I'll be honest - I was nervous for HOKA. I've been a fan of Nahko & Medicine for the People before they gained much mainstream traction, and hearing that they had signed to a record label, moved to LA, and adopted a bit of a different sound scared me. Why? Partially for selfish reasons: I didn't want them to "sell out" and become "too pop", but also because I was just scared their music would be overproduced and that they'd lose their unique, worldly, spiritual sound that I love so much... I'm so very happy to admit I was completely wrong.
Is HOKA more poppy than their previous releases? Sure. But is that a bad thing? Nope. I'm so proud of MFTP and their success. And as a fellow tribe member said to me recently, so maybe their sound is more "mainstream" on this record... but that means we're spreading the musical medicine even further, to new ears who may not have been fans of their previous releases. And isn't spreading the love the whole point?
Besides a few more radio-friendly sounds and a bit more electric guitar than usual, HOKA also features a softer side of Nahko Bear, with love songs like Tus Pies and We are on Time making me shake and cry at the same dang time. The band is different on this record, with Dustin Thomas doing his thing and traveling the world and Hope Medford becoming a momma and all. Though those two are irreplaceable, the addition of horns, a new drummer, and some smooth bass guitar make for a lovely medley of culture, talents, and vibes, too.
While this album may have some of the most pop Nahko + MFTP has created, it also has some of the most powerful. It's a carefully curated blend of dance inciting rhythmic tunes with heavy, spiritual ballads. An early leak, Love Letters to God, stole my heart immediately. Regardless of your faith (me? idk, really) LLTG is an undeniable, inspirational piece of art. The kind that rips your stomach out and tugs at your heart simultaneously...
Now that's what music is supposed to do.
In addition to the single Make a Change featuring Zella Day, HOKA also boasts features from Trevor Hall, Xavier Rudd, Joseph, & Leah Song of Rising Appalachia. Yeah, he got my favorite voice ever (TH, of course) on this record so that pretty much sealed the deal. Could this song be any more perfect? Seriously. I don't think it's possible.
If you don't know this about me yet, you'll be probably be interested to learn that I place great faith in my intuition, and listen carefully to the stars. Timing is everything and crazy as I may sound, musical medicine always finds me at the most divine of hours. The hours when I am least faithful, most fearful, and most alone.
Dark as Night found me when Ferguson mourned, when Staten Island couldn't breathe, and when Baltimore burned. No one understood me then, but Warrior People made me strong. Black as Night made me believe we'd do better.
And HOKA found me the weekend two senseless murders occurred. Both, too close to home - a YouTuber and a nightclub. Now, I don't understand enough. And whether intentional or not, both the former (can't breathe cause you're choking out a war in me) and the latter (carry your flag, carry your flag - I got your back) are evident on HOKA.
I needed this album. You might need it too.