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Album Review: Chaz Kangas' Knee Jerk Reaction

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Chaz Kangas himself. Photo courtesy Chaz.

It’s probably fitting that the place you’re most likely to find Chaz Kangas is online. After all, he got a pretty big boost by appearing on the freestyle-inspired Childish Gambino track My Hoodie off the Sick Boi drop a while back. After all, Childish himself is the online-only rap personification of Donald Glover, who himself got his start online with the sketch comedy group Derrick. But with an innumerable amount of battle rap videos spanning years, Kangas is so serious about tearing other MCs apart, there’d be nothing funny about it if it wasn’t so damn hilarious.

Unfortunately, YouTube and the interwebs in general being what they are, it’s not always possible to get a high-quality, clear sounding video out to the masses. And, no matter when you started getting on stage (for Kangas it was 11), often times it’s not exactly perfect. So why not compile your best stuff, pull some beats together, and make an actual CD called Knee Jerk Reaction, an homage to your skills as a freestyle artist. At least, that’s what Kangas has done.

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What’s immediately striking about Kangaz (if you’ve never seen a picture of the red-haired 24-year-old Minneapolis native) is his drive, his rhythm, and his voice, all of which are showcased well on Knee Jerk Reaction. Conceptually, the album is a hustle project unto itself, with 16 tracks that range from funny to hopeful to downright braggery. On Hero of Undergroung Rap, he exclaims: “I’ll roll through your concert, give you a handshake / forget about your girl and leave with your fan base”, and while the look and the name may not turn any heads the skills could certainly make the prediction come true. Later, on I Can Make It (arguably the best track on the album), Kangas reflects on how long he’s had the mic in his hand, and just how far he’s able to really sustain himself by just doing what he loves. And through it all, the voice is smooth, confident, and an octave or two lower than you’d expect. Maybe he was born that way, or maybe cutting his teeth at such a young age on the battle rap circuit has made more of a man of Kangas than we know.

Chaz Kangas (and, by extension, Knee Jerk Reaction itself) exist as somewhat of a dichotomy in the current underground rap scene. Many people in New York CIty know and respect Kangas, and with a few more features on an EP or two bring him to tour out west some time soon. But maybe, on the other hand, Kangas is just another young white suburbanite thinking he can play the rap game with the big boys. There’s certainly no shortage of similar storylines coming out of the burgeoning Minneapolis rap scene these days. The easy money is on Kangas taking his lumps and getting back in line with the rest of the wannabes. But that’s just fine with him. As raw as Knee Jerk Reaction is, it’s really just an extension of the dedication, drive, and pure energy that Kangas puts into every rap battle night after night. It’s only a matter of time before that sort of skill can’t be ignored.

Chaz Kangas is a NYC-based underground freestyle rapper. For an even deeper look, check out the short documentary Uncontrolled Substance, which follows Chaz has he keeps the hustle alive.