Brooklyn-native MC, Kota the Friend is a champion for going against the grain, professionally, personally, and creatively. After three attempts to tie him up in a record deal, he refused and has independently released all of his music to date, including his best work yet, the self-produced debut project, FOTO (May 17).
A gorgeous and overwhelmingly impactful album, FOTO represents Kota’s life as a photo album, drawing from the motif of capturing a moment in a picture from beginning to end. The album draws inspiration from his past and present, highlighting impactful moments from his upbringing to the surplus of life realizations he has made, leading him to a higher yet humble understanding of our existence. Regardless of the brilliant overarching concept of the album, sonically this record is one for the books. The project showcases significant influence from jazz, neo-soul, and R&B, while featuring Kota’s arsenal of flows and his undeniably captivating tone and style.
The 19-track album is chock-full of wisdom and inspiration, making us sure that Kota the Friend is the modern day musical Yoda. We’ve decided to highlight four of our favorite lessons learned from FOTO. So put your earbuds in and get your pad and pen out; you’re gonna want to jot a few of these “mic drop” moments down.
Pay your dues now in order to succeed in the future.
Having grown up a musically inclined child in downtown Brooklyn, pursuing music was something Kota had to grind for. A classically-trained trumpeter and self-taught guitarist, pianist, producer, rapper, and cinematographer, work ethic is clearly something he holds in high regard. A commitment to hard work and not giving up is a central theme in several of the tracks on the album. Kota reminisces on the difficulties he has gone through in order to sustain his vision of life, artistry, and self. In “Alkaline,” he advises “Ayy homie, why you stressing, we got one foot in the grave…/Let it go, you ain’t gotta hold on no more/If you got a good thing, go for it.” Likely from personal experience, he encourages his listeners to save the time worrying and go straight for the prize. Following this mantra in subsequent track “Sedona,” he stresses the importance of learning through trial and avoiding attractive shortcuts by stating, “Yeah, I know the shortcut, rather take the long way/… What the fuck you bringing to the table? Did you pay dues? Are you grateful? What you been through? Was it painful? Did it break you?”
Love knows no bounds or limitations.
All types of love are touched on throughout the project, whether it be self love, romantic love, or familial love, Kota makes it clear the positive affect that accepting love and loving others has made on him. From professing his loyalty to his greatest inspiration, his son, in “Solar Return” to realizing what letting your walls down will do for a budding romance in “Bagels,” Kota seems to have clarity on what is important to him in life. In the last spoken interlude of the album, “Grandpa’s Interlude,” one of the matriarchs of his family drives the point of unconditional love home when sharing the touching story of finding her father homeless on the streets and being so overjoyed to finally see him again. She recalls, “When you love a person, it doesn’t matter if they’re dirty, if they look like a bum, it doesn’t matter.”
How to personally overcome a long history of systematic racism and hatred in this world.
The seventeenth track on the album and arguably the most prophetic is an honest testament to the longstanding affects of systematic racism today. Kota sugar coats nothing for the Black youth of America but offers a string of advice that all of humanity can learn from. He states, "Wiser assessments of situations will carry you to your best days/Put away a portion of your profit when you get paid/And do not be afraid of change/And always make time for family and celebration/And every good thing in life requires dedication/Like career, wife, kids, and it’s spiritual/The point of our existence isn’t physical/ Make sure there is love in your livin’ room.”
Take a photo now because what mattered in the moment, mattered in the moment.
The album begins and ends with the concept of capturing a moment with a photo. From intro track “Full Bloom” where narrator Richard Parker urges Kota, “Make sure you takin’ some photos man/Before you know it, it won’t be the same,” to concluding title track “FOTO,” during which Kota repeats in the chorus “You left me with me with this photo…/To be sure I don’t forget…/What mattered in a moment…/It mattered in a moment.” A beautiful close to an album that truly taps into a higher mindset, Kota emphasizes the importance of embracing now because what matters now matters now, as it truly shapes what is next to come.