King Of Hearts
The indie rap world lost one of its brightest young talents when Camu Tao succumbed to lung cancer in 2008. From his early days with the Columbus-based MHz crew to his work with Def Jux, Camu’s dynamic charisma and vocal range were undeniable. But after years of collective and group records (e.g. Nighthawks and S.A. Smash), the general public never got the chance to hear Camu Tao all by his lonesome over a full-length.
King of Hearts showcases the myriad manifestos of an artist equally prone to playful party anthems and heartfelt contemplations. Fans of his earlier work may be surprised to find Camu opted to eschew rap almost entirely on the record in favor of a funky, Cody Chesnuttesque delivery. On “Death,” a man facing his own mortality wails away, “Death, where have you been all my life?” over a rambling, circus fun house beat. It is a raw and powerful credo that stands in direct contrast to the infectious, upbeat swagger of “Plot A Little.” That and lo-fi tracks such as “Get At You” display the ease with which Camu could transition between singing and rapping, even mid-verse on occasion. It’s a tool more and more emcees are employing these days, but few this side of k-os and Dessa pull off successfully.
As a close friend of the artist, not to mention a label head, it must have been difficult for El-P to decide what exactly to do as curator of Camu’s legacy. The dialectic of releasing what is admittedly an unfinished album versus shelving Camu’s final work is unenviable. El-P, whom Camu frequently collaborated with on gems such as the Pink Floydish psych-pop of “Oxycontin,” labored faithfully over rough demos and distorted vocals in order to represent Camu’s vision in the proper light. Sadly, Camu Tao passed on before he had the chance to fully craft his magnum opus and one has to applaud the decision to let the world hear what is and what could have been.
Song you’ll remember in five years: “Plot A Little”