“I don’t wanna do nothin' at all.”
This is the line that starts and ends Kool A.D.’s new album, KOOL A.D. IS DEAD. Along with the title, the repeated refrain performs a kind of self-erasure, or a throwing up of the hands (and not in the fun dance way). Set to sunny, buoyant guitars in the opening two-minute song and to a grinding punk fog in the later 13.5-minute reprise, the phrase does what it declares: go nowhere, do nothing much at all.
This is Kool A.D. we’re talking about though—the man also known as Victor Vazquez of Das Racist, the beloved Queens-based rap group who created silly but intelligent critical darlings and earned a devoted fan following while never taking themselves too seriously. Despite their screwball appearances, Das Racist worked hard and thought harder. Since their breakup in 2012, Kool A.D. has continued to work, think, and create. Far from doing nothing at all, he has written a novel, created a collection of visual artwork, and put out no fewer than 15 albums. On his 16th, sandwiched between statements of giving up, Kool A.D. does a whole lot more.
One thing that he doesn’t explicitly do on KOOL A.D. IS DEAD is rap, but he does hit just about every other musical device. From the folk-infused opener, he moves on to “CALIFORNIA SORTA,” with auto-tuned voices, borrowed lines from Murder, She Wrote, and a psychedelic groove that would easily welcome a sitar. “THE BODY & THE MIND” continues in auto-tune over a down-tempo hip-hip beat; “TEEN LUST & THE LOST BOY LIFESTYLE” repeats its title in melodious harmonies over a dark, oozing synth line; “SLEEPY RAINBOW” is an experimental minute of wordless voices and a cacophony of instruments; “LOVE IS EVERYTHING” swallows a catchy punk melody in fuzzy guitar and driving percussion; and “WILD HARTZ KANT B BROKEN” stages an ‘80s pop song in a low, humorous voice, to name many but not all of the tracks and modes on the album.
For every genre that Kool A.D. includes, there’s a mood to match—comedy, defiance, earnestness, mischief, and a bit of everything in between. And with the variation of extremes, KOOL A.D. IS DEAD often feels more like a collection of artwork, an exercise in following the whims of experimentalism, than a full album. That doesn’t make it less thrilling, though, and by constantly revealing another surprise around the corner, it makes it even more so. Maybe by killing himself off in the album title and bookending the work with the statement, “I don’t wanna do nothin' at all,” Kool A.D. hints at an overarching theme: the complete freedom that nothingness brings.