There are just a few occasions when one realizes the full wonder of this global communication super highway called the internet. For all the salutary tales of the dangers of how the medium is destroying modern music, for most it is still an incredible world of discovery, and has encouraged listeners like me to investigate new projects and make informed choices with utmost confidence. Had “Time:Line” been released ten years ago it would have undoubtedly passed me by; the weight of limited exposure via TV and radio narrowed everyone’s listening habits to all but a lucky few. It would have been my loss, for the debut long player by the Dutch ex-pat and Houston based MC (Nicolay and Kay) has instantly become an addictive experience, a sparkling light that shines above and beyond the majority of 2008’s new music. Coincidentally, the fact that the pair hooked up via Hip Hop message boards only goes to further reinforce the vitality of the World Wide Web in bringing together aspiring musicians and writers. I was already aware of Nicolay’s soulful production skills on a previous collaboration with Little Brother’s Phonte on an album by The Foreign Exchange, so there was at least an expectation that the musical backdrop would be a mellow delight. The welcome surprise here is the introduction of Kevin Jackson (Kay) who delivers a considered, imaginative and seductively flowing rap performance that seamlessly binds with Nicolay’s inspired arrangements. The pair aren’t re-inventing the wheel here; there’s no revolutionary development of a striking new Hip Hop phenomena, but their focused attempt to interpret a wide spectrum of Soul, Jazz and Pop styling with powerful melodies and an underlying lyrical concept that runs throughout is thrillingly coherent.
Nicolay casts sparkling horn arrangements and intricate guitar and keyboard accompaniment to stretch the warm rhythms, offering Kay the springboard to launch his stream of personal messages that automatically progress through the “life cycle” with a journey both auto-biographical and fictional. He announces himself on “Blizzard”, a stirringly dramatic account of arrival that’s supported by a spectacularly stylized 70s Soul backdrop. Nicolay’s string coda that staples the song together adds to the gravity of the lyrics and it’s a mouth watering opening shot. “The Lights” questions the price of fame over integrity to the smoothest groove, highlighted by sweet vibes and Nicole Hurst’s gentle backing vocal. Chasing girls is never far from Kay’s thoughts and “Through The Wind” is the sunshine Pop song most po faced Hip Hop acts simply can’t produce these days, it’s guaranteed to move the feet and brighten the darkest of moods. Chip Fu of Fu Schnickens makes a guest appearance on the convincing reggae/rap song “The Gunshot” which preludes the tense final three songs, “Grand Theft Auto”, “When You Die”, and “Dancing With The Stars”, which all harbour a different message of our impending demise. For me, the song that beautifully represents the triumph of “Time:Line” is when Kay shows rare bravado on “What We Live”, as he praises his and Nicolay’s song writing skills (“I’ve got a song the whole world respects”) with a horn melody and swirling ensemble vocal fade out that fully realizes the colossal potential of this fruitful partnership.
After a fortnight, my awe at this album’s virtuosity has done nothing but deepen with every listen and its purest moments haven’t failed once to send a shiver down my spine. Now who said Hip Hop was dead?
2 Blizzard (feat. Toby Hill)
3 The Light (feat. Myth, S1 & Nicole Hurst)
4 Through the Wind (feat. Stokley Williams)
5 What We Live
6 I’ve Seen Rivers
7 Tight Eyes (feat. Oh No & The Luv Bugz)
8 As the Wheel Turns
9 The Gun Shot (feat. Chip Fu)
10 Grand Theft Auto
11 When You Die
12 Dancing With the Stars (feat. Soulfruit)
As The Wheel Turns
Through The Wind