Mikal kHill of ThoughtCriminals is a nerd’s nerd, and so when he went to write and record a zombie-themed hip hop album, he wasn’t going to coast on the novelty of it. Instead, he sought to pay tribute to his favorite storytellers in the genre, namely George Romero, Max Brooks, and The Walking Dead comics, whose title he borrows for the album. In doing so, he imagined a scenario taking place with his friends and family in his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina. In a short video he produced explaining some of the inspirations behind the album, we are introduced to a bizarre scenario that is familiar to locals, where mall has been built immediately next to a graveyard. As anyone who has seen Dawn of the Dead can tell you, the best zombie tales include a great mix of social commentary with the narrative of one or a small group of people reacting to adversity. kHill includes all of this in The Walking Dead.

If you’ve listened to kHill’s solo material before, most notably dust., you’ll be prepared for the dark and serious tone of this album. After the opening sequence, things start with a laid back beat from kHill that allows him to set the stage for the tale he’s about to tell, with a calm tone to the music as the narrator describes the growing chaos and panic. As we move onto “When There’s No More Room In Hell,” things get eerier, as a keyboard riff reminiscent of a John Carpenter score establishes a shift toward darkness. I don’t want to dissect the entire story and album for you, but I’ll touch on a few more points of interest. As I alluded to earlier, a mall/graveyard dichotomy served as one of kHill’s inspirations, specifically for the song “Death and Commerce,” my personal favorite on the album. It features Rap Legend Jesse Dangerously, who also helps on the production of the track. It’s a great combination of creepy vibe, great storytelling, and biting commentary. We also get guest spots from Sulfur, Tribe One, Adam WarRock, and Stemage over the rest of the album, who all contribute nicely and help round out the story with different perspectives. The Walking Dead is a concept album where the story continues from song to song, so there’s not as many stand-alone songs as you might expect from a regular hip hop album, and not as many hooks or choruses. However, the story is pretty engaging, and the album flows really well from track to track. I was disappointed the first time I reached the ending, but upon repeat listens, I’ve grown to appreciate what he did with the storyline.

It would be really easy to release a zombie-themed album for Halloween that crutched on the novelty of the concept and completely pandered to its audience. What kHill did, though, takes some skill, and will actually reward his core audience. They will be looking for an album that stays true to the genre, using it to explore deeper meanings beyond the surface, and kHill delivers on that count. It’s a format that suits kHill well, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more from him in this same style.