By Emily Eveland
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The Twin Cities' hip-hop community has long been recognized as fertile ground for experimentation. Especially in recent years, our local scene's literary inclination and refusal to abide by some of rap's most deep-seated clichés has nurtured a growing number of artists to re-imagine the form, or refashion it to create entirely different ones. St. Paul's Kristoff Krane has already established himself in this vein, and with his new full-length, Hunting for Father, he places himself firmly at the forefront of the area's most daring and visionary up-and-comers.
A one-time protégé of and frequent collaborator with Eyedea and Abilities, Kristoff Krane made a name for himself rapping with Abzorbr and Face Candy, but he's equally accomplished as a singer-songwriter. "I don't think I've ever actually done hip hop," argues Krane, who's known as Chris Keller when he isn't performing and who is also a published poet, community volunteer, and educator. "I've never really completely identified with it, never really been like, 'I want to make underground hip-hop music.' But I had all of these referents, all of these inputs I was referencing that were kind of what I wanted to sound like."
Much like Dessa Darling and his own close friend Eric Blair's group, No Bird Sing, Krane takes his hip-hop background and uses it as a means toward an entirely different end, incorporating much of the music's sensibilities and vocabulary into an impressive and singular style. While his solo debut, This Will Work for Now, went some way toward intimating his eclecticism, Hunting for Father blows that template up to a grand and more realized scale. Its 70 minutes are a sprawling mix of genres and ideas that at times barely resemble hip hop, tied together instead by an ambitious sense of self-expression.
The album was recorded and produced by Krane himself, which he says was critical to its scope and spontaneity. "When you're working with other people, there isn't the [same] freedom. With some songs, I'd literally wake up at six in the morning, do yoga, and record," he says. "[Some songs are] a little off the rocker because I didn't bother to clean them up, so in those ways it could have been done better, but there are moments where it just couldn't have been done better than in that moment."
On Hunting, Krane alternately sings and raps over acoustic ballads, free jazz, and the odd R&B-infused show tune as the beats are interspersed with carefully placed samples. The music flows from song to song and even verse to verse with the immediacy of a freestyle rap, an exercise Krane holds dear even though none appear on the record. "That's like the best feeling and best high I've ever had in my life, [freestyling] and getting in that zone [where] there's no filter, no guard," he says. "When I'm exploring and in these states of letting things fly in and out, [it] inspires me, it brings me to this [level] of thinking and dealing with this heightened awareness."
Krane's control over the creative process on Hunting enables him to use that type of self-exploration and expand it into a larger, more carefully considered conceptual framework. There's a recurring theme of family that runs throughout these 19 songs, but as the album title itself suggests, the singer has broader, more rhetorical aims: "Hunting for father" can just as easily refer to a person's sense of obligation and even enslavement to a loved one as it can refer to the search for a source of meaning and foundation, be it spiritual or otherwise, in one's life.
Such complexity of thought gives the music its cohesion, allowing it to remain accessible where it might otherwise become indulgent. When Krane tackles matters of conscience and social critique on "American Pride" or "Brighter Side," the results are thoughtful and heartfelt without being excessively moralizing or self-pitying. When he confronts his own mortality on "My Coffin," he expresses existential anxieties with a songwriter's sensitivity and a rapper's sense of entitlement. As Hunting progresses, it subtly develops a more playful feel that helps loosen the mood and emphasize Krane's underlying appreciation for the world around him, blemishes and all. Ever the prolific artist, Hunting is the second of two albums Krane is releasing this month, the other a collaboration with production duo Strange Matter called Picking Flowers Next to Roadkill that features guest spots from Slug, Eyedea, and P.O.S.
"I [make music] because I want to be constantly reminded of the connection we all have together, whether it's the feeling of being pissed off, the feeling of suffering and tears, [or of] bliss," Krane says. "I want to exercise these different characters that seem like they want to come out because I feel like if I do that then I'll be done with that and it'll open up room for something else.
"The paradox behind [my music] is that, if it does have a sound, it's all over the place," he concludes. We can only hope that Krane and others continue to seek out such paradoxes; they seem to thrive in these parts.
KRISTOFF KRANE plays an all-ages and a 21+ CD-release show with Strange Matter, Big Trouble, Ecid, Guante and Big Cats!, and host Eric Blair of No Bird Sing on SATURDAY, MAY 15, at the 7th ST. ENTRY; 612.332.1775