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COMMENTARY

TULSA — In Tulsa’s expanding hip-hop scene, Keeng Cut is continuing a Tulsa Sound tradition of minimalist production and understated lyrics. That style propelled Tulsa musicians like  J.J. Cale into the hearts of the elite tastemakers of the 1970s music scene, and Keeng and Cale’s work both show a genius for lyrics and delivery that seem simple, even nonchalant. Cale’s minimalist style and knack for creating a hook gave his work an air of sophistication, and Keeng Cut’s work, although an entirely different genre, draws from a similar place. 

Their similarities only multiple when dissecting the textures of their production, the stripped down simplicity of their arrangements, and their sometimes rough or downright care-free mixing. Both artists tap into a rustic, honest, simple form of communication. But where they differ says something about Keeng’s music, too. Cale was known to almost bury his vocals into the instrumental mix and put out songs that were basically demos, while Keeng’s use of melodic, yet repetitive vocal lines lends his songs an honest, organic vibe that conveys an authenticity.

Keeng is also starting to experience a music industry phenomenon that is essential to J.J. Cale’s mystique: he’s becoming a musician’s musician. Cale’s demo-like songs found their way into the repertoire of 70’s superstars Eric Clapton, who regularly praised Cale and even released an album with him, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Keeng Cut has garnered a few nods himsef, having been featured on Spotify and Apple Music playlists by True Panther Sounds and XL Recordings, two highly influential independent record labels out of the U.K.

Both labels featured the track “Cuttin’ Up,” a joyous, unassumming song about having fun, being with the one you love, and most of all a general disposition to cutting up. After music critic favorite and native Tulsan, 1010 Benja SL, featured Keeng on his Instagram it wasn’t long before the music industry was creeping on Keeng.  At one point a music manager for high profile hip hop artists on the west coast posted a pic of Keeng on his Instagram asking his followers how old they thought he looked. It was a curious moment, but highlights the attention that Keeng is garnering with his music.

Much like Cale, Keeng also seems comfortable in his own skin. Cale’s music reflected who he was. His songs ranged from upbeat country picking to laid back Okie-jazz lounge numbers. The common thread through all his music was a casual, informal, effortless style. He enjoyed recording demos with an early drum machine on his porch. Most of his shows were in small clubs and lounges. He cared little for the limelight or playing to large crowds. 

Keeng’s music heavily reflects his experiences and existential outlook on life. He raps about self progression, eating healthy, having fun with his daughter, his food-truck TNT Wings, and his place as an originator of the Tulsa hip hop scene. His food roots come out in his lingo: he is “favored and flavored,” a phrase that is plastered on merch and posters. He sings about his refined, easy sense of style and life with humorous humility. He can be irreverent, starting fan favorite Cuttin’ Up’s music video riding atop a swerving lawn-mover. 

The Tulsa Sound was well known in the music industry thanks to a whole generation of Okie-musicians who went to Los Angeles in the 1960’s. By the beginning of the 1980’s The GAP Band was funking up the Tulsa Sound and spreading the gospel of Greenwood, Archer, and Pine. As we stride into the 21st century the spirit of the Tulsa Sound continues to echo through the streets of downtown, the Arts District, and beyond. While a traditionalist view of the Tulsa Sound may not include hip-hop, the scene that is percolating in northeastern Oklahoma, led by artists like Keeng Cut, implies that beloved local genre lives on.

Then and now: Simple songs from the Tulsa Sound

“Let Me Do it To You” by J.J. Cale:


Notice how this is mainly a one bar instrumental vamp by the rhythm section with horns coming in with a simple repeating phrase. Even more simple is the lyrics. A single line that is half hummed: “Mmmmmmm Let me do it to you.” The genius lies in the textures of the rhythm section and Cale’s whisper of a voice that is both deeply layered and raspy. The lead guitar plucking, the rhythm guitar’s funk, the soft, rounded drums, the chunky hi-hats: it all adds up to a man who knew the soft organic tones needed to define himself, as well as his music.

“2U” by Keeng Cut:


Notice the easy two bar vamp. This time propelled by the 70’s retro keyboards, sparse drum beat with an underlying bass, and occasional flute accents. The components are few but yet the song arrangement doesn’t feel empty. There is a lush, almost fuzzy vibe to the 2 bar instrumental phrase. Keeng’s lyrics here are not just a single phrase but they are sparse and intriguing. “I can give this flavor to you,” is repeated again and again. The video, shot at Philbrook Museum, captures the retro 70s vibe of the keyboards.

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Spencer Livingston-Gainey is an entrepreneur, consultant and musician. Founder of Pine Hill Consulting and High Fidelity DJs, Spencer has worked with a diverse array of businesses, tribal governments, municipalities, non-profits, trade associations, artists, foundations, campaigns and diversity-enrichment initiatives. He is a proud citizen of the Cherokee Nation.