UW-Madison student Kenneth Cole launched his freshman project The Audacity under pen name K. Sankofa. With a runtime of around one hour, the mixtape is an energized yet eerily peaceful slew of soulful melodies and meaningful rap. Its central themes revolve around spirituality, family ties, institutional racism and the shortcomings of lackluster UW-Madison policy.
The elephant in the room comes with the project’s eponymous track, “The Audacity,” which is a 15-minute explanation of what’s wrong with the existing UW policy and the attempts underrepresented students have made at addressing their grievances. No matter if you agree or disagree with there being institutional racism at UW-Madison and that the university oppresses its underrepresented students, everyone should listen to this track like they would a podcast: It’s one way to gauge a side of the debate that deserves attention.
At times, K. Sankofa shares personal revelations regarding failure, examining the calluses he has strengthened through personal struggle. Whether he’s informing his audience of the power behind his spirituality or the issues most underrepresented students face on campus, he does so with a unique hybrid flow composed of light-footed hymns and thunderous annunciation.
Rarely do the tracks in Audacity overstay their welcome, and the project’s overall organization is focused and intentional. However, there is an issue with tracks like “Everywhere We Go” & “Say Less,” both of which would have benefited from more refinement. Each song showcases the positive traits of K. Sankofa, albeit with uneven composition. The first half of “Everywhere We Go” comes to a questionably slow close out halfway through that made me think my headphones got unplugged, only to introduce an uneven a capella. When I revisited the track, I realized the jaggedness of this transition is because it picks up two full counts later and then introduces Sankofa halfway through on an off down-count — had the beat continued playing.
In defense of the track, “Everywhere We Go” is a strong example of the vocal chops Sankofa possesses. A harmonious Sankofa slows down for a gospel-esque thank you letter to God that is hard not to appreciate.
The hook of “Say Less” comes off as dizzying, as much of its five or so minutes are spent regurgitating the same two words of the track’s title. The irony may have been intentional, but the final product serves as the mixtape’s weakest point.
Another trope Sankofa uses ineffectively — like other emcees of a similar experience level — is the unearned referencing of rap juggernauts such as Tupac and Chance the Rapper. Though there is nothing wrong with tipping your hat to those who inspire you, comparing yourself to them as if you’re within their echelon is premature and, at best, overambitious. With lines like “Coming at me/you coming at the best” and stating how they miscast the role of Tupac in “All Eyez on Me” because he possesses Tupac’s soul, his claims are unmerited.
That said, Sankofa’s ability to confidently sing and rap his way through the entire project without any guest verses is impressive, as is the quality of his production. Whoever the audio engineer is behind the tracks “Sing Sankofa” and “Surrender” went above and beyond to capture the strengths of this versatile artist. I can’t stress enough how much I was won over by the trumpet from the latter — the instrument honestly deserves its own feature tag on the track: e.g. “Surrender,” K. Sankofa feat. Trumpet.
Jokes aside, Kenneth Cole’s first major project is a commendable one, and it places him two steps closer on the long road toward owning the title of “the best.”