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Worst Rapper Alive

Unraveling veteran rhymesmith K-Rino's brilliance in an über-sketchy Third Ward park.

The irony of the situation was just too great, we suppose. That's why it didn't happen — because it couldn't happen. The universe wouldn't let it. It sounded a little preposterous to begin with.

At 2:43 p.m. Saturday, November 21, we received a text message from K-Rino that read, We can meet at Olive Garden around 7 or 8, if that's cool. Grammatically, that's cleaned up a bit, but that's the premise.

Imagine that. K-Rino, genius existentialist rapper, dining at the most mundane Italian-American restaurant chain on the planet. Just sitting there, being treated like family, picking at rubbery spinach artichoke dip and fondling those long, warm breadsticks.

Absurd. Imagine Kierkegaard at McDonald's, or Nietzsche at Arby's. There's no way that could ever happen, which is why it doesn't.

Instead, a new message. What will you be doing in 30 minutes? It's 7:19 p.m.

A few minutes later, I'll hit you with a location in about 20 minutes comes across.

7:39 p.m.

7:59 p.m.

8:19 p.m. Can you be at MacGregor Park in 20 minutes?

MacGregor Park. Naturally.

K-Rino has lived the majority of his life near that park, in that neighborhood. The Dead End, they call it. He's shot music videos there and referenced it countless times over the course of his 21 albums. Of course that's where he'll want to meet.

Third Ward. At night. In the dark.

You know those maximum-security super-prisons they always profile on the Discovery Channel? That's what we're thinking of. You know that video of the gazelles trying to cross the alligator-infested river? That's what we're thinking of.

8.22 p.m. I'll be on the basketball court.

You know that scene in Fresh where the girl gets shot in the neck while she's playing near the basketball court? You know that scene in Above the Rim where the guy gets shot in the chest on the basketball court?

K-Rino is taller than you'd expect. Backed by the night, his black, stretched outline looks like a shadow that's stood up off the ground. He's lean, and his face is streamlined. His skin is smooth.

His steps are long and furtive. They're smooth, too. It seems like it takes him two steps to get everywhere. Two steps to cover the width of a parking spot, about six feet. Two steps to go from the car to the basketball court, about 90 feet. Two steps to talk about one thing.

Here's the issue: K-Rino is probably too intelligent for his own good, but I'm not sure if he's smart. That's what we have to talk about. Or, he might be so intelligent that he's too smart for his own good. In which case, we need to talk about that.

He's definitely one of those, but at the moment, the differentiation is unclear, because being smart and being intelligent aren't the same thing. To be intelligent can lead to being smart, but it doesn't have to. And being smart doesn't necessarily identify being intelligent, but it can.

For sure, confounding this whole situation is K-Rino himself. When it's brought up, he says he's not smart at all. That's exactly the kind of thing intelligent people say because they understand the contextual nature of being smart, and that actually makes them very smart.

He's not saying anything by saying he's not smart. Or he's saying everything. He's deliberate like that. And this is why you will never, ever hear him on the radio.

Over the 26 years that he's been rapping, K-Rino has proven again and again that he's intelligent, particularly within the parameters of morality.

On "The Debate," from last year's Blood Doctrine, he argued with himself over the purpose of life and the existence of God, concurrently playing the role of Theologian, Evolutionary Atheist and Creationist. On "The Man in the Mask," from 2006's Worst Rapper Alive, he developed a construct within a story that spoke to the unrequited nature of wicked acts.

On the title song of his latest album, the brand-new Solitary Confinement, he's trapped in a three-story-tall auxiliary hell. He maneuvers from horrible floor to horrible floor until he reaches the top section and realizes that he's really only been condemned to the subconscious of his own brain.

Commercially, this has hurt K-Rino. How do you come up with a catchy Philosophy of Morality dance? Traditional achievement doesn't typically follow intelligence. Meaningfulness follows intelligence. Gravitas follows intelligence.

But not a shiny watch and a big deposit for a live show.

Mike Jones is smart. Or he showed the capacity to be smart, which is close enough. He was successful. The fact that he's not anymore proves he's not intelligent.

Lil' Flip had people believing he was intelligent, but then he recorded "Sunshine" and everyone figured out he was just smart. Bun B is smart and intelligent. He's (probably) rich and (definitely) meaningful. Z-Ro is intelligent. He's meaningful.

K-Rino is intelligent. He's meaningful, too. But he's not successful, not conventionally anyway.

This doesn't bother him, though, because it's not a surprise to him — yet another mark of intelligence.

He's standing on the lit basketball court in MacGregor Park. It's 56 degrees. He's wearing a pair of Jordan basketball pants and a T-shirt. (Not smart.) The buzz of the fluorescent lights overhead is the only other noise around. Except for the two people he brought with him, the park looks completely empty.

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