Kingpen Slim (Photo by Lafayette Barnes IV)
Kingpen Slim (Photo by Lafayette Barnes IV)

There’s a delicate balance between traditional hip-hop braggadocio and veteran assuredness. If you call those delicate balances “fine lines,” you’d also be directly mentioning the name of northwest D.C.-bred emcee, Kingpen Slim’s first full-length release in 18 months, due on Jan. 20, 2020. Similar to the aforementioned statement, the rapper’s future — not unlike the nation’s capital’s — is brighter, broader, and more clearly defined than ever before. “This is the best product I’ve ever presented. The stages I’m on are bigger, and my creative mind has expanded,” says Slim. “I know my exact plan. I know exactly what I’m saying and why I’m saying it, and I can connect to every marketplace. The seeds of success are going to come to fruition for me in 2020.”

“While I know it was successful, I was just having fun on ‘Trapper’s Delight,’” Slim says about his July 2018 release. With just over a decade in the industry, and years of real-life experience also weighing heavily on his mind, Kingpen Slim approaches his new album “Fine Lines” at a much more serious crossroads. He’s well aware of his position as one of the few classic rap aficionados left holding it down in D.C.’s independent marketplace, yet he’s also cognizant that he has to evolve with the genre and society’s cultural climate.

Kingpen Slim (Photo by Lafayette Barnes IV)

“I’ve evolved with the city. I went to go-gos, played in go-go bands, I wore Madness clothing. And yes, I’m also here in D.C.’s streets in this very different moment, with gentrification and redevelopment. There are not many people who can claim that” Kingpen Slim says. As a person and artist, he perpetually navigates socio-cultural and artistic dichotomies. Now, while observing how he can navigate his way to the top of D.C.’s rap scene while preparing this project, Slim has learned an invaluable professional lesson:

“How do you remain yourself and evolve at the same time? How do you stay true to yourself and also become who you’re destined to be? If you want to become who you’re destined to be, then you have to change at some point. If you do that, there’s a genius there. I want to discover that.”

Refining the concept of “Fine Lines” was a yearlong process for Kingpen Slim that was more spiritually taxing than for any previous release. Wanting more from himself as a creative, he dug deep. “I’m always recording, but the theme hadn’t come to me. When I did that, I knew I wanted to be more vulnerable, more lyrical. There’s a fine line between riding the evolution of change, but also presenting something that’s soulful, timeless to the roots of hip-hop, the city, culture in general.”

Now completed, he’s quick to say that the entirety of “Fine Lines” represents his best output. But, when pressed to choose the tracks best representative of this higher quality of work, there’s impressive depth and scope to his response. “‘The Cycle’ delves into the story of a young black man who didn’t — like I did — always have such a great mother-son relationship. Oftentimes in rap, the stories focus on how great mothers can be. But of course, everyone always makes mistakes. In this song, I give people an insight into understanding how a lack of a mother’s love can drive someone to get involved in street hustling.” He’s also fond of “Undecided,” a collaboration with D.C.-based Lambo Anlo, which he describes as “a journey into the male psyche from the standpoint of a man, hustling, who falls in love but isn’t exactly where he wants to be personally or professionally while feeling that way.” As a release, it significantly delves into emotional spaces he’s yet to explore in his career.

Regarding his future, Kingpen Slim has an encapsulated view of his work and its progression. “I’m working on my legacy. I’m locking in on creating art. I had to find my exact voice to say what needed to be said in my music. The fine lines between success and failure, love and hate, rich and poor, hell, being poppin’ versus being washed, I’m covering everything.” Ultimately, Slim creates an allegory between his artistry and the burgeoning nation’s capital to best describe his career aims in the present and future. “D.C. as a city has — like I have often in my career — reinvented itself. The melting pot of people and possibilities is more diverse than ever before, just like my possibilities feel endless now.”

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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