Kemba & Smino Have Each Reached A New Level. Their Collabo Stops To Exhale (Audio)

Kemba has been turning heads since age 19, with the release of his debut mixtape, You’re Welcome, which dropped back in 2010. The project set a promising stage for the young rapper as the tape portrayed an artist in the midst of developing a voice, but never revealing any sense of weak hand. His lyrics were sharp, his personality was present and distinct, while his message landed pure and intelligent. At the top of the following year, he was honored as one of the artists under HipHopDX‘s “DXnext” feature. In an interview with the publication, Kemba, then-known as YC The Cynic, spoke on his Bronx upbringing and the weight of having the B-X on his back. “It feels like there’s a void in the Bronx, and I don’t necessarily feel like I have to fill it, but I feel like I could. People aren’t putting pressure on me yet, because I’m still up and coming. But I feel like that will happen in the future, and I’m ready for it. It does motivate me, because I have to be dope.”

This weekend, Kemba indirectly calls back the interview with the opening lines of his newest Smino-assisted track, “Exhale”: “I feel more pressure from my moms than from the blogs / I feel more pressure from my ni**as than the critics.” While his outlook might’ve never changed, his output certainly has; two tapes, two albums and a name change later, Kemba is now readying the release of project number five (via major label Sounds Music/Republic Records), and he’s teasing its promise with a mellow debut single.

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“Exhale,” produced by Frank Drake and Brasstracks, delivers as sweet as a track from Chicago contemporaries Saba and Noname. With a pleasant first verse following a hook sung by Kemba himself, the MC/singer details his present day lifestyle and speaks of the stresses that lay dormant for him, luckily relieved by medication, or a simple exhale of the breath. He tops his introspective verse off with some clever Kanye West nods that call back nostalgia for late 20-somethings who grew up on the ’00s Hip-Hop scene: “So it’s back to square one, first steps, I was falling over,  A ni**a got into a good school, but I passed it up for a four-leaf clover / I left a good-ass job alone, medicate, Late Registration, Mouth wired like Kanye, I ain’t even seen my own graduation.”

Smino, Chicago rapper and singer who dropped the fantastic genre-bending LP NOIR earlier this month, steps up for the song’s second verse, revisiting a past relationship and speaking on his Rap career. He sharply delivers: “I always thought it was weird being ’round other kids who ain’t figured out life yet / Knew what I had to do since I was five years, stuck with it and wifed it / I can’t do this with you no more boo, ‘kay?, You see these moves, gon’ put me on the screen like Blu-Ray.”

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“Exhale” is the first single to an untitled, upcoming third studio album by Kemba. The album will be entirely executive produced by Brasstracks (the team responsible for Chance The Rapper’s “No Problem”), and if “Exhale” is an indicator of the record’s direction and mood, we’re eager to hear the rapper’s follow-up to 2016’s Negus.

Kemba photograph provided by artist management.