“Always leave them wanting more.” Famously coined by the 19th century’s greatest huckster-slash-entertainer, P.T. Barnum, it’s a maxim taken that’s behind everything from cliffhangers to George Costanza’s comedic peak. Since the winter 2010 release of his debut album, Soul Like Khan, Soul Khan has teased the release of a proper sophomore follow-up with the staggered release of five themed EPs. Save for this past spring’s Wellstone, the bulk of the releases have been titled after the suites of John Coltrane’s classic A Love Supreme album, with Psalm appropriately coming last to give the motif closure.
EP’s released so close together often act as a chance to see snapshots of the artist’s progression – little tweaks in approach or content plus ideas that mayor may not become integral parts of later releases – which in the case of Psalm is a strong 5-song collection of melodic East Coast boom-bap that continues the “empathetic man of reason” persona informing the majority of Soul Khan’s lyrics. Khan always came across like a more irreverent Common or Brother Ali with a polisci degree in the sense that he primarily produces dense, sociopolitically conscious man-of-the-people rap that never seems to to flirt with shallow subject matter or radio concessions. In a way it’s an endearingly uphill approach to a modern rap career; methodically build up your reputation and press while steadfastly maintaining the tenets of your own integrity. As addressed on Soul Like Khan‘s “Invisible Hand”, someone like Soul Khan could easily churn out crass dreidel raps and do a quick viral cash-out on back of the oft-discussed novelty of his appearance and background. Instead he chooses to breathe some life into a sub-genre of hip-hop that became a stale, conservative parody of itself by the mid-aughts.
The convenience of the EP format is that Psalm offers digestible bits of what would take much longer to fully parse out in a long-player release, especially the kind of record that tackles uncommon subject matter like the vividly written story of his first tattoo (“Rusted Ghosts”). Detailing the conflict between his decision and the implications of Jewish tradition, its combines two topics rarely discussed at length in hip-hop with the kind of honesty and personal touch that buoys the apparent switch from past releases’ more energetic and hooky for the more meditative, slow-burn material of late. The warm, collegiate Soul tracks are still there – particularly the “get-with-the-times” feminist critique of “Not Like That” – but they’re complemented by songs with Greek chorus-style hooks that are more mantras than ear-worms.
Psalm is currently available for digital purchase on Bandcamp.