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Kassa Overall focuses on humanity on his new album 'Animals'

Patrick O'Brien-Smith
Kassa Overall

Multi-instrumentalist and rapper Kassa Overall builds his songs like collages. He blends elements of experimental jazz and hip-hop to create something that sounds ahead of its time and unique.

Animals is Overall’s third proper album and his debut for Warp Records. On it, he continues to craft worlds based on rhythms and beats that are both old and new to him, while speaking out about the way artists are treated in the music industry. The record features an impressive array of guests including Nick Hakim, Lil B, Francis and the Lights, Vijay Iyer, and Danny Brown.

Speaking on the theme of the album, Overall said: “We call ourselves humans, right? But we do animalistic [expletive] towards each other. We justify immorality by almost stripping people of their humanity. He’s an animal, so we can treat him as such. All these different kinds of little questions in these songs point to questions about humanity: Am I free? Or am I a circus animal? These questions intersect with the way I think about race."

Overall recently caught up with WUNC Music’s Brian Burns to discuss the new record, his writing process, and more.

This is an excerpt of an edited transcript of that conversation. You can hear the full interview by clicking the LISTEN button at the top of this post.

Brian Burns: When did you start working on the new record?

Kassa Overall: That sounds like an easy question, but for me it’s kind of difficult because of the way I make my music. Some of the songs I started working on back in 2019. I do a lot of in-studio improvisational recording sessions. Like one day, me and Vijay Iyer recorded all day long at GSI Studios in Manhattan. I left there with three hours of me and Vijay playing, and there are a couple of ideas that came from that that I ended up working on for four years. The way I make these albums and songs, they’re just kind of piecemeal. The simple answer though is around March or April of 2020 right after I THINK I'M GOOD came out. I wanted to make something that was timeless so there was a lot of rewriting and reworking on the record.

You kind of assemble records like a collage, it sounds like. You’ve got stuff you’re always working on, and when you’re putting together a record like this you’re taking elements from your entire history of recording music.

Yeah, I think of it like that. As far as making records and making original material, I come out of the school of hip-hop and beat makers. You have a beat in the basement, and that’s looping for months, and then somebody comes through and they like it and they start rapping on it. Once you get a few tracks that feel really strong you start thinking about the arc of the album like it’s a movie script. I have other songs that are really good, but it’s a different movie.

Kassa Overall's Animals is available now on Warp Records.

Brian Burns is the Music Director for WUNC Music, WUNC's AAA music discovery station. He has been working within the local music scene for over a decade. On the weekends you might see him DJing at various spots around the Triangle, or digging through boxes of records. He's also the host of Future Shock on WUNC Music and a contributor to NPR Music. He graduated from UNC’s School of Information and Library Science with an MSLS in 2015.
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