KOTA The Friend has been on our radar for a minute now, but the New York rapper's new album FOTO is his best work yet, and the momentum is palpable. "I've been happy for a while now," KOTA tells us about what seems like a turning point in his career. "It was really the moment I started to focus on my fans directly that my career took a turn for the best. I appreciate where I am in life. I can make the music I want to make, provide for my family and I can still take the train. It's a beautiful life."

FOTO is a personal project and a family affair, with his uncle delivering a monologue, his elementary school teacher playing saxophone throughout the album, and his friend Oshay doing background vocals. "I went deeper into my past on this record," KOTA says. "I was tapping into memories that I was suppressing for a while now. I paid more attention to the details."

Rather than posturing or trying to impress, KOTA The Friend is at his best when he gets real. His genuine nature shines through on the entirety of FOTO over mellow, jazzy production—mostly handled by KOTA himself—and introspective storytelling. It's a deeply rewarding alternative to the meme soundtracks and escapism anthems that often dominate our timelines, and spending time with this album is a much-needed snap back to reality.

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