Why chase a carrot when you can plant your own garden?
On FOTO, the debut album from KOTA The Friend, the Brooklyn-bred artist brings listeners into his world, taking the audience on a journey deep into the history and backstory of his 26 years here in the physical. Over the course of the 19-track FOTO, KOTA smoothly flows through his prose as he unveils the most personal content to date, finding a noteworthy balance between serious subject matter and positive, love-based energy. Alongside interludes featuring candid storytelling from the women in KOTA’s life, FOTO lives up to the conceptual basis of the albums title – from the moment you press play, FOTO feels like a sonic photo album. As you listen, each song becomes a chapter of the Book of KOTA, and the project transitions from page to page – track to track – like the flipping pages of a storybook.
If Palm Tree Liquor, Paloma Beach and Anything. were KOTA working through the hazy fog of depression, then FOTO is KOTA emerging from the fog as he steps back into his power. Dancing between the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual bodies, the album is radiating with a light that has the potential to guide listeners through their own darkness. He’s not providing “answers” or “cures,” instead calling on his own experiences to demonstrate the limitless possibilities that exist when one firmly plants their feet and decides they are ready to free themselves from the burden of their past. Live what you lived, learn from it, let it go and remember to love every step of the journey as it’s all serving a higher purpose in your life. There is something so clear about what KOTA is saying and the production paving the way for his words, the music becoming a manifestation of KOTA’s headspace and heart space.
As he continues to move through all areas of his life with authenticity, FOTO comes to life with a lightness. One does not feel as if KOTA is burdened by the ever more prominent spotlight shining on his art. Quite the contrary, as he makes clear on the album, this music would be coming regardless of the praise, recognition or money. What we are experiencing is KOTA’s authentic self – no mask, no gimmick, no trend. This makes the music all the more powerful because it’s rooted in purity, rawness and love – self-love and a love, compassion and hopefulness for others. The music is uplifting, comforting and relatable; it doesn’t feed into any sort of melancholy or depression. Instead, it lets listeners know KOTA understands – he’s been there. And he’s offering this music as a lighthouse to help show the audience that not only does life get better but life is good…life is always good.
KOTA has gone on record stating FOTO is about freedom. While the album plays through, listeners will pick up on this message in regards to personal freedom and artistic freedom. Having thrived through the depression, anxiety and self-doubt, KOTA stepped out of the rubble with a purpose and vision. At some point along the journey of freeing himself from the shackles of mental slavery, labels began to take notice and meetings began to take place. Demonstrating his class, character and elegance, KOTA never reveals specifics yet it becomes clear he was turned off to the music industry – they, unquestionably, will keep knocking at his door, but it’s unlikely KOTA will open his home to their energy.
Why would he? His passion, love, authenticity and work ethic couples wondrously with the creative ingenuity housed within his vessel. By staying true to himself, the doors have continued to open, the blessings have continued to come and the present moment is looking and feeling like goals accomplished and dreams come true. The now is so bright and his garden is in full bloom. Why trade his freedom for a paycheck when he can stay the architect of this moment and his future?
This write-up would not be complete without some serious praise shown for the interludes featured on FOTO. While properly utilized and placed segues may be a lost art, KOTA steps up with a masterfully whole album thanks in no small part to the handful of interludes. Calling upon the matriarchy to tell the stories before and between each chapter of FOTO, each segment serves a dual purpose – they provide context on an individual basis, but collectively the interludes highlight the importance of the women taking trips down memory lane. Each story feels like the women are sitting over a photo, speaking on the emotions and memories the picture draws from them. Listeners learn about KOTA’s history but we’re also experiencing the strength, determination, love and power of the women. As the album plays from start to finish, one never questions who the foundation of the family was or is.
FOTO is an album best experienced in its entirety – listen from first track to last, without skipping around. Even after a few runs through, as you discover which songs are your favorite, take the time to continue sitting with FOTO and giving the full album your full attention. Actively listen – the album will make lovely background fodder, as it’s a vibe unto itself, but do yourself a favor and sit with this one. Balance KOTA’s story and message with your wandering mind – because, yes, FOTO will take you places – but stay focused. It’s almost like a deep meditation: the more time you spend mindfully listening, the closer you’ll get to yourself.
Available now on all major streaming platforms, FOTO includes features from SABA, Lizzy Ashliegh, Hello Oshay, Isa Reyes and Richard Parker. For more on the album, be sure to read our interview with KOTA The Friend.
Experience FOTO below.