For a group that's been around as long as Kanser, a record like Two for One could seem like a bad omen. On their first release in two years, South Side rappers Big Zach and Unicus combine two separate EPs and present them back-to-back as one album. Surprisingly, considering the two MCs never collaborate and use four different producers, the album flows well. In fact, rather than making it look like they're splitting apart, Two for One sees Kanser embracing their role as a local institution and inviting others to join the party.
What ties the two halves together is their persistent sense of fun, an attitude exemplified on Big Zach's "Positive Punchlines." A reflection on cheating, drugs, and his (lack of) responsibility as he grows older, "Punchlines" is a laid-back, upbeat song with spare but fresh production. Zach's narrative style also provides the album's comedic highlight with "Hey, I'm Cold Down Here," a story about a booty call gone wrong.
The most pleasant surprise of Zach's half is the way it showcases Alicia Steele, whose backup vocals are featured prominently throughout. The sister of Roster McCabe's singer, Alex, Steele's saucy attitude and brash, assertive voice bolsters Zach's rhymes, and she proves more than able to hold her own when she takes center stage on "Son Don't Remember."
Unicus's side builds on Zach's with an island vibe and party atmosphere. While Zach is reflective, Unicus is celebratory, with songs like "Don't Mean a Ting" relying on sunny production and a number of guest appearances, including ones from Natalie Fine and Josh "Jellyfish" Holmgren of More Than Lights. Despite his fun-loving nature, Unicus also isn't afraid to deal with social issues, as evidenced by "Push Up Ya Hands," the most topical song here.
Inevitably, the combination of "Journey," Unicus's remembrance of growing up in Haiti, and the grim images in "So Much" that round off the album takes on extra resonance following last month's tragic earthquake. However, for all its serious moments, Two for One is one of Kanser's most joyous albums, one that takes time to celebrate simple pleasures and personal triumphs. It's a victory lap no doubt, and, true to form, they want everyone to come along for the ride.
KANSER play a CD-release show with Greenhouse Effect (featuring Blueprint and Illogic), Pseudo Slang, Duenday, and Conflict of Interest on FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 26, at the TRIPLE ROCK SOCIAL CLUB; 612.333.7399