album so compelling, but it's also a project where you can hear a young artist trying to figure out his sound. He doesn't need to figure out an exact formula for his music, but he does need to find a more stable through line, a way to more tightly cohere all those sounds into one album, one artist. And when the day comes, if the day comes, when it finally all clicks for him, I guarantee there are going to be a lot of people wondering who the hell this Kev Decor guy is, where the hell he came from. I won't neccesarily be able to answer their questions, but I will be able to say I saw it coming. I will be able to say, "See, that's why I had to make him a Top Prospect."
[Nathan S. is the managing editor of The DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. He also occasionally talks on podcasts/radio/TV. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.]