Kota the Friend's Down To Earth Single: "Colorado"
by Noah Adaikkalam
Sometimes YouTube recommended videos really pull through. I mostly use the website for buried Mac Miller tracks he silently released without telling, like the Stevie Wonder cover I played on my radio show. Earlier this week, something new popped up. Colorado by KOTA the Friend.
The video opens on a dude in all navy, dad hat, posted on a boulder and holding an old-school Polaroid camera (none of that Urban Outfitters shit) in a field that reminded me of the High Sierras. Smooth synths poured out like chocolate milk with 808’s slipping in right underneath them. Then he starts rapping. Yellow subtitles lite up the bottom of the screen. His hands move occasionally, but for the most part, he stays still, almost camouflaged against the blue sky behind him. When the chorus hits, he picks up his camera and aims it. Next, the shot slides frames into a shot from behind him. The song plays out, him rapping, his arms moving occasionally, but his body staying perched, slowly melting into the landscape.
This video was shot, produced, and edited by KOTA, a Brooklyn native coming off his third project. There’s little out about him right now, but from what I do know he’s been a musician his entire life. Starting in elementary school, KOTA played trumpet and eventually moved to guitar, his home being in 90’s hip-hop and jazz records. But KOTA’s sound has been influenced by everyone from Bob Dylan to the Beatles. At the end of high school, he began working to build his own studio and establish a group, Flight Boys (FLTBYS), that eventually became his clothing line.
KOTA’s first project, Palm Tree Liquor, dropped back in 2016 and got some buzz at the time, but never really broke out past then. Back then, he was really focused on the scene, hosting “Flight Nights” venues around Brooklyn where he would feature local artists from Brooklyn. It’s a good record, produced by him, with one of his most popular tracks, “Her.” “Her” is a really mellow love song, his classic 808 with some soft Daniel Caesaresc guitar chords; he just raps about being broken and in love.
From there, he moved to “To Paloma Beach” in 2017, continuing his lo-fi beats, and refining a simultaneously predictable and unpredictable sound. You can always count on a simple and light 808 foundation, but where the music goes and what instruments will be utilized are always different. Additionally, this record was produced by Nimbus Beats, a well versed underground producer out of Vegas with a seven thousand subscriber YouTube channel.
Then came “Anything”, his latest EP. Produced with about five other guys, this release included more layering and growth. The most prominent of the five is Mantra Beats, a producer who helped out with two tracks on Future’s new album. His sound is much more solidified, more instrumental variation (piano and guitar specifically) as well as him rapping in a much deeper voice. All of KOTA’s featured artists are right in the underground with him, giving his sound a much more homemade vibe, their relationships coming through in the sound waves.
KOTA’s musical videos visually represent the authenticity and down-to-earthiness of his music. The one I mentioned earlier is his more recent one, “Colorado”, and the production value is high without losing his sense of self. If you go back, to the “Palm Tree Liquor” music videos especially, KOTA is able to capture authentic short films that take the vibes established by his music to another level. A really good example is for his song Sydney. The vibe of this song completely one-eighties from Colorado. This time it is KOTA dressed in his own brand “fltbys” shirts and slides, complete with socks with saguaros on them all against a completely white background. The lens is covered with a filter making half of the frame sepia and half white. He’s on a couch on the sepia side next to a beautiful woman, and a different woman, Sydney, is on the other. He’s talking to Syd on the phone, and then all three of them stand up and leave. People cross from the sepia side to the white one, tossing couch cushions and beach balls across the two planes. The scene shifts, color comes from rainbow leis, umbrellas, and beach balls, bubbles are blown, more beautiful women are in, yet the background stays that same white. It’s much more pop, fun, he’s not that same laid back he was in Colorado, he’s stuntin’, but he’s stuntin’ his style, something similar to Knxwledge. His interest in cinematography shows. He is able to effectively communicate his vibe simultaneously through both his music and his sound. It is incredible.
But KOTA still hasn’t hit his big break yet. His music videos have about 90-120k views, which is good, but by no means famous. The rapper is touring Europe right now, so he is definitely doing well, but kind of fitting into the scene a bit under Milo, bsd.u, or Philanthrope; enough to live comfortably, but doing so out of the spotlight. His albums are met with lots of coverage from hometown online papers and remembered by underground listeners, but they’re not drawn on Sprite bottles with Kyle or Vince Staples. Personally, I love where his music at. It’s still homemade, he’s only three solo projects in, still self-recorded, but you can feel the momentum beginning to boil over.