Chris Snakes: A Lyrically “KYLE-Type” Meets “Kendrick-Lite”

Chris Snakes, an artist who is classified as R&B but is more like hip hop-lite, is a beautifully subtle and super talented artist making exceptionally polished slow-dance vibes all the way from his home country of South Africa (Durban North, to be exact). His most recent release, a single called “Why” features Garde, an artist with an eclectic release history, crossing genres as though he has a passport for all of them, yet delivers the most perfect accompaniment to any song that I’ve heard in a while, especially at the underground level. June is one of those way-way-underground artists who you might have trouble even finding if you try to search him out on Spotify. Chris Snakes himself has so much talent, and his track is so polished and well made, I couldn’t help geeking out on it. So, get ready for a deep dive. Chris Snakes, who you can hear on the first and second verse in the song, (June takes verse three), sounds a little like Kendrick Lamar. To be clear, it’s really pretty specific to Kendrick on the song “For Free?” (you know, that Kendrick… specifically). Chris Snakes is somewhat without the South African hallmark sound, in tone, cadence, flow, accent, and pretty much all other conceivable ways. The only real call back to his heritage is in a random smattering of slang terms, and incidental usage of what I can only assume is part of his regional, South African vernacular. However, it’s worth noting that even if all of the lyrics were in everyday American slang and casual English, I am still not sure we would learn much about what Snakes is talking about here. The story veers and weaves around poetic, flowery details, vaguely giving us pieces of a story that doesn’t ever seem to make sense. It’s almost just pretty nonsense, which has its place in the poetry world, but, traditionally, Hip Hop likes to stay well away from poetry as not to be associated with it by people who aren’t familiar with how the music genre differs from just written word.

This style of pretty, soft-spoken poetry-lines and nonsensical story building does have some rappers championing it within the mainstream (or near-mainstream) world. KYLE is the most immediate example that comes to mind. Sometimes his sing-song cadence and rhythmically rebellious flows, along with his use of esoteric verbiage and his immediately recognizable punchlines, which hit less like a punch and more like something someone mumbles and hides under a fake-cough. It’s kind of… a good act, played to the wrong audience, in my opinion, when it comes to the KYLE style. Soft punches and long lines with flowery words and almost cringey-sweet sentiments is all just a little too much of all of those things. And Snakes is very close to making that same mistake. However, he hasn’t quite taken it too far, stylistically speaking. He’s still somewhat within the safety zone of R&B’s standards for acceptable levels of soft, poetic, and sentimental. There’s maybe enough sexuality thrown in for the typical softcore hip hop track — think any rapper ever featured on a SZA track — albeit between random bouts of obscure adjectives and off-putting poetry. I don’t know that there are enough generic callbacks to basic sexuality to cover his basis for the American R&B genre. It doesn’t need to be an Usher ballad — he just needs to pepper in a few generic statements of intent, which cover the most basic sexual situations, and then the lyrics can go back to waxing poetic without issue.

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Moving on to the third verse, we have the featured artist, June, who goes the same route as Snakes, when it comes to the story in this song. June begins by regaling us with a somewhat less confusing, albeit just as vague tale of his conquests. Standard, safe, and in this case, smart. If you only read the lyrics, you’d probably think, parts of this seem a little… overly pretty, and too flowery, with lines like, “I can’t conform to your needs and the/ air that you breathe/ is exuberant but/ came for that booty.” No, it’s not music to meet your Tinder hookup to, but, it is without a doubt a perfectly produced, beautifully composed, skillfully engineered, and lovingly made song. It would be great to listen to on headphones while, I don’t know — falling asleep in the sun by the pool, or something. It’s pretty day, chill vibe, kind of mood music. But in every way that counts, this song is a complete success — minus the lyrical tone being wrong for R&B, and the verbiage being wrong for Hip Hop.

All artists give a masterful performance, with Garde, the artist who does the hook, seeming particularly ready to pop up as famous any day. He just sounds like the next version of Bruno Mars, so, you can’t help but like it. This review almost seems like it’s a negative one, and it’s not meant to be. If you play the track, “Why,” you’ll see that it’s exactly as described: When just listening to it (and not critically analyzing it) it’s beautiful, fluidic, entrancing, and layered with thoughtful details throughout the instrumental component. Chris Snakes is like a feel-good, whispery Kendrick doing one of his “pretty, silly” songs. You can’t help but like it. Garde is just right for the hook and probably would make a killing in the American scene. All three artist are harmoniously in perfect accord on this collaborative release, and they seem to naturally enhance the best qualities of each other’s particular styles.

-ERINEM

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