Kemba – Gilda

Before he made music as Kemba, the Bronx MC born Matthew Jefferson cut his teeth in the New York City rap underground, releasing projects as YC the Cynic. The eventual name change was meant to reflect a creative freedom he’d been unable to embrace as a bar-focused young rapper, and with Gilda, his second project as Kemba, he seems fully comfortable in service of this new voice.

The album is named for his mother, who he lost to a stroke in 2017, and is a diary of sorts, reflecting on who Kemba’s become in the absence of one of his biggest inspirations. “I am not a finished product/Only judge me when I’m done/Young and black and from the projects/Got a lot to overcome,” he says on “Work in Progress.” Though’s he’s clearly still ascending rap’s notoriety ladder, he’s forthright about what moves him, admitting on “Exhale,” “I feel more pressure from my moms than from the blogs/I feel more pressure from my n*ggas than the critics.” When Kemba sings, as he does for those aforementioned bars, he does so gently, as if the words he delivers in melody need to be handled with extra care. The raps, though, are likewise sharp and affecting.

“If your Corn Pops never had a roach in it, you probably won’t get it,” he starts in on “Captain Planet,” a song that attempts to rectify an undying self-doubt with dreams of overcoming the poverty he grew up in. On “What a Day,” he painstakingly details familial dysfunction, and then he faces down some voices of self-hatred on “Dysfunction” itself. There are brighter moments on Gilda-most notably “Alive,” where in remembrance of his mother Kemba makes a fairly compelling case for God as a black woman, but the scriptures here are rooted overwhelmingly in the harshness that has marked his path to date. It’s a rough trade-off, but it’s this very experience that has fostered art that will outlast any amount of rebrands.


1 Work in Progress (feat. Jagged Edge, RL of Next & Chris Scholar)
2 Captain Planet
3 Exhale (feat. Smino)
4 Alas
5 What a Day
6 Dysfunction
7 Nobody I Can Trust
8 (Un)Rest
9 Peter Pan
10 Who Would’ve Thought
11 The Feels (feat. Portugal. The Man)
12 Dead Deceased
13 Deadass
14 Last Year Being Broke
15 Alive (feat. Eric Bellinger)

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