Event Recap | Marc E. Bassy & Rexx Life Raj Take Over San Diego

At the end of 2017, Marc E. Bassy unveiled his latest album titled Gossip Columns. With several features from contemporaries and frequent collaborators G-EazyKehlani, and KYLE, the San Francisco-based singer-songwriter channels a blend of R&B pop.

On the heels of touring with Ty Dolla $ign, Marc kept the ball rolling with a series of headline dates in support of his most recent project. Setting the stage each night was W&V favorite and fellow Bay Area rep Rexx Life Raj, who has been garnering his own success with Father Figure 2: Fluorish from last November. Rexx opened the night with tracks from both installments of Father Figure, winning over the crowd with his mellow and introspective raps.

Marc closed the night with a series of tracks from Gossip Columns and Groovy People, alongside some unreleased tracks. With the crowd singing along to every word, Marc and Rexx truly brought the heart of the Bay to SoCal. Check out a few photos and their recent releases below.

Il Trap Italiano | Charlie Charles

Paving the way for producers in the Italian trap scene is the Milan-born Paolo Monachetti, known as Charlie Charles. Having grown up in Seguro, Charlie stepped into the rap scene at only 14 years old. At 21 years of age, he released XDVR alongside Sfera Ebbasta, a record that placed him in the front of the Italian hip-hop scene and caught the attention of Roccia Music and Marracash, an independent Italian hip-hop label. Especially after the release of Rockstar with Sfera Ebbasta, Charlie sits at the top of international charts.

A few standout songs I recommend checking out are “Bimbi”, “RAP”, and “Tran Tran”. Each has a unique style featuring rap talent from across Italy. The tracks stand as a mix of modern American trap, combined with elements of reggae and old school hip-hop, with a dark, mysterious tone. From unique loops to nontraditional synthesizers, Charlie is often accredited with bringing new futuristic sounds to Italian hip-hop, breaking the norm and introducing new sounds in the emerging genre.   

Despite the immense amount of respect he’s gained while making moves for Italian trap, when it comes to the crazy life of a rap star, Charlie dejects it. Charlie claims to have “fired himself” from future live sets, and continues to produce music in the comfort of his home rather than traveling around.

“Non voglio passare per spocchioso, ma quello che sto facendo in Italia è distintivo… Sento, nel mio piccolo, di aver dato qualcosa alla trap senza scadere nel banale.”

In other words, Charlie isn’t interested in the luxurious, wild lifestyle that is assumed for such a big artist. Having rejected big labels, including Universal and Warner, it’s clear that Charlie wants the best for his art without the industry getting in the way. Rather, Charlie is set on molding the growing trap genre, bringing something new and distinct with the music he releases.

Il Trap Italiano | Sfera Ebbasta

While alternative rock dominates the Italian music market, new genres are beginning to emerge amongst growing communities across the country. Various forms of hip-hop, from trap to R&B (with an Italian twist), are becoming increasingly widespread. Il Trap Italiano is my attempt to touch on the key figures, international influence, and business foundational to genres avant-garde to Italy’s dynamic music scene.

With over 8 million plays in the world within 24 hours of the release of his latest album, it can be said that one of the leading figures in Italian Trap is the bold and compelling Gionata Boschetti, more commonly known by his stage name Sfera Ebbasta. With the help of the talented producer Charlie Charles, he has received both Gold and Platinum records certification for his music, released his own brand with Charlies called BHMG, and plays a huge role in the emerging Italian Trap scene.

Rockstar is Ebbasta’s second album curated by Charles and Daves the Kid under Def Jam Recordings and Universal Music Italia. There are two versions of the album for the international market, allowing Ebbasta to catch the attention of listeners worldwide. With features from big names, including American artists Quavo and Rich the Kid, his name is spreading rapidly across Italy.

With massive sub beats, heavy hip-hop synthesizers, and skilled use of autotuning, Ebbasta’s music is undoubtedly classified as trap with the influence of reggae, Latin, and electronic styles strongly prominent throughout Italy.

What’s next for the artist? “Ho girato l’Italia e l’Europa, ho fatto featuring internazionali, mi sono evoluto molto. E non ho intenzione di fermarmi qui.” In other words, Ebbasta is confident in his international presence, stating “I’m not going to stop here.”

Don’t Sleep Spotlight | Dae Zhen

Earlier this year, we introduced our first official Spotify playlist titled Don’t Sleep. Named after our efforts to put you on to our favorite upcoming talent, the W&V crew will also be digging deeper into their backgrounds, recent accolades, and plans for the future in our latest spotlight series.

Our first Don’t Sleep spotlight features Dae Zhen. The Los Angeles resident introduced fans to his lyrical prowess with YouTube freestyles, which segued into his Polaroids EP with KATO and the Mike Derenzo-produced “Dipset.” The catchy tune has feel-good vibes throughout as Dae weaves between punchy verses and a sweet hook.

Following the release of his Women & Wordplay project, Dae stayed pretty lowkey aside from a few covers and features. He returned from his hiatus with “Friday,” which also appeared on NPR. The track essentially picks up where “Dipset” leaves off, serving as another weekend anthem fit for any celebration.

2018 marks the true return of Dae. As the next peak at his forthcoming album, “Hotline” shows Dae at his finest. Self-produced alongside Derenzo, his latest offering rides smoothly with a gentle piano riff and an explosive chorus. Dae’s warm return leaves us excited to see what he has in store in the near future.

Get familiar with Dae Zhen and check out the complete Don’t Sleep playlist below.

Event Recap // Tropicália Fest 2017

With a little something for everyone, Tropicália Fest united a wide range of audiences at The Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA on November 11. From headliners like Chicano BatmanJhené Aiko, and Kali Uchis to rising stars including Yellow DaysSmino, and Jorja Smith, the festival’s sold-out debut gave fans a truly unforgettable experience.

In addition to all the lovely music that filled the air, attendees were also given access to a taco buffet featuring a wide range of vendors from along the West Coast. Fan favorites like Carnitas El Mono and Burritos Del Palma served up their classics among many others.

Tropicália gave light to many Latino artists and beyond. Being able to catch artists like King Krule and Smino in the same day showcased their ability to bridge multiple audiences and genres. While we await more information on the next one, check out a few photos from Tropicália below.

Artist Interview // MIKNNA On Their Breakout Year

Coming to the end of their first headlining tour, Mike B. and Ken Nana are still full of energy and ideas. The duo, united under the neon-lit name MIKNNA, has had a landmark year since dropping their debut album 50/50 (Side A) back in 2016. Since the release, Mike and Ken have embarked on a tour sprawling from their hometown of Los Angeles all the way to Stockholm and Berlin.

In between international flights, the two have carved out enough studio time to cook up “Mona Lisa,” “Cues,” and “MPH,” all of which received major attention following their release as singles. Industrious and dedicated, Mike and Ken haven’t looked back since their chance encounter on the street brought them together in the studio. From the outside, MIKNNA comes off streamlined and natural. However, the duo faced a massive uphill challenge growing MIKNNA from the ground up. At its core, Mike, Ken, and their group of friends and family behind the curtain have grafted since coming together to define what MIKNNA means to them and what it should mean to listeners.

I caught up with Mike and Ken before their show in Berkeley to chat about what the path leading up to their solo headlining tour, what they’ve learned since hitting the road, and where their group is headed:

“We linked up two years ago. I came out of work for a break and Ken was just skating down the street. The chances were so random, and at the moment we were like ‘we need to get into the studio and do some work ASAP.'”

Ken and Mike found an instant chemistry after hitting the studio together. Ken found in Mike the type of complimentary and consistent vocalist he had long been looking for. In Ken, Mike was able to link up with a versatile and experienced producer whose musical style just as capable as solo work as it used underneath Mike’s vocals.  The difference, however, between linking up for a few songs and committing to each other as a duo is huge. Mike and Ken had their work cut out for them cultivating the chemistry and balance that MIKNNA boasted on its debut album. Ken emphasizes the importance they put on cementing this chemistry before anything else.

“Before we started making music we sat down and had a long conversation about our styles, our backgrounds, and what pushes us to make music. We really took that time to get to know each other and feel it out to find that balance.”

The time and work put into crafting MIKNNA shows through. As a group, they have an incredibly salient conceptual drive. From the music to videos to press photos, MIKNNA is a shadowy, neon-lit fusion of classic R&B and neo/electro-soul aesthetics. Outside of the group, Mike and Ken work with their team to create their collective Nana Lifestyle, another conceptually driven creative brand born out of the coming together of minds from different backgrounds and influences. As Ken describes, “the whole package” is evidently important to the entire team. Mike places a similar importance on connecting the minutiae of their work to the broader elements.

“A lot of it comes down to our taste level and what we want to do aesthetically and sonically—it all needs to be complimentary or it doesn’t work.”

The balance between Mike and Ken has racked them up millions of listens on leading singles such as “Trinity Ave” and “302,” as well as over half a million streams on their most recent release, “MPH.”  With the numbers to back them, Mike and Ken took the next step in translating their studio chops to the stage on their tour.

“You really have to be on your game all the time. There’s no lower gear you can be in when you’re performing, but it’s a challenge that helps to motivate. Really we just try to take it one day at a time. Work as a team trying to think about how we can just elevate and move forward. That’s the fun part! Figuring it out.”

On the stage in Berkeley, MIKNNA look as comfortable as anyone. Ken, vibing and stationary at his drum pad and mixer cuts a distinct silhouette opposite Mike, who bounces around the stage with verve and enthusiasm. Playing through 50/50 (Side A), MIKNNA boast the same intimacy live that their studio work benefits from. The duo make it a point to engage the audience, creating an atmosphere that buoyed and was buoyed by the performance. Mike and Ken are up on stage to enjoy themselves and their music over anything else. At one point even taking and audience request to play “Mona Lisa,” they both came off relaxed and positive, relishing the moment and how far they had come. With shows on November 29 and 30 in LA and San Diego respectively, MIKNNA look to finish off 2017 and their tour strongly.

“What’s next? Just working to finish up the next project and a lot of new music. Think of it like an evolution of everything that we’ve gone through over the last year, building and working out the kinks. And hopefully we can keep up with our consistency. We’ve been grinding, but consistency keeps us all on the same page so everything can keep moving. We’re excited.”

Coyly describing the upcoming project, Mike and Ken can’t seem to stay away from the word “fun.” Mike characterizes their work as a “sonic vacation.” At their most simple, the musicians behind MIKNNA are music fans. Their technique and style helped them cultivate a unique and eye-catching sound, but it’s also an entertaining endeavor for two super musicians. Evolution, coalescence, fusion—however you characterize MIKNNA, what is undeniable is the pure enjoyment that drives the group. From top to bottom, the MIKNNA team’s appreciation for and ability in their trade is evident on stage or over headphones.

2018 looks set to be a big year for MIKNNA. Before then, catch MIKNNA’s closing shows in Los Angeles and San Diego here, and revisit 50/50 (Side A) below.

P-Lo Parties With The Bay In Tour Closer

Touring on the heels of his latest album More Than Anything, Bay Area native P-Lo returned victoriously to San Francisco to play a final show in front of a hometown crowd at the Regency Ballroom. Joined by fellow Bay Area artists Pluto Mars and Rexx Life Raj, P-Lo brought his music home, delivering song after song to a deafening and energetic crowd. The show was a testament to three things: P-Lo’s growth as an artist and performer, his authenticity, and the powerful love that shines between P-Lo and his Bay Area fans.

A founder of the HBK Gang with Iamsu!, P-Lo has always involved his contemporaries in his music wherever and whenever he can. His unique, consistent, and quality level of production has seen him produce for and collaborate with countless other artists in and outside of the Bay. As a result, P-Lo has garnered a distinct level of recognition and respect that was evident at the show. Speaking in a short interlude during his set, Rexx Life Raj, himself a Bay Area centerpiece, had nothing but praise for P-Lo:

You meet a lot of people in the music industry. P-Lo is one of the most genuine and talented people I’ve met. That’s why I fuck with him.

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P-Lo and Rexx Life Raj link up to perform together at the Regency Ballroom, SF.

His fans seemed to agree. Even before P-Lo had touched the stage, his name had been chanted countless times. Entering to deafening cheers and with his all too familiar tag echoing around the Regency, P-Lo dove straight into his More Than Anything lead track, “The One.”

Playing through his new album, P-Lo took time to bring out some oldies to pay service to his fans. Rexx Life Raj emerged again to join him on the Cal-A track “Real One.” Performing just some days after the late Mac Dre’s birthday, P-Lo paused the show to pay tribute to the Bay legend—in his words, an “inspiration”—taking a moment to wild out with the crowd on “Feelin’ Myself.”

Moments like these encapsulate P-Lo’s image as an artist. Grounded, talented, and entertaining, P-Lo has never let his accomplishments eclipse his origins. He is a leading figure in the resurgent Bay Area movement, which he admits “for a second… was pretty dead.” Yet, he is always ready to shine the spotlight on others, whether it is bringing up young artists like Pluto Mars or standing back and letting Rexx Life Raj do his thing.

The concert wrapped after just under an hour and several layers of clothing later with P-Lo playing his smash hit “Put Me On Something”—twice. Fellow HBK man Kool John made an appearance on stage to wild out during the song; no one seemed to want to miss out on partying with each other in the atmosphere that P-Lo and company had created.

P-Lo has been essential to the new Bay scene that so many are enjoying now. As a performer, he is experienced, energetic, and enthusiastic. As a person, he’s just another music fan who loves to have fun with his crew. Friday night at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco, P-Lo made countless new friends and went dumb with them all.

Revisit our piece on More Than Anything and stream the album below. Make sure to catch a P-Lo concert as soon as you can.

Artist Interview // Meet Rayana Jay, Richmond’s Sultry Songstress

Just over two years ago, Rayana Jay unveiled her 21 EP, a four-piece offering featuring lead single “Coffee.” From the moment I pressed play, I was mesmerized by her impressive vocal work. The Richmond songstress went on to appear on Caleborate‘s breakout album Hella Good and P-Lo‘s Before Anything, continuing to captivate listeners with her alluring voice.

After keeping the ball rolling with Sorry About Last Night, which taps talent from the likes of Mikos Da Gawd and Elujay, Rayana is gearing up for her next project titled Morning After. The first single from her forthcoming EP, “Magic,” is a dancefloor ready track produced by ROMderful. Whipping basslines and a steady groove allow Rayana to command the track with ease. It has that type of energy that makes it easy to keep on repeat for hours on end.

Ahead of the projects full release on July 21, I had the opportunity to chat with Rayana on Sorry About Last Night, her inspirations, and plans for the future:

Who is Rayana Jay?

Rayana Jay is just a soul from the soil. I’m a singer, a lover, a story and truth teller.

How did you get started with music?

I started in my church choir at a very young age. I think as soon as I started talking, my mom threw me into the choir stand. As I got older, I went on to direct my church choir. I was always writing little songs and poems in my spare time; I still stumble across old notebooks and cringe at how corny I was. While in high school, I was told about a place called Youth Radio in downtown Oakland, and the rest is really history. That’s where I saw my first professional studio, that’s where I was offered the time and space to try the music thing out, and I loved it immediately.

Was music always something you wanted to pursue?

I don’t think I had plans to go as far as I am now, but music has definitely always been on my mind. I actually wanted to be a veterinarian when I was younger, then when I was going to college, I wanted to be a AFRAM teacher. Music was always going to be in the plan.

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Rayana Jay // Photo by Lauren Formalejo

Back in October you dropped Sorry About Last Night. How did the project come together?

Sorry About Last Night just happened. After meeting Evangeline, who would later become my manager, and putting together “Sleepy Brown,” we just decided it needed to happen. Two months after dropping “Sleepy Brown,” Sorry About Last Night was practically done. It felt natural and it felt as if I’d had those songs already written for years how they just poured out.

What kind of personal growth have you experienced since 21?

I experienced my first real heartbreak when I released 21 and I think for a long time I was really jaded and guarded and didn’t really want to do too much of anything. Since then, I’ve become more forgiving, softer, and more attentive to the real love around me. I’ve learned to cherish friendships more. I was freshly 21 when that project came out, and I was new to the whole adulting thing that I was supposed to do, but now I do think I’m more responsible and more focused on future goals.

Can you tell us about the process behind “23,” your track with ESTA.?

That was really brought to you by a blessing we call the Internet. ESTA. tweeted that he was looking for singers to work with and Mikos, who I’ve made a lot of great music with, looped me into the tweet thread and in the next 5 minutes, Esta had DM’d me. He sent over a bunch of great beats and the one called “bleu” was the one that hit me. I wrote “23” almost instantly and was in the studio maybe the next week to record it. It was fun to do and ESTA. has been one of my favorite producers for a while, so to be able to make that song was a dream come true.

You were also part of a stacked line-up for the Women in Music festival—can you tell us a bit more about your experience has been like and what the festival means to you?

The WIM festival was one of the most eye opening experiences I’ve ever had the honor of being a part of. To see all of these amazing and talented and sometimes overlooked women from the stage and behind the scenes come together to just love and shed light on each other—it was heartwarming. Knowing that my manager and DJ turned an idea into a weekend that has changed the Bay forever—my heart is full of pride.

What’s been the biggest challenge for you in your music career so far?

Every time I write a song, it’s like I had a baby and i’m a very protective parent. Putting your art, your child, on display for everyone to see and judge and pick apart is one of the scariest parts of it all. You love your kid so much and the moment one person has a negative critique, it hurts. I’m very sensitive—that’s another one of my biggest challenges.

Any dream collabs?

Gucci Mane, Migos, Young Thug, Anderson .Paak, Solange, Xavier Omär.

How do you define success?

Success is when you do things only because you want to and not because you have to. It’s that moment when you no longer worry about what tomorrow brings because you know you can handle whatever it is; success is happiness. I think I’m successful. I think the big issue is when people make success synonymous with wealth; if you’re rich but unhappy, how successful are you?

Any advice for the aspiring musicians out there?

Just do it and do it from the heart. Make the music you needed to hear when you were feeling low all those years ago. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. The world needs your story, and only you can tell it, so get to it.

What’s next for you? Anything else you’d like to add?

Just working on my album and hopefully we get to the U.K. this year.

Keep up with Rayana on Twitter and SoundCloud, and expect Morning After on July 21.

Creatives Corner // Meet Blake Showers

I first came across Blake Showers when Father of Awful Records featured his artwork for “Heartthrob.” The Birmingham artist crafts a vibrant and dynamic style, often bringing to life icons from hip-hop, anime, and video games. Blake continues to fill our feeds with his wide array of art, leading to his recent event at Alchemy 213.

I had the great pleasure of speaking with Blake on his work, his 4strikes project with Daniel Williams, and his plans for the future:

Thanks for taking the time for this interview! For starters, please introduce yourself.

Hi! My name is Blake Showers. I am a 24 year old illustrator from Birmingham, AL. I work on a manga with my editor, Daniel Williams, called 4strikes.

How did you get started with art?

I think my first starts with art were from just doodling at home watching cartoons. It was a really fun thing to do and it would help me concentrate. I would draw a lot in elementary school as well and kids would like my work! My mom used to draw a lil in school and stuff and I guess it just got passed on to me [laughs]. When in high school, I was exposed to more mediums and techniques. It was a good time too because the Internet was getting more advanced; if there was something you wanted to learn, you could Google it and all the steps would be there.

What does art mean to you?

Art means a whole lot to me. This is really the only thing I would do even if I didn’t get paid. If I’m having trouble communicating something to people, it was the best way for them to understand me. When school would start and I didn’t know anyone, kids would see me draw and it would break the ice. I was really shy and still get kinda shy in certain situations, but art really helped me break out of my shell. It got me to do some incredible things and connect with some amazing people.

Can you tell us a bit more about 4strikes?

Yes! It’s a idea I been working on for a while! I wanted it to be a traditional superhero story, but then it just didn’t feel right. It’s something I been playing with since late high school. Finally, I redrew some designs—I drew some clothes I thought were cool and went from there! The main character is loosely based on myself as a highschooler. I’ve really always been into scary and spooky stories so I decided to make it that genre.

I was getting further along with it around 2013, but needed help. My friend Daniel Williams, a urban graphic artist from Birmingham, would be there to message about stuff. He was really into anime and music like I was so we would vibe on the same concepts and knew bout the same content really. One day, I asked if he could be co-storywriter and editor for 4strikes and he was down! He has really been a super big help with the whole project in general—whether it’s reviewing panels for the manga, getting me any materials I need, or even making suggestions for story arcs, he has always came through and I’m grateful he’s on the team!

Where did the name come from?

The name really came from the weapon of the main character being a baseball bat. I know in baseball it’s 3 strikes and you’re out the game, but what if you had one more chance to change the outcome? Also, in Japanese culture, how “four” is pronounced sounds like death. “Four” in their culture is kinda like how “13” is in ours. It’s funny because we were making pages already for it and found that out. [Laughs] I was like “This is perfect!”

What else inspired the manga?

Things that inspired the manga are my life as a college student and I would walk alotta places. Night was my favorite and I had a big imagination. I would always be nervous, but excited to be walking around in those late hours. We also use a lot of Japanese folklore in it as well. There is such a rich culture in myths and legends in Japan and it was great source material to read on. Some manga I liked a lot were Dragonball, One Punch Man, TOUGH, Yu Yu Hakusho, and Full Metal Alchemist. Fight scenes were always a thing I wanted this manga to be know for, but also good humor. I also didn’t see alot of POC in manga. This was another thing that inspired 4strikes. A lot of the characters in it are POC or people that don’t get repped in mainstream media.

Where else do you draw inspiration from?

I draw a lot of my inspiration from just music really and thoughts in my head. I love music so much, mostly trap and underground. I like spooky videos on conspiracy theories and urban legends. Also, when I used to paint more, graffiti art would a big influence too! I was more drawn to the character-based graffiti than the letter ones.

Any advice for the aspiring artists out there?

My main advice would be to keep putting stuff out. Like even if you feel like no one cares, just keep it up. I promise it all will work out in the end! Everyone gets their turn and everyone will eventually be on your side and in your favor if you keep putting the work in.

What’s next for you?

My next move is to finish up my character design portfolio for Cartoon Network and hope for the best! I also got alotta pages to finish up for 4strikes aswell!

Major thank you to Blake Showers for the interview! Be sure to check out 4strikes and follow him and Daniel below.

Blake Showers: Instagram // Twitter // Tumblr // YouTube

Daniel Williams: Instagram

Artist Interview // Kakuyon On Debut Album, ‘Now Go And Flourish’

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.