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Infinity Knives & Brian Ennals
King Cobra Arusa Qureshi , June 20th, 2022 07:54

A collaboration between rapper Brian Ennals and producer Infinity Knives proves as elusive as it is irresistible, finds Arusa Qureshi

Some artists truly thrive within collaborative frameworks, using the rough parameters of partnership to drive themselves to new and interesting places. When Tanzania-born, Baltimore-based producer Infinity Knives (Tariq Ravelomanana) and fellow-Baltimore rapper Brian Ennals teamed up for their first collaborative LP Rhino XXL in 2020, there was a clear blurring of musical lines, with hip hop experimentalism existing firmly at the core. This continued in Infinity Knives’ vibrant debut Dear, Sudan, which heavily featured Ennals on vocals. Now, two years later, the pair have reunited for another collection that is just as rich and full of creative urgency.

King Cobra begins in an unexpected manner. A warbling operative voice sits atop a repetitive descending guitar melody, playing out as if coming from a slightly warped old vinyl record. The track, ‘’Neath The Willow’s Leaves’, provides an early impression of the record’s overall sonic language, introducing the influence of genres that sit outside the general sphere of hip hop, like neo-classical and minimal electronic. It’s as if you’re being lulled into a false sense of calm before the storm hits with ‘Coke Jaw’. Here Ennals fittingly announces his presence above a synth-heavy backdrop, barreling ahead with his acerbic lines. There are many varying, clashing elements in Infinity Knives’ production but this only serves to amplify the intensity around Ennals’ deft rhyming.

Elsewhere, ‘A Melancholy Boogie’ switches the style once again to something more funk-infused, with its prominent bass gliding over the cosmic sound effects and orchestration. Latest single ‘Don’t Let The Smooth Taste Fool You’ is similarly bold in its intention, both musically and thematically. With its cutting lyrics and jittering 10/4 time signature, it acts as the pair’s version of a diss track, eventually fading out into an ambient instrumental as the nostalgic-sounding warped motif from the album’s opening returns to set the balance once again.

While King Cobra works well as a collection, each track manages to stand on its own because of the attention that is paid to melody, harmony and orchestration by Infinity Knives. Sometimes you get little vignettes of action over Nils Frahm-like piano (‘Theme from King Cobra’) or 80s-sounding synths and rhythms, as in lead single ‘Death Of A Constable’. The latter also shines a spotlight on Ennal’s skilful rapping as he calls out issues from Black injustice to police brutality. His lyrics pack a punch but they can be funny too, like in the anti-capitalist anthem ‘The Badger’, where he tears into landlords, billionaires and male models, amongst others. But tracks like ‘The Badger’ also emphasise the power of his storytelling and his occasionally sermon-like delivery – ‘Headclean’ being another excellent example (“They say the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice / you see an eagle and flag, I see a hood in a noose”).

Together, Infinity Knives and Brian Ennals might seem like the poster boys for alternative or experimental hip hop, but King Cobra proves that labels can be meaningless. The meditative opening and closing tracks, the quiet interludes matched with Ennals’ poetic rage, and the layers of sound effects and visceral soundscapes in-between all point to an album that is colourful yet hard to pin down.