By Nneka Nnagbo
As a loose concept record about the journey of life, Keenan Kreller’s new release is one of the most surprising and accomplished efforts to come out in recent months. The Barrie-born, Ottawa-raised rapper presents a stylish and skillful introduction to his career.
On his debut album, Lost in Translation, the freshman cements himself as one of this year’s most noteworthy stylists. Lost in Translation clocks in just under 32 minutes with each song hitting with maximal power straight into the next track.
But Keenan doesn’t rush his listener through. Rather, he takes his time setting the listening stage. Across its 13 songs, the album observes the journey through life as a part of the human experience.The album interlocks a diverse array of genres and musical styles but still maintains the central thematic thread. More importantly, Keenan channels some of today’s most colorful rap artists and rolls those influences into one eclectic whole.
The intrigue of the album undoubtedly lies in its thematic symbolism: that of a journey. Essentially, Lost in Translation is a carefully crafted, microcosmic rendition of the rapper’s own journey through life: Not totally knowing the direction in which he is going, hence the “lost” component, and attempting to “translate” the various meanings, aspects, and insinuations of his life as he goes. Despite the album’s reflective tone, it possesses much deeper connotations of introspection and relatability.
Keenan depicts his vision in a somewhat operatic fashion, dividing the album into three Acts. Each Act represents different stages of his life, all presented through the use of different sounds and skits in each Act to symbolize each stage.
Within the first two Acts, the album seems a bit out of focus, jumping from a more aggressive tone on tracks like “Panama” to more relaxed vibes as evidenced on the rap ballad, “Dollhouse,” featuring Juwn.
The latter half of the album, between Acts 3 and 4, seems to take shape and regain focus and control, with much tighter songs like “Rockstars,” “Bout It,” and, the album standouts, “Demons” and “Paradise.” Perhaps the seemingly out of focus nature of the first half of the album can be attributed to the “lost” narrative that Keenan puts forth throughout the record. Moreover, the immediate change in Act 3 to a more well-honed soundscape is noticeable and seems to coincides with the ‘translation’ component of the album.
The album’s sonic and emotional centre lies in Act 4, fittingly titled “…And Found,” an obvious follow up to Act 3’s “Lost”. The fourth and final Act marks the end of Keenan’s journey, characterized by dazed, multi-part dirges and ‘40s swing.
On “Demons,” Keenan’s most brooding and inward-looking song, he confronts his demons in saying: “No I will never, ever run away,” further punctuated by a beat switch in the middle as the song abruptly, but cooly, sinks into luscious saxophone and he is accompanied by ‘40s acapella backup vocalists.
The album resolves on an optimistic note with the album closer, “Paradise,” which features whimsical strings coupled with bossa nova inflections. This track is the perfect end to the album as Keenan’s pseudo-life-journey concludes with the rapper finding peace in his own version of paradise.
Lost in Translation has a very distinct set of musical reference points, bonding Keenan’s wide-ranging taste and fully realizing his craft. The different sounds each Act possesses is an indication of the many directions this album goes in. Perhaps Keenan leaves it to the listener to decide which direction is best, based on personal preference.
Despite this, Keenan never once sounds uncertain of his place on the record’s ever-changing soundscape. Lost in Translation proves to be a potent addition to the overall rap and hip-hop catalogue. Moreover, in what has been a packed, and excellent, year for both genres, Keenan is emerging as one of the most promising newcomers.