Artist Interview: Meet KOTA The Friend, Brooklyn’s Rising Talent

From his recent Anything EP to his Lyrics to GO series, KOTA The Friend has proven to be one of the most exciting lyricists in the game right now. The Brooklyn artist leaves no stone unturned in his clever raps, crafting a soothing sound fit for any playlist. In addition to several headlining shows, KOTA has also shared the stage with the likes of Lupe FiascoLakim, and Blackillac. KOTA also just launched his podcast KWALITY KONTROL, another outlet for him to share his perspective on the industry.

We recently had the pleasure of catching up with KOTA and his journey. Check out the full interview after the jump:

For those unfamiliar, who is KOTA The Friend?

KOTA The Friend is an artist from Brooklyn, New York just doing what he loves and enjoying the ride.

Where did your name come from?

The name Koda is Native American for “the friend,” but I liked the KOTA spelling so I kinda just put those two together.

How did you get into making music?

I’ve always been into music. I’ve been in arts schools since junior high and have been playing instruments since I was in 3rd grade. I grew up with music as my form of expression.

As the director and editor of many of your videos, is that a skill that you picked up along the way with music or was it something you were interested in before?

I learned to shoot, direct and edit in order to make money when I was going through some hard times and for years I focused on mastering those things. I didn’t make music at all for 3 years. When I got back to making music, I used those skills to push my career.

Growing up in Brooklyn, how has the city influenced your career?

I’ve always been around a lot of talent so it’s competitive. I was always trying to be better.

Earlier this year, you released one of my favorite projects titled Anything. How did the EP come together and what do you want listeners to take away?

The first song I made off that project was “Smile.” I loved that sound so much that I just kept making new songs that were in the same realm. I wanted it to be a project based on freedom and self love.

You also just finished up the Anything. tour. What was the experience like and do you have a favorite moment from the tour?

It was a dope experience waking up in a different city every night. It was like all of my problems were on pause for a while. We drove for hours at a time listening to music and just having a good time. Meeting new people at the shows and having people singing my lyrics back to me was an unforgettable experience.

You’re about 20 episodes into your Lyrics to GO videos. What inspired the series?

At the time I didn’t have money to get someone to shoot my videos and I realized that i needed to put visuals out to increase visibility on social media so I came up with the idea of 1 minute videos that I can film myself. I edited them in a cinematic way to make it look interesting and I started putting those out every week.

Do you have any advice for aspiring artists and creatives?

Just focus on creating more art. Don’t let the industry politics discourage you. Focus on making good music. Don’t expect anything from anyone other than yourself.

What’s up next for you?

I’ll be performing at Rocking The Daisies Festival in Cape Town, South Africa in October. I’ll also be touring Europe in October. I have shows in Dublin, Paris, London and Amsterdam.

Keep up with KOTA on SoundCloudTwitter, and Instagram.


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.

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.

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.

Artist Interview: 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.

Artist Interview: Travis Thompson, Seattle’s Rising Emcee

Following last year’s Ambaum mixtape, Travis Thompson continues to build momentum with a series of singles and features. The Seattle-bred emcee holds us down with his catchy verses and witty flows, most recently teaming with the likes of Nima Skeemz on “Father Forgive Me” and “Need You.” Travis has also shared the stage with the likes of W&V mainstays Dave B and Michael Christmas, and will also be at Seattle’s Upstream Music Fest later this year.

I had the pleasure of chopping it up with Travis on how he dove into the music industry, his advice for fellow Lil B fans, and his plans for the future. Check out our conversation after the jump:


Thanks for taking the time for this interview! For starters, who is Travis Thompson?

My name is Travis Thompson. I’m a rapper from Seattle, Washington.

What got you into making music? Was music always what you wanted to focus on?

When I was super young, my dad showed me Green Day, and for a long time that was the only music that existed to me. I used to pretend my vacuum was a mic, because I was hella short and it was the perfect height. I always knew music was something I wanted to do. But around 7th grade I started writing raps instead of poems in my middle school english class, and then started going back and writing to all my favorite Lil Wayne beats n’ shit haha. Lowkey wrote raps all through high school and didn’t show nobody. And then about 2 years ago, I decided I wanted to start taking shit seriously. At first I wrote poems. I competed in poetry slams around Seattle, and won a bunch of em’. I used to do my own poetry shows n’ shit and they flew me around the country for different stuff. Like Brave New Voices, or to film a poetry video. That was in high school too.

You recently dropped a track with Michael Christmas titled “Pipe Down.” Tell us a bit about how the track came together.

One time we got super high, listened to a bunch of Cool Kids, and made the beat and hook in like 15 minutes during a random Ambaum session. Wrote the verse the next day. And then we sat on it for hella long. At least a few months. Then I saw Christmas was on tour with Warm Brew and as soon as I seen he had a Seattle stop, I hit my manager and told him we should try to open that show, because I had been fucking with Christmas’s stuff for awhile. We got the show- he fucked with our set, and said yeah to being on the song. It was cool. Super organic. He’s tight.

A good amount of your tracks are produced by Nima Skeemz—how did you two link up?

Well when I first knew I wanted to start taking music seriously, I didn’t know where to record. My homie Shelton Harris told me about Nima’s studio. I recorded all of the super early shit there. And then simply from being around each other hella, me and Nima started making music together. Eventually he ended up executive producing my Ambaum mixtape. He’s super talented and easy to work with. Fire with the keys. He ugly though.

With artists like yourself, Dave B., and Sol carrying the torch high for Seattle, can you tell us a bit about the music scene there? How has the city shaped your career?

The music scene here is cool. Super small. Everybody knows everybody kind of shit. And even if you don’t, you probably went to church with one of their cousins or something. Fairly supportive. The city shaped my career because there was so many outlets as a young person for me to take part in. Theres a lot of art’s programs for young people in Seattle. The Blue Scholars were the first local acts that ever really made me dive into the scene. I was a youngin’ going to local shows n’ shit. However musically, the city doesn’t really have a sound. Everyone is hella different. But yeah, Seattle is definitely a city to keep an eye out for. It’s a lot of fire ass kids in this new generation that want it hella fuckin bad. I’m excited.

What do you want listeners to take away from your music?

I wan’t anyone that listens to my music to be able to laugh at themselves. To laugh at life. At the really hard, fucked up, moments of life. Even my more serious music always has bits of humor sprinkled in because like, I always want people to remember that life isn’t that serious. Even when it is. You’ll be dead way longer than you’ll be alive. So make the conscious part of existence as fun as possible.

Any advice for artists out there?

Listen more than you speak. Invest in yourself. Like every last dollar. I’m doing this interview with 30 bucks to my name because of music expenses. Be yourself to the fullest extent. Authenticity literally always works. Conduct yourself as business. Learn how to send a proper email. Always pay the people you work with. Don’t throw your music in people’s faces. Let them find it. And I know I said invest in yourself…but don’t pay to play a show. That’s sus. Don’t pay for any blog placement. Also sus. Keep your publishing. And most importantly take notes from other people doing it. I watch how my peers move and figure out what works and what doesn’t- then apply that to what I do. Don’t be lazy. Make something every day. There’s free game everywhere. Go find it.

Any dream collabs?

Kanye. Green Day. Chance The Rapper. Bruce Springsteen. Lil B. I think that’s about it.

What’s next for you?

Hella shows. Hella new music. Hopefully, I can quit my real job soon haha.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I always get this question in interviews and I never know how to answer it so I’ma just put some opinions I believe strongly in:

Nacho Cheese Doritos are trash.
Forest Gump is the best movie ever made. Like ever.
House parties with Facebook event names are 9/10 the ones that get shot up.
Gym Class Heroes were one of the best music groups of all time, and don’t get the proper credit they deserve.
And last but not least, Fuck Donald Trump.

Keep up with Travis Thompson on Twitter and SoundCloud, and stream Ambaum below.

Artist Interview: Meet Ethan Punal

[Cover Photo by Valentina Perez]

It’s always a cool experience to see a crossover between mediums. One such artist to bridge the gap, Ethan Punal, has continued to grow his audience with a constant stream of poppy artwork. Drawing inspiration from the likes of music contemporaries Kali Uchis, Father, and Syd to Andre The Giant and Dragon Ball Z, his vibrantly colored portraits reimagine many of the leading icons in hip-hop and pop culture.

I recently had the opportunity to chop it up with Ethan on his background, development, and plans for the future:

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Ethan Punal // Photo by @locos_lens

For starters, who is Ethan Punal?

Ethan Punal is just a kid who grew up watching cartoons and playing with action figures who decided real life was not as fun as the ideas in his head. I’m 21 years old now and I am from Kendall in Miami, FL.

How long have you been making art?

I have been creating stuff ever since I was a kid. My mom is a really talented artist and always had my little sister and I finger painting or doing some other creative stuff like that when we were younger. I used to draw whatever Dragon Ball Z character I didn’t have a toy of and use the drawing as a toy, same thing for Yu-Gi-Oh cards.

I began to take it seriously towards the end of high school when my friend Kaelin asked me to be a part of this group he was putting together named Khans. Being around other creative kids who were my age but also wanted to get to a certain level based off their talents was inspiring to me and I haven’t stopped going since.

How would you describe your art in three words?

Super duper cool.

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A lot of your pieces are portraits of hip-hop artists. What draws you to the genre?

Rap music has always been the genre that most attracted me. When I was younger my brother would show me a lot of stuff he liked. I remember he bought me College Dropout by Kanye when it came out on CD. When I got to high school he bought me a shitty MP3 player from Best Buy. I would always try and find the best music on LimeWire so I could try and put him onto some new shit whenever he would pick me up. So that kinda got me going on developing my own taste in music. Something about the idea of telling your story in whatever way you can and translating emotions, whether it be flexing, talking about your come up, a significant other, it just seems so raw and passionate to me. I’m also really big into more electronic sounding music like Tame Impala, Toro Y Moi, Daft Punk etc. and a couple bands like The Strokes, The Growlers, Led Zeppelin, etc.

What do you want fans to take away from your art?

I would like to translate the idea of not taking anything too seriously and to have fun. My drawings up to this point are satirical/shitty renditions of really cool people. Every now and again I’ll do a piece that also have some obvious deeper meaning to it and I want them to look deeper into it. Even ask me questions. I want to talk about it. I try and drop drawings every day to simulate the nonstop flow and over saturation we get from pop culture and the media. I’m trying to bore you while still stimulate you visually with some cool shit, if that makes sense. I don’t know if I’m doing a good job, but I’ll probably keep doing it till I’m dead.

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You mentioned the oversaturation that’s present in many artforms today. Do you have any advice for the aspiring artists out there trying to get noticed? Is standing out something artists should be concerned with?

It’s really all about just making sure you’re making exactly what you wanna make and being you. It sucks when you start seeing other people get attention and it makes people feel like they need to compromise themselves in order to be more widely accepted, but fuck that. Just do you and shit will come around the way it’s supposed to. The world doesn’t need another pair of leather pants or distressed shit that’s done the exact same way as all the others. Go out and have fun and you’ll make cool stuff and meet people who you’ll actually wanna be friends with along the way.

What’s next for you?

My plan is to take a step away from the artwork people know me for for a while. I wanna start taking more pictures and hopefully I can finally get started on this movie idea I’ve had for a while. There’s some clothes being made and I think I’m finally ready to start working on my magazine, but who knows, I might wanna be a doctor tomorrow.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Follow your heart and don’t be a bitch. You’re cooler than you give yourself credit for.

Keep up with Ethan Punal on Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter.

Artist Interview: Will Fraker On His Debut EP Falling Into Place

Three months ago, Will Fraker was a relatively unknown entity. A singer/songwriter and producer native to the Bay Area, Fraker has been making music since he was eight years old. At 12 he began singing, adding to his repertoire alongside a background in classical piano. In the years following, Will grew into a talented musician with an astute musical intelligence and sharp ear. The Oaklander has always remained in touch with the Bay’s music scene, working with local groups and performers providing his signature R&B flourish.

Among Fraker’s first major contributions to the scene was a vocal sample in Caleborate and G-Eazy‘s Bay anthem “Want It All.” The track features samples from a song Fraker put together, and has been a driving force behind Caleborate’s ascendency to a Bay staple.

Will and Caleb’s relationship has proved fruitful—the two linked up again on Fraker’s debut single, “Can’t Read.” The single sees both Fraker and Caleb venture out of their comfort zones, blending Will’s classic R&B vocals with Caleb’s energetic bars to meet somewhere in the middle, creating what Will describes as an “R&B banger.”

“Can’t Read” was Will Fraker’s introduction to the world. The track blew up, and Fraker kept the momentum with the release of his debut album, the self-titled Will Fraker EP. A collection of six tracks including “Cant’ Read,” the EP picked up where the single left off and was prominently featured in Spotify’s R&B discover section and on the front page of iTunes. The project’s popularity was unprecedented, but completely warranted. It’s a concise demonstration of Will’s immense talent, and for the amount of work put into it, well worth a listen. I got the chance to sit down with the man himself and talk to him about the creation of the project as well as his future in the music industry. Revisit the Will Fraker EP and check out the full interview below.

Introduce yourself to anyone who may be unfamiliar with your work; who is Will Fraker?

Will Fraker is a singer/song-writer, producer. Now living in Brooklyn, but based in Oakland. My sound has its roots in R&B. I love hip-hop grooves and I love jazz changes, but when it comes to vibes and energy, I’m shooting for something in the realm of R&B or neo-soul. I grew up playing classical piano so that’s an influence on my style as well, since it shapes my harmonic sensibility and the way I voice my piano chords. But yeah, I try to mix a bunch of influences.

How has being where you’re from shaped your musical style? Can you identify any of the influences that dictate how you make music, be it geographical or just as a fan of music?

I grew up during the hyphy movement; I remember listening to people like E-40 and Too $hort, and while obviously that style isn’t specifically channeled in my music, that energy was so contagious and really instilled in me a sense of bay pride. Even though my music isn’t really geographically specific in its style, having gotten my start here and working with people like Rexx Life Raj and Caleborate is a continuation of that pride.

I see a really cool renaissance happening in the Bay right now, and I’m excited to play a role in that, however small. The shift towards more soulful, harmonically driven production and vivid, nuanced story-telling is putting the bay back on the map, and I’m so excited to see where all the amazing artists can take it. Even though I’m not [living] here now, I still feel a really close affinity to this scene.

You’ve mentioned a lot of different names, as well as a background in classical piano and jazzier stuff. Your music draws on classic R&B, but also contains some more modern techniques; I feel both play out really well in Black Berry. Stylistically, how did you try to put your stamp on this EP?

I feel like my music is very often a product of what I’m listening to. Every artist has their own sound, of course, but at the same time every artist is just channeling their surroundings through the filter of their creative identity. I definitely was intentionally going for a neo-soul/electronic R&B vibe, but was also just hoping to tell my story as honestly as I could by writing from the heart.

I remember hearing James Blake for the first time and feeling like I was hearing something that was so genuine that it didn’t matter if he fit neatly into a genre or followed traditional song structures; he was actually one of the people that inspired me to make music for this reason in particular. Frank Ocean is also huge influence and inspiration of mine. He helped me see that you can tell your story and share your perspective even if it doesn’t fit people’s expectations, in fact even better if it doesn’t. The impressionism of his writing is something I aspire to big time.

That’s always something that’s struck me as unique to where we are in the music industry, there’s so many platforms to put out music. It’s really beneficial to new artists but it can sometimes work against them, instead of being the “first Will Fraker” people are the “next James Blake.” How does it feel for you to work with those kinds of comparisons?

Obviously that’s a great comparison to have made for me at this stage [laughs] but at the same time I’ll never be that because our styles are actually quite different. I have a much heavier jazz influence and my production will never venture quite as far into electronic and dubstep as his does. It’s flattering obviously, but I really want to distinguish myself as well. If you’re constantly being compared to someone else it’s going to be really hard to shine brightly on your own.

“Can’t Read” was my first introduction to your work, and I’d imagine many people’s first taste of your music. I was struck by how you took the reigns on that song. How did that particular collaboration come around, and was there one thing the two of you were going for that made it work so well?

t was an honor to have Caleborate rap on it. Making that song was a crazy process. I wrote that hook one day after recording the keys on an actual Wurlitzer and the bass on a monophonic synth with a friend at his house. I recorded the vocals and had this little demo made up. I wasn’t really sure if I was going to release it – we make a lot of shit just messing around that never gets released or finished  but I was really stoked on this hook so I gave it to Kyle Betty [who works with Raj and Caleb] and he flipped it into one of his signature hip-hop beats. It turned out Caleb was psyched to rap on it so I was like “damn now I’ve got to write a solid verse.” And what I ended up with felt a little bit like rapping-singing, which is a little outside of my comfort zone. I just sat down and wrote it and let it evolve in my head; it turned out to not really have any repeating melody – it was just this free-form verse that just sort of happened..

And then it blew up. You rode that wave a bit into the release of your first EP, which was just as popular. Were you expecting the exposure and success of your project or did it catch you off guard?

Definitely caught me off guard. First of all, I have so much gratitude for Caleb and Raj because having their names on the project helped it so much. Much love to those dudes. That was a huge, huge opportunity for me.

But yeah, it totally caught me off guard. I was really proud of what I had done, but wasn’t expecting anything. I’ve been making music since I was eight and singing since I was twelve and I had always wanted to release something polished, so the goal was just to finally have a solid piece of work. I’ve played in some bands over the years and I released some stuff in high school that I’ve since banished from the internet [laughs], so this was really my debut. The goal for me was to get at least a few people who didn’t know me to listen to my stuff so it wasn’t just some good EP that my mom listens to [laughs].

I was confident, I liked how it sounded and I was really proud of it, but I had no real expectations. So when it got the love that it did, I was super excited and humbled and motivated. I figured that having Caleb on “Can’t Read” and Raj on “Show You More” would help it get exposure, but when the whole project took on a life of its own that was really really exciting. And then the Spotify placement happened, and the project being placed on the home page of iTunes R&B happened, and I started realizing that people were listening to it that hadn’t even heard the single. It was a really special feeling and lit a fire in me to keep going. It felt good to finally have something to show for my years of just telling people I make music [laughs].

You’ve been making music for so long, and obviously have a lot of musical intuition, but getting that first project out is always hard. Talk us through the creation of the project and how it felt to get over the hump of a debut and the creation of your project.

I was not overly precious about it. Ultimately, things just fell into place and we had the six tracks. I was working with Ian [McKee] and we were under a time constraint more than anything. I have so many half songs that I’ve written and songs that go through different iterations, so when certain songs started to become finished products, I just rolled with it. Tracks like “Show You More” were once totally different. With that one in particular, I loved the chords but did not fuck with my original melody at allOne day, I was in the studio with Raj and he helped me re-write the hook, and all of a sudden it was something new. Raj fired out a verse – he’s one of the most prolific rappers I’ve ever seen, he’s one of those people that can just write it then and there. With the chorus and the verse in place, it was close to finished so I had to go with it. I ended up writing my verse in the car on the way to the studio for my last session with Ian [laughs]. To be honest, a lot of the project was like that, very last minute or in the moment, stuff that I was forced to come up with on the spot. But that’s how I function best – the pressure helps me tap my creativity.


Tell me a little bit more about the creation of the songs on your EP.

“Can’t Read” and “Show You More” I definitely wrote to feature a rapper, you know? “Tracks” is a funny story. I had sent Ian this video I made on some acapella app on my phone. You know that four-part harmony you hear when “Tracks” starts? That’s literally the iPhone sample. And then Ian flipped those vocals to be the harmonic foundation of the beat, those slowed-down vocal chords you hear throughout the song. That was different from anything I usually do – in general, I like to have full creative ownership over the song, you know, writing it all the way from start to finish – but I really liked the beat Ian made so I went with it. “Black Berry” was the next one. I sent him the stems of the demo and we worked on it from there. That’s probably the song I had the most creative control over. “Swan,” on the other hand, was originally produced by Ian and Turk. I really liked the vibe and had a specific experience I wanted to write about, so they let me write to it and add my own bridge. Overall, it was a very organic process. I didn’t try to overthink it and by the end I had these six songs put together and I was like “you know what? This feels pretty good.”

I’d be interested in hearing something like what you were talking about with really stripped down, gospel vocals, just you and a piano. Do see yourself trying to create a certain, very distinct sound or pursuing certain subgenres of R&B?

I love the hip-hop and neo-soul vibe, and I definitely want to continue working with rappers, but I also really love the sound of just me and the piano, which is something I’ve been doing more as I’ve started doing performances in New York. It was hard to translate tracks from the EP to a live setting, so I’ve written a bunch of songs that work well with just me and the keys. I could definitely see myself leaning towards a more simple, stripped down R&B sound going forward.

This is a very exciting time to be an R&B fan, there’s so much going on all over, and also a very exciting time to be you. You made this EP, left the county, and then you come back to see its on the front page of iTunes, Spotify discover, and people all over are showing it tons of love. What’s next for you?

Definitely more music. Coming as soon as possible. Moving to New York was a big step towards me developing my live set. I love being in the studio and messing around with writing and producing new music, but I also wanted to get my live chops back up and perform more, do bigger shows. I felt like I was kind of lacking that for a while. So, since getting to NY, I’ve been focusing primarily on performing. Recently, though, I had a session with a studio and recorded a cover of a song that they’re going to try to sync to a movie or TV show, which is rad. I’m being very intentional about moving forwards and putting in the work but I’m also just going with the wave. The next big goal right now is finding a creative partner. I’ll probably be releasing some singles soon and ultimately a full album would be great down the line, but until then I’ll just keep working, keep networking.

Berkeley and Brookyln are two areas pretty rich with musical talent. Are there any artists you could see yourself or would just like to link up with?

Well first of all I’d love to keep working with Ian. That was an amazing creative relationship and he really helped me realize my vision. He really paid attention to what I was hearing in my head, which was dope. But yea, absolutely, there’s other producers from the bay I’d love to work with, someone like Mikos Da Gawd – that would be awesome. I’m in contact with Drew Banga which is something I’m excited about.

But right now I’m mostly looking for a producer in NY that I can work with steadily.

There’s so many people out here, so it’s important to just put yourself out there and not stress too much – it’s just not possible to have complete control over your trajectory. Things start to pan out with patience and hard work – have to trust the process, you know.

As for artists, there’s so many singer/songwriters that I really look up to; there’s this guy Moses Sumney who I’m a big fan of, Nick HakimGabriel Garzon Montano – these are all people that are role models more than collaborators, though. If I ever got to work with any of them it’d be a dream come true.


What advice would you have for other aspiring artists or performers out there?

Just do it! I wasted so much time. I always wanted to be an artist but I was too passive about it, and now that I’ve released a project I look back and think: “fuck, what was I doing?” It’s easy to get backlogged with music, songs, half songs, whatever, and not want to release anything, get too attached. Just go for it. Finish a song or two and find someone who can help you push it out.

Anything else to add?

Please look forward to more music. I’ll be creating more and I’m super glad to be where I am.

Keep an eye on Will Fraker. His musical talent, drive, and humility is a combination that promises a great deal. Stay up to date with him on Facebook, Soundcloud, and Twitter, and keep bumping the Will Fraker EP on Spotify, Soundcloud or Apple Music

Artist Interview: Clayjay Unveils Debut EP, ‘GÜD’

Clayjay may be relatively new to the game, but his remixes have already seen some success. The young producer already has a firm grasp on his style, and with his new EP GÜD, he’s ready to make his mark on the music industry. Clayjay’s EP takes the listener on a sonic journey of crisp percussion and wavy synths, placing the producer’s substantial versatility on display.

The opening track “Terrace” provides the perfect introduction to Clayjay’s sound. The intricate attention to detail in every beat creates a delicate yet powerful wave that provides easy listening, but also holds its own weight under closer supervision. This is paired additionally with the very different flow of “Come Over,” which comes across as a true lightning in a bottle version of contained chaos, Clayjay walks the tightrope maneuver of saturating the ears with plenty to listen to without being overwhelming. As an experience that will leave you floating in ethereal waves, GÜD is a true treat.

Stream and purchase GÜD below, and once that’s done, check our interview with Clayjay below.

For all those out there who don’t know, introduce yourself—who is Clayjay?

I grew up in San Francisco and lived there until I was 18, but I’m currently out in LA now at USC’s Thornton Music School. Around the end of middle school, I formed this growing obsession with producers after watching tons of videos Kanye, Just Blaze and other producers making beats. I decided to try it out for myself and here I am about six years later. Lately I really noticed an increasing lack of creativity in the music scene as almost every song began to sound like a knock-off Flume track. Because of this, I strive to create songs that sound like nothing people have heard before rather than hopping on the latest trend in the music scene. In my more recent work, I’ve put a heavy emphasis on incorporating samples of live instruments and other sounds that I record myself or find online. Over the past year, I’ve tried to perfect the ability to pull the most seemingly random sounds together and combine them in a way that works beautifully.

How would you classify the music you create?

I honestly never know what to tell people when they ask what kind of music I make. I really don’t like saying electronic music because of the stigma associated with it. I think people tend to assume something about you or the kind of music you make if you say electronic music so I usually just tell them I don’t have a great way to describe it and they should just listen.

Musically, who are your inspirations, and what, if anything, have you learned or tried to emulate from them?

Baauer has always been a huge inspiration since I started producing. He’s always been taking music in new directions and isn’t afraid to try out new things musically regardless of whether it will appeal to the masses or not. Hot Sugar has also been a huge inspiration for a similar reason, especially his creativity when it comes to sample use.

Being from the Bay Area, can you identify differences in music tastes between Northern and Southern California?

Definitely, at least where I’ve been here in LA, although I can’t speak for all of LA. At USC there’s definitely a huge gravitation towards the corny/poppy EDM tracks which I’m not really a fan of, but it’s all about finding the right people. I’m sure you can find similar scenes in the Bay and LA.

GÜD is your debut EP, can you tell us a bit about the inspiration and thought process behind the creation of this project?  

I wanted to capture a crisp, organic sound inspired by samples from nature and the lack of originality that I’ve been noticing in the music scene (particularly the electronic scene) lately. A lot of artists are making “future bass” or whatever you want to call it and just biting someone else’s style, but people to continue to eat that shit up. In GÜD, samples such as a girl laughing, monkey howls and birds chirping were turned into instruments or percussion and blended together to create these eight songs.

What lessons have you learned coming out of undertaking a project this large for the first time?

I learned how much time and planning goes into creating something like this. For the most part, I did all the behind the scenes work for this EP entirely by myself. I created all the artwork, edited the promo video, created my own website and much more. When I take on a project this size in the future I definitely won’t do everything entirely on my own, even though that was a really useful and fun experience.

What kind of personal growth do you feel like you’ve experienced from the process of creating GÜD?

I think this EP really forced me to pay attention to every single detail of each track. Because it was in the works for so long and I had put so much of my time and own money into this, I needed it to be perfect. After the EP was roughly finished, I spent almost the next four months listening over the tracks and making minor changes to polish them all.

What would you like listeners to take out of this EP?

I hope that people hear the intricacy of every track and take time to listen to every little detail. There are so many weird sounds in there that you would never expect to hear that fit perfectly in every track.

Coming from someone that’s hustling in the thick of it, do you have any advice for any aspiring artists out there?

Take more time to sit on things and make them as perfect as possible before putting them out because it definitely shows. Also, there is a fine line between being influenced by an artist and copying an artist. It is important to develop your own unique sound that people really haven’t heard before, something that I’ve tried to spend the past year doing.

Keep up with Clayjay on SoundCloudFacebook, and Twitter.

Artist Interview: DUCKWRTH Helps Us Love The UUGLY

Back in 2015, DUCKWRTH led us on an adventure to Nowhere with The Kickdrums, blurring the lines between hip-hop, electronic, and rock. Balancing ethereal slow jams like “Indica La Roux” with mosh pit-inducing headbangers like “Skank,” the project showcases his genre-bending sound and malleable flow. The purveyor of funk wave has since continued to hone his wide range of artistic ventures, including graphic design and fashion, leading to the release of his debut LP that officially drops today, I’M UUGLY.

DUCK builds upon previous singles “GET UUGLY” and “Rare Panther + Beach House” with a complete collection of lush soundscapes, sweetened by guest appearances from Sabrina ClaudioGeorgia Anne Muldrow, and Hodgy Beats. His journey laced with synths, funk, and eclectic percussion expands upon tropes of love, mosh-pits, and life in South Central Los Angeles. Press play below, pick up your copy via iTunes, and check out our full interview with DUCK after the jump.


DUCKWRTH is an alien entity that crashed landed in South Central Los Angeles and was raised by two women, one with the last name of Duckwrth. This alien entity ’til this day tries to blend in with society, but fails miserably. He does what he knows best and creates art that reflects his native planet, the Fifth Nebula, and combines those stories with his experiences on Earth. I could tell you more, but I think he’d prefer if I didn’t.

Having traveled from LA to San Francisco to New York, how has each area influenced your life/career, and is there one you prefer over others?

LA is for guud weather, guud music, cool girls and low-riders. The Bay is for the creatives. The ones who want to create with no boundaries or barriers. The ones who want to find other aliens like themselves.

NY is for the workers. The ones who want to take what they create to a whole new level. NY teaches a young alien how to hustle and how to become more than an artist, but more specifically, a brand. Because I’ve learned so much from all three places, I have no favorites, but I do prefer to be in places where there are trees and guud harvest (fruit and women).

You’ve said that the first song you can remember is “Phantom of the Opera.” What kind of music were you listening to growing up, and who are some of your musical influences today?

I grew up listening to classical composers and orchestras, along with a shit ton of gospel—this of course made me even more alien. Today I listen to myself, my peers and garage punk when an alien needs to get a bit skummy.

You draw a lot of inspiration from Japanese culture, as reflected in your music, fashion, and even the stylization of your name. What attracts you to this world?

I am a futurist that appreciates vintage guuds. Tokyo’s (Japan’s) culture is big on future innovation—inventions that move us into the next plateau of existence—from fashion and technology to culinary and art. If I could embody that as an artist in the States, I’d be dumb ass lit [laughs]. Simply put.


What exactly is funk wave?

Funk wave is a genre of feeling. Funk music itself has a certain deep spirit to it, and when played, a feeling of euphoria hits and the listener’s face starts to frown up. They frown, not because they are sad, but because they feel. Funk wave can be any genre, as long as there’s that deep UUGLY’ness one feels while listening—that’s funk wave.

From music and fashion to graphic design, you’re involved in just about every avenue of art. How did you get started, and is there a medium you prefer?

I got started in creation itself at a young age. I knew I wanted to do fashion when I started designing clothes in high school and had my first fashion show at my sister’s college. I was so young and stoked on life. My models I had walking were taking their clothes off right in front of me. I knew I picked the right occupation [laughs]. Music was always around, being that most of my family is musicians. I didn’t want to do music in college though—I just wanted to be an ill fashion/graphic designer. But music kept popping up in my life in numerous ways & before I knew it, I was in my first hip hop band. The rest is history. I hold no medium of art over the other because it’s all design to me.

What form of personal growth have you experienced with I’M UUGLY?

UUGLY is about acceptance. Learning graphic design made me a meticulous creator, but the day I started accepting that nothing will ever be perfect and it’s actually the textures of life that make shit individual, I just stopped caring about being so pretty, i.e. I’M UUGLY.

What do you want listeners to take away from the project?

I want them to transmute their textures of life—either being gapped tooth, clef lip, big nose, flat ass, freckled face, skinny legs, etc.—into something beautiful. I feel like more of an individual now that I have a gapped tooth smile, and that makes an even greater feeling of being the only DUCKWRTH in this world.

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You’ve also released a line of merch in support of I’m Uugly. Tell us about the thought process behind these wearables.

The thoughts behind the merch is to mix vibrant colours with colors you wouldn’t usually match together. I feel the color brown is amazing, and I don’t see enough people using that color palette in art and fashion. So, I use the funk out of brown in my garments. And not to flex, but I think I do an awesome job at it. Or was that too UUGLY? [laughs]

As an artist, live performances are one of many aspects that can set you apart from the rest. What’s your approach to performing, and do you have any pre-show rituals?

My approach to performance is to leave everything on the stage—whether the audience funks with it or not, they can’t say I didn’t give my all. I’m also big on crowd interaction. They barely know me in most cases. I like breaking that wall down so we can hurry up and have fun already. My pre-show ritual is bumping Bad Brains hella loud and head banging a couple times before I go out. Sometimes I pray.

You recently wrapped up touring with Anderson .Paak and his crew. How did that come about, and how has life been on the road?

Anderson and I come from the same planet. He reminds me of what life is like there and how I can make the art I create on Earth move bigger crowds and affect people enough to want to press replay again and again.

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What’s next for DUCKWRTH?

I need a brand new house. I need an Uber sponsorship. I need a foreign chick that speaks 10 dialects. Next is an I’M UUGLY tour and hopefully an UUGLY app.

What advice do you have for the aspiring creatives out there?


Anything else you’d like to add?

God loves the UUGLY.

DUCKWRTH: Website // SoundCloud // Facebook // Twitter // Instagram