How Klokwize Got His Groove Back
The Connecticut rapper’s new EP ‘East Of Exile’ is a triumphant return to form after experiments in pop
Within the first few minutes of Klokwize’s new EP East of Exile, nostalgia reigns supreme. The rapper/singer, an indie stalwart throughout the last decade who has worked everyone from Suga Free to Pacewon, manages to effortlessly reference Barenaked Ladies, The Punisher, Jaws 3, Johnny Bravo, Tina Turner in Mad Max, hackeysacks, The Swamp Thing, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and William Shatner’s lecherous lawyer character on TV series Boston Legal.
In standout track ‘Castle’ he even playfully declares,
‘Rest in peace Luke Perry, I’m Pike up on the motorbike / Rolling through California nights with a shoulder spike’
Unique, clever and musical, what’s underneath these metaphors, and all Klokwize records it seems, is inward analysis and an inherent darkness. What makes ‘East Of Exile’ work so well is Klokwize is finally leaning into that darkness.
On ‘There I Am’, laced by Sadat X producer Jeremy Ford, Klok gets both truthful and a little sarcastic.
I heard about your scandals,
hangovers and sandals,
shame holding the mantle,
aim forward and handle,
I’d blame em but I can’t though -
I’d probably laugh at people falling into manholes.’
The authenticity missing from so much of today’s music is everywhere to be found on East Of Exile. ‘Whisper’ covers sobriety, regret, and a complicated relationship. The title track takes aim at a larger view and may be one of Klok’s most political tracks to date with lines like:
‘The roof is caving,
’Til the leaders know only the truth can save them,
There’s a couple of things I refuse to haven,
like hating anybody in the land of the brave, man.’
Rich Stone’s pulsing live drums on the track really make the song stand out and feel epic. Long time Klok fans may be reminded of his classics like ‘Happy Camper.’ I know I was. His bars feel tighter and more centered than they have in years.
After breaking out in 2012 with indie hip-hop cult classic ‘Hood Hippie’ and the hit single ‘Round & Round’ (featured on ESPN’s First Take’), all seemed to be on Klok’s side, including CTNow Music Award nominations, a run on Vans Warped Tour, and prestigious songwriting gigs for signed artists. But the years that followed were a bit more unpredictable. Subsequent releases were seen by some as trying to expand his sound into pop territory, as an increasing number of female hook-driven songs, and a move to California, took him further from what his fans first discovered — the scratchy voice, edgy hip-hop anthems and underdog point of view.
Questions about Klok’s enduring durability ensued, although Klok kept working diligently, writing and producing for himself and other artists, including ‘A Little Respect’ with LA rap icon Suga Free, an album with Isaac Young’s 8-Bit Symphony, and Klok’s 2017 album Permission To Land. But nothing seemed to stick.
‘I just wanted to show people “See! Look! I’m OK! I’m fine! You can’t hurt me.’ Klok chuckles as we speak over Skype. He is slender but tall, his beard slightly overgrown atop his now famous jawline. His eyes are expressive and a bit childlike for a guy turning 30.
‘I was hurt. I felt like everyone left me when I needed them. I thought people would be happy for me that we were growing. I was making records I thought would get sold easily. Club records, house records. I put so much pressure on myself and maybe I lost touch with who I had started making music for in the first place. I just felt like a man without a country.‘
Catharsis was a process. ‘Disappointment was one hell of a teacher,’ says Klok. ‘It made it very clear what was working or not working with my brand and my listeners. I just had to get honest and back to center, back to true north. What makes me ‘me.’ I love making music again lately, the last 2 EPs were truly for love, what I think is good. What I think is art now.’
2019 saw the release of both Dangerous Youth, an intimate, jazz tinged EP that Klok says ‘helped steer the course back,’ and East of Exile followed last week, to rave reviews from the hip-hop community. TheGreenerSideOfHipHop.com remarked the EP contains ‘new don’t give a f*** lyricism. This feels like a little sneaky rebirth and I LOVE it!’
‘My joke now is I’m perpetually on a comeback’, says Klok.
‘Maybe it takes a while for indie fans and hip hop fans to trust you again. I think I’m finally at that point where the listeners are letting me back into that relationship. And I have no problem rebuilding that.’
East of Exile is available on all streaming platforms and klokwize.net.