Kassa Overall is not the first musician to address the boundaries between jazz and hip-hop, but he is among the most visionary in trying to erase them. Many younger jazz players (Overall is a fine drummer) have grown up with hip-hop as a, if not the, cultural prime mover in popular music since the early 1990s. Overall tried to synthesize them into a whole on his debut album Go Get Ice Cream and Listen to Jazz in 2019, to create a new genre made of equal parts.
I Think I'm Good is Overall's first for Gilles Peterson's Brownswood. It's more confident, as if Overall, the Brooklyn-based MC, singer, drummer, and jazzman, can see the horizon of his aesthetic vision coming into view. With a cast of bright, young up and comers and seasoned players alike, he pushes ahead, rapping and singing about mental illness: nowhere in jazz or pop has it been taken on with such an even-keeled, unflinchingly honest, first-person gaze. Overall uses hip-hop production in service to his lyric and musical M.O. On opener "Visible Walls," harpist Brandee Younger, bass clarinetist Morgan Guerin, and Jay Ghandi on bansuri flute engage with one another as Overall sings almost prayerfully, “I hope they let me go tonight… I pray that you can sleep tonight.” It's laid-back, with Mike King's synth and bass adding pronounced but fluid layers of rhythm. Overall voices his protagonist's desire to be freed from the walls of an imprisoning hospital, but he also addresses the interior voices wreaking havoc on his mind. "Find Me (feat. J. Hoard)" offers twinned samples from Aaron Parks' piano with Julius Rodriguez's live playing and Guerin's EWI, sax, and electric bass. They hover above Overall's syncopated drum kit in a fluid gumbo at once musically adventurous and heartbreakingly soulful. Angela Davis guests alongside Hoard on "Show Me a Prison," with its sinister rhythms and Craig Taborn's doomy, sampled piano as they crisscross neo-soul and jazz cadences with hip-hop and dissolve into one another as Overall adds an elusive croon. "Landline" is a harrowing and explosive autobiographical duet with brother and saxophonist Carlos Overall. "The Best of Life," with Parks, additional drummer Joe Dyson, and guitarist Rafiq Bhatia create a strange, delightful meld of Ramsey Lewis-esque pianistic lyricism (Parks can play anything), Los Angeles-style rhythmic interplay, and slippery yet speedy East Coast rap to carry the poignant lyrics about drug addiction home. The closer, "Was She Happy (For Geri Allen)," is a moody, nearly cinematic tribute duet between Vijay Iyer's Rhodes piano and Overall's drum kit. Ultimately, I Think I'm Good is not merely the work of a fine backpack producer, but that of a master conceptualist and painterly musician compelled by both a rigorous aesthetic sensibility and the weighty importance of his chosen topics to deliver a provocative and genuinely seamless musical fusion for the future.