Elevator 19: Kool A.D.


Let me briefly introduce my 70 elevators guest writer. He’s Tom Grant aka Sensei C, a rap lyricist, musician and freestyle specialist. Here are his thoughts on our nineteeth rap elevator:

Many rappers present a somewhat idealized version of themselves in their music, others take a more dynamic and open approach. The Bay Area’s Kool A.D. aka Victor Vasquez most certainly sits in the latter category. With lyrics, which juxtapose nonsense poetry, self-deprecating abstract humour, obscure cultural references and socio political critique you would be hard pressed to describe Kool as stylistically narrow.

Content can be hard hitting or trivial, cutting or light hearted; and that is what makes it so engaging. The listener has a sense of seeing a multi faceted, 3D personality emblazoned on the track and the execution is sufficiently crafted in its subtlety and idiosyncrasy as to conjure something as vivid and deep as it is colloquial. When Kool refers to himself as “rap James Joyce” you may argue he is not so far off the mark.

A recurring theme through Kool A.D.’s music is society’s systemic prejudices and the complexity of personal identity and the range of ways people are perceived. His own family background is a mixture of Afro Cuban and Italian heritage and you can recognize his predisposition to challenging stereotypes. Kool A.D. was one of the two vocalists in the now defunct rap group Das Racist. In the hilarious tracks ‘Shorty Said’ and ‘Puerto Rican Cousins’ Kool and Heems make reference to white America using “Puerto Rican” as a catch all phrase for non-whites of ambiguous background.

Beyond this Kool’s lyrics and videos are peppered with juxtaposed images and seemingly unlikely partners. In an age where artists heavyhandedly throw together vague abstractions Kool inhabits a cleverly stylised reality. Whether referring to “the Jewish Eddie Murphy in your barber shop” or “half black Bill Clinton” or depicting beautiful women commanding authority whilst toting AK-47s Kool’s work is constantly flouting the narrow categories of modern culture.

However, much more than being a stylistic oddity, Kool A.D. is also a uniquely gifted MC with a skillful and versatile flow, razor sharp rhyme schemes and evocative wordplay. In spite of what many would call an understated, monotone delivery he is capable of capturing a variety of moods to compliment pretty much any type of beat conceivable whether it be trappy, dusty, avant garde or auto tuned.

In spite of presenting himself against such an array of backdrops what is striking about Kool A.D. is the consistency of the character presented which always comes across as naturalistic and at ease with itself. There’s an effortless spontaneity, which creates the feeling of a verse being an everyday conversation, with Victor sat in the room nonchalantly chatting to the listener, pausing occasionally to let out his signature chuckle which can be heard throughout his discography.

Kool elevates the art form of rap by being relaxed enough to explore the dynamic nature of communication, not just what is presented but what is alluded to within the delivery and content through a real sense of character. His throaty, barely audible voice at the beginning of “Money Ball” is perfectly emblematic of this, capturing the casual tone of conversation as though it were being delivered from across the dinner table, drink in hand. This off-handed starter makes the song’s second verse all the more poignant as Kool dissects modern social dichotomies and double standards with lines like “Schools demand overachievers, abandon the beliefs of the families and leave em stranded/ and bland soliloquies of snitches who would call their fam Philistines, n***a please!”.

This is conscious rap without the one sided, disconnected preaching that plagues other artists. When he tells us “my jeans are probably made up in the Phillipines/By a little kid who would kill to live as ill as me/ or some s**t, man I’m dumb, I don’t read enough” he is not simply reporting on the contradictions of modern life, he is embodying them and placing himself within the problem.

You might say the unreliable author is the one actually keeping it real.

Tom Grant

Maybe the best place to start your Kool A.D. odyssey is here:

Maybe not. Maybe it’s here:


Elevator 18: Ana Tijoux


Ana Tijoux has a global voice. She raps in Spanish and French. When asked what her first language is, she responds: ‘My parents used to speak to me in Spanish and I used to answer everything in French. I think I’ve got both languages in my head.’

She was born in Lille, France to Chilean parents living in political exile during the Pinochet dictatorship. The family moved back to Chile when Ana was 14. The hip-hop culture she embraced in France proved to be truly global and provided continuity in her new life in South America. Soon she was rapping as part of popular hip-hop group Makiza.

Her solo albums ‘Kaos’ released in 2007 and the Grammy nominated ‘1977’ in 2009 paved the way for her most accomplished full-length release ‘La Bala’. It’s this album, which translates as ‘The Bullet’, I want to point you towards. It is a fiery, mature, diverse piece of work.

Shock is a protest song. “Poison: your monologues,” Tijoux raps. “Your black and white speeches, you don’t see that we aren’t alone, millions from pole to pole!”

In the song ‘No Sacar La Voz’ she speaks: ‘Walk upright and breathe, fearlessly speak out’

Then there’s this absolute bruiser of a track ‘Las Cosas por su Nombre’, Tijoux’s blunt response to the Chilean Minister of Culture’s criticism of some of her Twitter content.

One fan at a gig in Oakland, California pointed out: “She’s the essence of hip-hop, She’s speaking truths, she’s speaking revolution.”

And that’s a striking aspect of Tijoux’s delivery. She’s a speaker not a shouter, a rapper not a ranter, a singer not a show-off. The voices of dissident that are actually heard and feared are not the hysterical ones but rather the ones that speak truth clearly, confidently and consistently. Ana Tijoux is a wordsmith, a versatile vocalist, a protestor, a mum and an international rap elevator.

‘La Bala’s closer ‘Volver’ is so beautiful and mellow I couldn’t resist adding it to this post, despite it featuring no rap whatsoever.