Kakuyon has been around the East Coast scene for several years now. The enigmatic New Jersey musician has brought his unique brand of production to numerous track lists, including friend and frequent collaborator Shotta Spence’s recent album, Upfall. His style is as hard to pin down as it is distinctive, resulting in a rare level of quality in production from the overarching dynamics to the minutiae of the songs he touches.
Kakuyon’s presence on Spence’s album demonstrated his ability to mold his production to different styles. The fruitful relationship between the two is something that Kakuyon openly alludes to, happily conceding Spence’s “dangerous” hit-making talent and potency in versatility. The two work seamlessly together on songs such as “Throne” or “All The Wrong Things,” creating a streamlined sound.
The careful engineering that Kakuyon brought to Spence’s album is characteristic of the musician. Summer 2014 saw him begin to work on his debut album, a platform to share his own voice freely. It was in between starting the project and releasing it that Kakuyon put his touch on Upfall, no doubt providing him with exposure to the challenges and nuances of creating an album that handcuff so many artists.
Now Go And Flourish dropped in January, two and a half years after its inception. The album is a narrative of growth, decay, and the dynamism of the human experience. On both a musical and thematic level, it is complex and meaningful. Kakuyon changes tone on nearly every song, at times pulling his ethereal instrumentals into the vocal path and at other times letting voices rise far above the beat. It is an album that seems stitched together of countless pieces, a patchwork of stunning musicality that is reflected in the jarring but cohesive album artwork.
Kakuyon’s album is a truly impressive debut; since first listening to it, I still find myself unpacking all of its contents. I recentlyspoke to the man himself to pick his brain about his musical identity—check out the full interview below:
Tell us a bit about how you began working on your debut project.
I started working on my project two and a half years ago—summer 2014. That’s when I decided to be a vocalist. I had just been a producer/composer till then. I had a lot of great music that never saw the light of day. I just liked to make music that I never heard before, but that I still enjoyed listening to. I wanted to share my music with the world, but for some time as a producer I was depending on other artists to record vocals over my production before releasing songs; this was before Spence started seriously recording. I started writing so that I could make sure my favorite songs reached people’s ears.
My good friend Seph Pierre has always been a mentor on how to create music and the creative process. He’s an incredible artist, so are Spence and SaBang, I’m blessed to be on a team with them—they’re all on the project and we’ve all worked together since the beginning.
Summer of 2014 was when I decided I wanted to make music that I could put out for people to enjoy as much as I enjoyed making it. The recording all happened in the months of September and October 2016, which glued together two and a half years of evolving production into one unified sound on the album.
“I add layers to songs here and there to make myself fall in love with them all over again.”
Stylistically, you’re very versatile. The first thing I noticed listening through “Now Go And Flourish” (NGAF) was that you constantly changed up your sound. How would you define your style and can you identify any influences that you derive it from?
Influences… I listen to a lot of music I guess. One of the biggest things that sculpted my sonic identity might be how my pops used to chill with me and schooled me on a bunch of eclectic music he used to listen to. I was exposed to Prince early. He got me hip to older Outkast and a bunch of Motown, Soul, and Funk. I can remember him talking about Philadelphia sound with Jill Scott or Minneapolis sound and all the artists associated with the movements. He was great at drawing those maps and connections that helped me later draw maps and connections for my own understanding of music. Throughout my childhood we drove a lot, and one year at a track meet we had Jackson 5 on repeat while another year we had Amy Winehouse on repeat. When my mom wasn’t in the car, he’d play Get Rich or Die Trying or Busta Rhymes and Trick Daddy haha.
Everything influences the music in different aspects, I couldn’t begin to scratch the surface. You might say a sentence with a certain cadence, or the words you say might sound like something else and that gets my mind going too. That’s just a loaded question, the answer will always be different for me. I couldn’t begin to define one style, I always get bored of my old self.
One of my favorite parts of the album is how different each song is—any one could be the album’s focal point. “Trough/Crest Interlude” is a really good expression of this to me. Can you tell me a bit about your creative process for that track?
A lot of time went into that one in every aspect. It started from a conversation about balance with one of my boys from school, Shayan. A few days after that, I recorded the sample at the beginning of the song—the spacey piano and vocals that loops over the first part. Then I found a near perfect match of those chords in my archives: a 2-year-old recording on my phone of Seph on the piano teaching me a lesson on composition. So I sampled that for the second part. That was the first iteration… like super simple: 2 samples and some drums. It was actually glitching like crazy for some reason, so that rumble at the end was actually sampling a glitch from the first iteration.
The song became what it is after multiple times coming back to it, adding layers one at a time from there. I came back, added the bassline, then the strings, then more drums to the intro, then the choir of V’s vocals. Then I sent it to Spence and SaBang to do their thing and I added my verse last.
“This project was just me coming out as an artist: finally releasing a body of work, in what I thought was the best and most honest way I could present it.”
It’s evident that you put a lot of thought and emotion into on NGAF, its a very diverse and dynamic album, and you manage to capture so much in just 11 tracks. What was your selection process like when crafting the album?
Well in the fall, I was sitting on like 16 that I had actually recorded for Now Go And Flourish. So the project was initially about an hour and change. Then I sat down with my homegirl V—my friends Ammar, Kev, AO, and Shayan were there too—and I was showing them the 16-track joint from front to back. Then V just came out and said I should trim it down, which was a bold move cause I was very opposed to the idea at first haha. After 15 minutes of good points from her I was convinced to trim it down.
I think that was an excellent decision though, I think it made it more chewable as a project, especially considering the songs that stayed and went. I went home and decided to cut like six tracks, down to ten. Then while mixing/mastering, I just kinda started getting bored of most of the songs and I added layers to songs here and there to make myself fall in love with them all over again. And eventually I made a whole other eleventh song, Leverage.
How was the actual process of creating your project different from what you would have imagined? You mentioned sampling in the glitch on Trough/Crest, were there other moments like that where you just had to roll with the punches and embrace where the project was going?
I would say it was different because it took longer than I thought. Overall I was happy with it though. I like the fact that it didn’t go exactly as planned. I like the fact that each song’s first version wasn’t the version that I released.
When I say it took longer than expected, I took longer to record than I thought, and mixing and mastering took forever too. I was inexperienced in both singing/recording and mixing/mastering going in, and I still think I could’ve done a better job in both realms. I’m working on it though. I’m happy that I revisited production till the end and kept all the songs fresh for my own ears.
Also I got to shadow Spence before the release of his debut Upfall, and I got to watch his recording and mixing process. He showed me that recording vocals and mixing them was just like another dimension of producing, which I’ve been doing longer than I’ve been recording myself. This made it a lot more fun to record my vocals than I expected, since I got to play with effects and layers on the vocals. Everything was just a sort of dance between being in control and having no idea what you’re doing. But I guess that’s just like anything else, even beyond the music. The guidance from vanguards before me always helps though.
The four of you—Shotta, Pierre, and SaBang—all seem to be very familiar with each other’s styles, and are very adept at working with each other. How was it different working with them on this project than previous collabs you’ve done together?
To be honest it wasn’t any different really, it was as natural as ever.
Seph has always been a mentor when it came to the creative process. When I was just starting to produce popular music in high school, I would send him like everything and he’d give the best, most constructive feedback. He’s always been on another level musically and just sees music way different from me. So when it came to NGAF, it was more or less the same thing, but I called him to the action of actually composing and recording his own sax parts over what I was sending. He did sax over “Trough/Crest” and “Troubled Water.”
Shotta and I also go way back, he’s just grown into an incredible artist. I think he snapped on everything he touched on the album whether he was mixing vocals or actually writing and recording. I don’t think people understand what he’s sitting on right now as far as his own music is concerned; he’s dangerous for real. I knew I wanted him on Sunny Soon when I made the instrumental—in fact I sampled his voice from another song on the hook. Trough/Crest was meant to showcase his versatility, just something you haven’t heard him do yet.
SaBang is just an enigma haha—another one who’s been around since the beginning. I still remember the smallest thing he said one day at track practice about me and Spence and it’s all happening now, he’s just got crazy good vision like that. But I remember him going crazy over the original Troubled Water instrumental, which was like a 1:30 little joint, so I added room for an extra verse cuz he had to be on it. That ended up being perfect too, actually, cause it forced me to think of the “Wade in the Water” interpolation that tied the whole song together.
How do you see your relationship with your collaborators evolving from where it used to be, and can you predict where it might go in the future?
I see us working even closer in the future. I mean me, Spence and SaBang, we talk, and there’s definitely exciting plans ahead, but I should probably hold myself from saying anything, haha.
SaBang would body any visuals if we end up trying to get in some videos for NGAF cuts. But that might be just something for the future, maybe just a later project.
On the music tip, I just see us continuing to work in the same organic way we’ve been doing it, just maybe some day in a new setting. I definitely want to get Seph on more production. He just sees music totally different from the way we all do. It’s really incredible every time he sends anything or just puts me on any new musical game. If he could be closer to the process in the future that would be dangerous. But he’ll be more involved regardless.
What do you want listeners to take away from NGAF?
Well, anyone could take their own thing from NGAF. I used a lot of extended metaphors throughout. I would say that I want the listener to know that no one’s perfect, and that we all go through some type of struggle. We’re dynamic, we don’t feel the same things all the time, and we learn from old mistakes. There are ups and downs and that’s what makes the ride fun.
But beyond that I just hope the chords and melodies and flows were cool haha. I hope it inspires someone else
Your brand of music is so unique and attractive, and from what you’ve said it seems like we can only expect more evolutions of your style. What does this project mean to you, and how do feel your relationship with it will grow over time?
Thank you, I really appreciate that. This project was just me coming out as an artist: finally releasing a body of work, in what I thought was the best and most honest way I could present it.
You’re right; I wouldn’t want to be boxed into any sound I presented on NGAF. It has a special place in my heart as the first release, plus the memories it captured from the times I produced and recorded the tracks.
In time I think it’ll always have a special place in my heart. I’ll mature out of some of the imperfections from that record, and I guess it can serve as a snapshot of me at the point that the album was created and released.
What’s something you hope to build on from this album moving forward? What’s next for Kakuyon?
New stuff is happening everyday that makes me feel some type of way. I just want to keep capturing that in song. I want to keep telling thought-provoking stories. I feel that stories are told even beyond the words that are said, through the notes and percussion that you hear too. That being said, keep an eye on Shotta Spence this year. I’d bet I produced something for him that he might put out eventually, but I couldn’t say. It would probably also sound really good.
I’m always passively writing, by jotting down ideas, and I produce when I can too. I really like songs like “Molt,” “Leverage,” “Ethereal” so some evolved form of those sounds moving forward. I also love pop music so much. I’ll keep pop and dance records on releases moving forward.
I also don’t want to put anyone’s expectations at any level… we’ll play by ear what comes next I guess.
Right now, the sky is the limit for Kakuyon. Revisit the full album above and check out what we had to say about it here.