Using hip-hop tools to create pop isn't a new tactic, but it's not often done well, or even notably. Rap music, after all, is more than just a compressed snare sample and an Auto-tuned chorus — N*E*R*D's first album and D'Angelo's Voodoo prove how potent the combination can be.
On his posthumously released debut, Camu Tao's well-honed rap skills (as both an MC and a beat-crafting producer) are applied outside the hip-hop box, to intriguing and sometimes thrilling effect. Completed by long-time friend and frequent collaborator El-P following the artist's 2008 death from lung cancer, King of Hearts showcases a daring, playful, experimental artistic voice.
True, Camu Tao hadn't mastered the art of songwriting: verses and choruses abound, whereas bridges are conspicuously absent. But even half-built tracks like "Bird Flu" and "Intervention" are proof that he could create engaging and catchy hooks alongside vocals that matched his new palette without diluting the hip-hop æsthetic. Such songs are tantalizing examples of unrealized potential — a sad indication of what could have been.