K Camp Comes Out Swinging On Debut Album ‘Only Way Is Up’
K Camp may be a 2015 XXL Freshman, but he’s no rookie. Racking up a slew of hit singles (“Money Baby,” “Cut Her Off,” “Blessing,” etc.), a veritable arsenal of mixtapes and a solid EP, the Atlanta rapper’s debut studio album is dropping right on cue. Only Way Is Up is K Camp at his most polished and focused. The Interscope artist has effectively clarified his sound with this project, and while the beats and flow have some wiggle room the intention is clear: K Camp doesn’t traffic in filler songs. Led by the singles “Lil Bit” and “Comfortable,” most of the 13 tracks (16 on the deluxe) were designed with the club or radio in mind. Naturally, with that intent, some hit the mark more than others, but the overall effect is an album that plays like a how-to for mass street appeal.
In that vein, the number and weight of the album’s features speak volumes. K Camp tapped Snoop Dogg, Bun B, T.I., Fetty Wap, Jeremih, French Montana, Yo Gotti and more for the project. It’s a staggering amount of household names, debut album or not. And although K Camp strikes confident balances with each of them on their respective records, it’s a pretty gluttonous grab at legitimacy and audience expansion. The OGs in particular though are used to great effect. “Till I Die” is a stellar throwback to ATL’s golden era, complete with a cosign from the reigning King himself. T.I. provides one of the strongest hooks on the album here, in addition to an unusually energized verse that works seamlessly with K Camp’s swaggy bars (“All my niggas get reckless/I got your rent on my necklace”). The Snoop-assisted “Rolling” is a hazy, auto-tuned hybrid of “Gin And Juice” and “Next Episode.” K Camp flexes his songwriting ability (one of his greatest skills), while Snoop offers up delivery so nice he could’ve rapped the alphabet and still had heads nodding.
K Camp’s booth presence is that of a veteran. His confidence is believable whether he’s talking money, “bitches,” or hustle (his primary content throughout). You won’t hear an abundance of punchlines or metaphors, but his skilled song composition barely calls for it, favoring recitable verses punctuated by addictive hooks. And though he’s planted firmly in a Southern comfort zone, his ability to subtly slide in and out of various styles is impressive. He spits some Migos flow on “Yellow Brick Road,” a gold-plated warpath of a track. His single “Comfortable” proves he can make something for the ladies too, choosing an on-the-nose summer track to blend hip-hop and R&B with his versatile vocals. The album opener “Change” is yet another angle, as he toys with fragmented story raps over an ethereal cloud of Big Fruit production. It’s the most poignant moment on the album and a smart intro (though it houses the line, “You live and you learn/Them tables will turn, them bridges will burn,” potentially swagger jacking Drake's "Pound Cake").
Only Way Is Up is an album of several would-be singles, and while the hit-making formula can become redundant when stacked on top of one another, K Camp is playing to his strengths. His verses are confident and powerful, if one-dimensional, and his hooks and melodies can grow roots in your head. Even his ear for beats on this project—courtesy mainly of Big Fruit and Cali The Producer—suggests growth and self-awareness, with trap drums and instrumentation toeing that coveted line between grimy and opulent. Ultimately, K Camp has likely ensured that his tracks will be shaking asses in a club near you for months to come. And from there? The album is aptly titled. —Rachel Chesbrough