Kaze is quite possibly the most overlooked rapper I have ever come across, and "overlooked" might be an understatement, as only one person I know has ever even heard of the North Carolina rapper. For the other 99.9% of you, I'll give you a little rundown.
Kaze's rise out of anonymity (even though he is still pretty much anonymous) began when he produced the television show Hip-Hop Nation back in 2001. This was shortly after he founded an organization of the same name at the University of North Carolina, where Kaze attended school.
After getting the show out, Kaze created his own record label called "Soul Dojo," where he would release his first album, Spirit of '94, in 2003. Spirit of '94 is not the album I will be reviewing, however. 9th Wonder remixed said album, leading to Spirit of '94: Version 9.0 in 2005, and that is the project which I will be discussing here.
Of course, anything that 9th Wonder touches generally turns to gold, but while 9th's production on Spirit of '94: Version 9.0 is arguably one of the greatest pieces of work he has ever done, it is Kaze's outstanding rapping ability that makes the record so phenomenal. Like Edgar Allen Floe, Kaze possesses a booming voice (that actually sounds a bit like Rock from Heltah Skeltah) and ridiculous flow to go along with it. However, as much as I love Edgar Allen Floe, Kaze is probably a step or two higher in terms of pure skill.
So, unless you have any concerns (which, even if you did, it wouldn't matter because I can't hear you), let's get to that review, shall we?
1. For The Record
"I live my lifestyle the realest in this world of confusion, cash, cars, women, and drugs act as illusions," spits Kaze to open up Spirit of '94: Version 9.0. That said, although Kaze spits fire here, "For The Record" is actually one of the weaker beats on the album.
2. Locked In Chains
Khrysis was actually behind the boards for this one, and he lays down a head-nodder that Kaze effing rips: "Shit is hectic, my money gone as fast as I can get it, might as well admit it, you don't believe, line up a couple thugs and have 'em watch how I spit it, jurisdictions try convictions but I end up acquitted."
3. 50/50 Amp
Now is when things really start to heat up. 9th puts down one of his best beats on the album on "50/50 Amp," an upbeat joint that Kaze, of course, kills: "Low speakers, hot tracks, Puerto Ricans, whites, blacks, spit truth and face facts, I'm rugged, never cut slack." Great track to bump in your ride.
4. Should've Been Here
This is a hell of a cut, without a doubt one of the best on Spirit of '94: Version 9.0. Honestly, this is one of those songs that can actually bring a tear to your eye if you can relate to what Kaze is rapping about (and chances are, you can), as he talks about his deceased mother. The production by 9th is incredible, as you wouldn't be able to find a more suitable beat for this track. Kaze raps on the hook: "To all my niggas, don't cry or wish to die 'cause your loved ones gone, 'cause they alive every time y'all niggas bump this song." I legitimately think this is one of the best songs of all-time.
5. Spirit of '94
And the sick beats from 9th don't stop. It's hard to follow up the all-around flawlessness of "Should've Been Here," but "Spirit of '94" holds its own, as Kaze spits some ill (and funny) lyrics: "And teachers rippin' actin' mad as fuck, because I'm gettin' straight A's with D's in conduct." Nice, nice cut.
6. Soul Dojo (Essence Of Life Mix)
This song was also on 9th Wonder's Dream Merchant, Vol. 1 album. It was one of the best cuts on that project, and it's one of the best on this one, too. 9th's beat is mind-bogglingly soulful and alone is enough to put someone in deep thought. Kaze spits on the hook: "If the soul is the essence of life, man I've gotta treat my body like a temple, I'ma flow through the dojo." He then raps on his first verse: "Still refuse to lose or be controlled by society, black man, pigeonholed, feds stay eyein' me, struggle with your mentals 'til the world see with clarity, chose music as my yellow-brick road to prosperity." Whew.
7. Stay a Customer
This is a typical, typical 9th Wonder beat, and I don't mean that in a bad way. "Stay a Customer" contains banging kick drums and that trademark 9th snare, and Kaze gives the beat life behind the mic: "You need a certified connection, a vest full of protection, a small corner town where you can block off perfection." This cut is a bit more violent in nature than the rest of Spirit of '94: Version 9.0.
8. Waiting To Exhale
Per the title, 9th's beat actually contains some deep breathing noises (which can seem creepy at first, but you get used to it) over some hard-hitting drums and a booming sample. Ak Slaughter makes a guest appearance, and while he isn't bad, he pales in comparison to Kaze. Anyway, this is your typical smoking song. There honestly isn't much substance to it.
9. What's Good?
9th puts down a very relaxing beat, and Kaze raps to a girl whom he desires. Pretty straightforward.
10. Last Laugh
Love this one. 9th's beat is crazy, consisting of banging drums and a constant vocal sample in the background, and Kaze's flow over said beat couldn't possibly be any more perfect. One of the strongest tracks on the project. Also, it should be noted that "Last Laugh" actually represents the last 9th Wonder-produced cut on Spirit of '94: Version 9.0, as the final three songs are bonus tracks that were on Kaze's 2004 Enemy Of The State mixtape.
11. Soul Dojo (Enemy Of The State Mix)
This is the original "Soul Dojo," as it was present on the aforementioned mixtape. It contains the same exact lyrics as the "Essence Of Life Mix"; the beat is just different, and said beat is not nearly as good as the one on the "Essence Of Life" version. Don't take that the wrong way, though, as this beat is still very good.
Oddly enough, the best beat on the album was not produced by 9th Wonder. This is a K-Hill production, and it bangs. The vocal sample is ill (one of the best I've ever heard), as are the heavy drums. Kaze adapts his flow to the tempo of the beat and rips this: "Half of these rappers they chosen disasters, they sound like them grown folks on Charlie Brown." The hook on this is especially sick. This is the best track on Spirit of '94: Version 9.0 and one of my favorite songs of all-time, period.
13. Move Over
Another K-Hill beat, another banger. Nature joins Kaze on this joint, but, unsurprisingly, Kaze is the one that takes center stage, rapping: "Get up out of my chair, about to wash all these bitch niggas outta my hair," then spitting, "I spit airborne sicker than SARS, continuous bars, will leave your body covered with scars." This dude is just crazy.
Spirit of '94: Version 9.0 is one of the best albums of the 2000s, without question. 9th Wonder's production on this record is pretty close to flawless, and Kaze's lyrical ability and technical skills are top-notch. This project is ideal to listen to while you're chilling or cruising.
Up until this point, the original version of Spirit of '94 and the 9th Wonder remix of that album are the only two LPs Kaze has released. However, he recently signed a deal with SRC/Universal Motown, and a new album is said to be in the works (as a matter of fact, he dropped a single called "Fresh," produced by 9th Wonder, in 2009, and it was sick). He has put out several mixtapes over the course of his career, though, and all of them are well-worth checking out (I'm sure I will be reviewing some on this blog in the future).
It is very clear that Kaze has unworldly talent, and one can only hope that his new record company does everything in its power to market him and starts putting out material by him, as he is, in my opinion, one of the better rappers in the game. Actually, as much as I love The Justus League (which Kaze is not a part of), I legitimately think that he is decisively better than anyone out of that camp, and that is saying a lot given my infatuation with that collective.
To wrap things up, do yourself and hip-hop a favor and get Spirit of '94: Version 9.0. It is a classic in my mind.
TOP FIVE TRACKS
2. Should've Been Here
3. Soul Dojo (Essence Of Life Mix)
4. 50/50 Amp
5. Last Laugh
The hell do you think this is? A Lil Wayne album?