Timing: KeilyN’s Sophomore EP in Review

Julia Hubay, Staff Writer

Oberlin students often come from cultures spanning the globe and tend to discount the culture of Ohio, buying into the stereotype that Oberlin is a cultural oasis surrounded by nothing but cornfields. But native Ohioans like myself know that the jokes about Cleveland/Ohio are gross oversimplifications, and that many creative people draw inspiration from their lives in the multi-cultural milieu of Ohio outside of the Oberlin bubble.

Joining the illustrious ranks of Ohio-native musicians, which include artists like the Black Keys, Kid Cudi and Tracy Chapman, is an up-and-coming MC from Youngstown, Keilyn Davis. Better known by his stage name, KeilyN has been performing in small venues in Cleveland, Columbus, Youngstown and other Ohio locations for over a year, building his reputation and his fan base.

KeilyN released his sophomore EP, Timing, on Feb. 22. The album demonstrates his talent as a modern songwriter steeped in the hip-hop tradition. “Timing” covers a range of styles, from the slow and introspective to more beat-driven, danceable tracks, but all are unified by KeilyN’s honest lyrics.

The first track, “Ready,” is narrated by what sounds like a motivational speaker encouraging the listener to “follow your heart” while KeilyN raps about some of the hardships that can get in the way of fulfilling dreams. Piercingly high background singing detracts from the listening experience, but the message of the song has been heard over and over. KeilyN’s earnestness when he says “I speak real, hoping you can relate to a young fly dude who be losing the faith” explains that his motivation for making music is to creatively express sentiments that we all can relate to.

Continuing with the theme of pursuing dreams, the second, more low-key track, “Somebody,” features a soothing and beautiful chorus, while KeilyN’s lyrics address issues like racial inequality, pressure to fit in and the frustratingly difficult task of trying to please one’s parents.

Although the beats on the tracks provide a solid foundation for KeilyN’s storytelling, the first track where the instrumentation takes a more prominent role is “Tonight.” The song has a solid rhythm with a pleasant mix of different percussive sounds. It also features strings, but the focus is still on the clever lyrics with gems like “So you feel good when all these women showed up, but you gotta buy them drinks ’cause they ain’t old enough.” This track, and others on the album are clearly influenced by jazz, incorporating lines played on piano and horn that blend appealingly with the flow of the lyrics.

On the second half of the album, KeilyN pays tribute to J Dilla on several tracks with titles dedicated to the deceased hip-hop producer. The diverse influences acting on KeilyN show through when he samples Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi,” on “Gone (RIP J Dilla),” which works perfectly to create a reflective, pensive mood in the song. Other songs like “Dope Boy (Prod. SoulKlap)” address social issues like the difficulty of attaining an education and problems created by drug trafficking.

“Flight 89” quite literally invites the listener to take a walk in KeilyN’s “favorite shoes,” saying “You will probably trip and fall if you walk in these Nikes.” While strolling along to the slow, sexy beat, KeilyN shares intimate personal details about his religion, living with his mother and his financial troubles.

Overall, Timing addresses the artist’s personal and social issues with tenderness and sincerity, dealing with heavy topics while still avoiding being explicit for the most part. The most satisfying songs on the album are the ones that are most emotional; KeilyN has a talent for exposing his heart and mind. Some of the tracks fall short, and have little emotional impact, such as the shallow “Hip Hop,” which is mostly concerned with the glamor of the clubbing lifestyle. Thankfully, this is a rare mistake, and on the rest of Timing, KeilyN’s honesty and musicality are able to shine.