The Kentucky/Atlanta trio CunninLynguists have been pumping out music for 16 years, growing from a witty, punchline-driven boom bap act to one of the most ambitiously conceptual rap groups of the past decade.
The South has been an unheralded mecca for creativity within hip-hop. The most obvious name that comes to mind is Outkast, of course, with acts like Geto Boys, Goodie Mob and UGK all largely credited with adding depth to a regional genre often looked down upon for its simplicity and monotony. The truth is, the South has never been simple or monotonous, especially as you dig deeper past the immediately recognizable names that have come out of it. CunninLynguists are a shining example of this and have, to a large extent, witnessed multiple monumental changes in the style of the heritage sound of their birthplace. They’re a group that has paired longevity with evolution magnificently, shifting more and more towards concepts that explore the unexplored and illuminate the mind.
Consisting of emcees and producers Kno, Natti and Deacon the Villain, the group has toured alongside the likes of CeeLo Green, Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Raekwon and a slew of other hip-hop notables, all the while staying completely in their own lane. It’s a testament to the group’s steadfastness and confidence in their own vision that they’ve been going against the grain for so many years, while still remaining just as relevant as they were back in 2006 when one of their most revered albums, A Piece of Strange, put them in the international spotlight.
A great deal of CunninLynguist’s success and creative stamina can be attributed to the remarkable synergy between Natti and Deacon, along with Kno’s knack for picking out the most obscure, haunting samples imaginable. Blunt, hard-hitting (but never dumb) lyrics paired with a production library sampled from dusty old folk songs to long-forgotten intros of daytime television soaps combine to form, as my mother put it, “extremely beautiful” music (high praise for someone who’s never even given rap a second thought). It can be moody and it can be dark, but CunninLynguists have been able to transcend their genre and create a sound that speaks to the soul, almost bypassing the listener’s outward attitude towards the stereotypes surrounding hip-hop. Over the years, the group has shifted from tangible subjects to a more abstract focus, such as dreams, the universe and even death.
Their live shows are no different. Each year, a tour becomes an ever-evolving exercise in fan service, and more often than not, these shows involve some amount of audience participation (for example, a projection of their Twitter feed where audience members can request songs).