We Are King
There was early hype surrounding bedsit trio, KING. They self-released a three-track EP in 2011 and next thing The Roots, Prince, Erykah Badu and Kendrick Lamar were in their corner. The tracks were appearing on TV shows and movies, being remixed, being diced and spliced and sampled elsewhere and the hype continued to build and bubble and we all expected a full-lengther in 2014.
Well, time takes time – and so now, five years on, we have that debut album, the songs from the earlier EP have been separated out and sprinkled through this along with brand new tracks.
So it works as both introduction – band out of nowhere, and continuation of that early hype and hope. And We Are King delivers.
The trio – Anita Bias and twin sisters Amber and Paris Strother – create the music, they are the voices, (most of the) instruments, producers and writers. And the world of KING’s music is all at once a throwback to the Ashford & Simpson era of writing and production, a reminder of the slickness of Sade’s jazz-meets-pop-meets-soul and the winning R’n’B of 90s trios, duos and small combos. When R’n’B wasn’t just hinting at hip-hop or derived from it, when R’n’B was a statement within pop music and about it.
Somehow the music of KING seems familiar and brand spanking new. It feels like comfort food, soul food (if you must).
And these women get to show that the R’n’B ballad can be a love song (Long Song) but that it doesn’t have to be a cliché (Carry On) or can transcend the tropes (Oh, Please!)
So many of the songs here are about travel – spiritual, internal as well as external (Red Eye, Supernatureal, The Story, Native Land) – and there’s, perhaps ironically, or at least running counter to that notion of flight, a grounded feel, an earthiness in the approach, feel and flow.
This is music that is warm, inviting, that both embraces the confines and clichés associated with the genre and totally ignores them. You could be a fan of SWV and TLC and see KING as some new version – or you could have never cared for those bands and still find so much to love in the infectious sound (and vision) of KING.
When the news broke that Prince had died and I was up early to write whatever lines I could there was no way I felt like listening to Prince. The KING album was already on high rotate but in those early wee hours, listening to it as the only possible soundtrack as I tried to conjure some thoughts and images around what Prince’s music had meant to me, felt entirely correct. Like it was the only music for that job and the logical successor. And there’s some clue in the name of course – there’s such huge strength and statement in the band’s name. Whole think-pieces are waiting to be written about how this is really where people should be seeing and hearing the future, not in whatever stunt Beyonce is pulling, but in the very real approach of knuckling down and writing music and working at it and releasing it through and after hard slog. And that that is empowering and honest and real. And – therefore – brave.
And it’s a music that seems to, like the very best music, hang suspended in time and space, occupying a world all of its own. You can draw the lines, see the seams, line up influences, but you can’t imagine anyone else making this music, or these people making anything else.
That’s the success of KING and the album We Are King.
A beautiful piece of magic. My favourite repeat-listening experience so far this year. There’s no other album I can play on a loop for hours on end and not get sick of, this is the one. And that is only part of its magic. The rest is there waiting for you to attach your story.