k-the-i???: KO-NICHI-WA, WACK RAPPER!
Stream: k-the-i??? “Lead The Floor” (f. Vyle)
(from Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow out now on Mush)
k-the-i??? word-crammed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for years before moving to L.A. to make a monster album with Thavius Beck. Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow is out now on Mush with verses from Busdriver, Subtitle, High Priest and more. This interview by Chris Ziegler.
If you go to Japan, what’s the first place you’ll visit?
I’m gonna sound like a nerd—I’m gonna hit the Capcom store and get my Street Fighter 4 on.
Is that a Japan-only release?
What else do you love that is Japan-only?
Japanese girls! Video games, Japanese girls, electronic weird Japanese music. Krush, Blue Herb, Rhino—they’re pushing boundaries. It’s intricate hip-hop from Japan. Not many people understand it but I studied Japanese. But you have to keep it up to be completely aware of what they’re saying because there’s new dialogue and slang since when I was taught. But you can sometimes understand when they’re ripping the track a new asshole.
How do you say ‘wack’ in Japanese?
It’s probably ‘wack’ with a Japanese accent. ‘Ko-nichi-wa, wack rapper!’
What did you rap about when you rapped in Japanese?
That was on Broken Love Letter. All that was saying was, ‘Hey, girl, what’s your name? How are you doing? Can I get your number?’ All the important stuff. ‘My name is Kiki and it’s nice to meet you.’
Have you ever said that in Japanese in real life?
I did and the girl was shocked! ‘Uhhhh—are you really speaking Japanese and you’re like this black man?’ Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m speaking! That was in Cambridge which has a huge Asian population, but I did hear somebody three weeks ago downtown at Grand and Pico. I’m walking by going to my homie’s house and there’s a Korean couple and I’m like, ‘Anyong haseyo!’ They turn around like, ‘What?’ Yeah, you didn’t know—I dated a Korean girl! I know Korean!
Have you visited all the international communities we have in L.A. yet?
When I came here, I was originally staying in the Mush Mansion for a while.
Did the butler eventually kick you out?
I wanted to continue my life. They were willing to look out for me forever, but I like to be independent.
What was your plan B for L.A. if you didn’t make this album?
To wallow in my own shit in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Is that actually written down somewhere?
I definitely sat down and wrote that down. ‘If anything bad happens, I’m going back home to wallow in my own shit.’ Which would have sucked. But I’m glad it worked out—it’s working better than I could have imagined. There’s obvious California effects from the fact I came out and worked with the heavy hitters. I knew those dudes since I’d been on Mush for three or four years, but it took me time to release this—I’m a perfectionist. Actually I’m a pessimist perfectionist.
That sounds like a no-win situation.
Exactly. But you know what? It works! If you think you’re at the top of the scale, there’s no room for improvement. But being a pessimist perfectionist forces me to try my hardest. The difference between records is that one is about girls and this one is about the past, the present and the future. My life basically took an arresting turn for the better.
Is the world ready for the sheer density of your track with Busdriver?
I don’t know if America is ready but I’m sure Japan and Europe are down! But I did Low End last week and people went nuts when that song came on. So I guess they are!
Aren’t you already working on another two records?
I’m producing for my friend Onepersun. A homie from the east coast who just moved to California. And a record with Walter Gross—Youth:Kill—some punk noise shit! I like the group Outkast—I listen to so much I like to scare people. ‘How do you go from that to that?’ I don’t wanna be pigeonholed. Lots of people don’t know the first record—Me, Myself and k-the-third-person-i???—that record was all about robots and Transformers, completely constructing a robot. Love Letter—that was about girls. That transition already flips peoples’ minds—how does he go from robots to girls? And then from girls to about my life. And next for Mush is Color The World In Polka Dots. That’s gonna be a psych ‘60s-‘70s sounding record. I’m getting a whole bunch of musicians to get down with me. Polka Dots isn’t even gonna be sample-based. It’s gonna be a psychedelic record. People will be like—what?
You’re into the Fugs, right?
How can you not like the Fugs? The Velvet Underground, the Fugs—that’s what I was raised on. My family was into psych rock. My parents kept open-minded about my music choice. People will be like, ‘You probably came up listening to to hip-hop.’ I was more a Strokes kid, a Smiths kid, Ramones, V.U.—I was always into psych, and no disrespect to hip-hop, but the music wasn’t as intricate as a band. It couldn’t be. Now it is—but back then it was four-bar-beats til the sixteen-bar-chorus—four-sixteen-four-sixteen-four-sixteen. That’s one of the reasons I felt quite comfortable to live out here. Someone like Daddy Kev who brought me along to the scene, and it was so easy to weld myself because it was exactly like I always wanted to be! A venue that has Mars Volta and Busdriver on the same night! Who would be that crazy? And you won’t get that anywhere else—you won’t! It’s interesting L.A. has events going on like that. It doesn’t make sense to people outside L.A. What baffles me most if why it shouldn’t make sense in all music? I love the east coast and the Midwest and they all have different scenes, but I’d be lying if I said L.A. wasn’t taking a nice soft comfortable poop on the industry right now. I wish I could lie—we got the producer scene all wrapped-up, rock all wrapped-up, MCs all wrapped-up—everywhere else I go is not gonna be intense.
Is Mika Miko still your favorite L.A. punk band?
Ah yes! I’d probably marry all of those girls. I know it sounds crazy. I’ve been to their shows. They recognize me. ‘Oh, it’s the only black kid that comes to our shows!’ I’m the black kid, for sure. I wouldn’t say token but I’m the black kid. I’m performing at this place I was fiending to play—the House of Vermont! I grew up more on the punk end—the rock side of things. I kind of think I could be part of many scenes. My lyrics aren’t so pigeonholed. It’s funny when other genres like me, too. I just do what I want—I’m just gonna do me! And it just so happened to be that people like it. That definitely makes me happy. I got to be myself and people like it!
What did you mean with that line about ‘you play laser tag with sudden envelopes and candid cameras cantaloupe’?
I love how people love that line! I’m like a human thesaurus. ‘Cantaloupe’ is your brain—your melon. You ‘play laser tag with sudden envelopes’—going from certain elements in your head—and ‘candid cameras cantaloupe’—you get pissed off when you’re looked at different. When no one seems to understand. It’s basically me talking about myself. ‘Candid camera’ is like ‘now I’m exposed in the limelight.’ And ‘frontal lobe microbes’—I might be drilling into your head until it finally sinks in! I read tons of books. I’ve been paying attention to a lot of poetry. To how I write. Most people when they write a line—it’s partially freestyle. They come up with a line and write it quick. I write word-for-word. On ‘laser tag’—believe me I started off with ‘you’ and thought what would be the next word. Step-by-step at an even smaller rate than most people. So people understand I really tried to structure something. Life is more complex than me saying ‘cat in the hat scat…’ When I was in elementary school, I was like, ‘Why is water wet? Why is the sky blue?’
Why is the sky blue?
I’m not sure—I’m still trying to figure it out. I’m still learning. Curiosity can sustain me forever. Sort of like time-travel, which I’m still understanding.
Are you a big Philip K. Dick fan?
I can’t even begin! The World That Jones Made—that book is amazing! Basically The Matrix before The Matrix ever even had a thought! I’ve always been into reality—reality isn’t as real as we think. So that book hit the heart. I was writing a poetry book with some of my philosophy—Wait Until The Oceans Split In Half. Reality to me is based around water. Water plays a really important role in my life. In elementary school—being the ‘why is water wet?’ kid—I was always into creative writing and poetry. And musicians—as funny as it sounds, Rod Stewart or Morrissey because even though they were singing songs, they were really intricate detailed songs. So being who I was, it was easy to be like, ‘Ok, if I’m gonna write, I’m gonna make sure it matters and express it the way I’ll express it.’ Instead of the cookie-cutter bullshit. I mean—it’s not right for me to say that—who am I to say that? But this is just me. I’ve always been that kid, so it’s easy for me to take all the influences of how I was. And then it formed Voltron.
Lion Voltron or space-car Voltron?
Come on! Lion! Space-car is too many. I bought that toy! ‘Do I really need twenty of these little things to form the ugliest robot I ever seen in my life?’ But I was more of a Transformers kid.
Did you cry at that movie?
When Optimus Prime died, I cried. At that time, no one in cartoons got killed. I’m like, ‘Hold on—the hero died? What’s wrong with this picture?’ But he came back in later episodes so I’m happy. The G2 versions.
You’re a pretty specific guy.
I like to make sure people understand me. Rather than—‘Yeah, I like apples.’ People aren’t gonna read that and be like, ‘Now I think I know him.’
Who is your favorite writer from L.A.?
Right now Saul Williams, if I’m gonna keep this real. ‘Message to History’—I’m like, ‘Alright!’ For somebody to write about sending a message to something that really can’t debate back—it’s amazing to me. It’s more intricate than it looks. People are like ‘Message To History?’ Dude, you don’t understand—this dude is on a higher platform. He finds ways of being simple and still being overhead. But I pretty much respect all the artists. Busdriver to me is an incredible artist. I’ve been telling people Thavius is an incredible rapper but they’ll learn soon enough. When his new record Dialogue comes out, people are going to lose their minds.
At what point with Thavius did you realize you’d have to work together?
We met in 2006 at SXSW and it was like, ‘I like your music!’ ‘Word, I like your music!’ We remixed each others’ songs, and submitted it to Mush to see if we could get a 7” deal. And they were like, ‘You know what? You should do a record.’ So we took a chance. I almost can’t see not working with him—we kept that clear. ‘We’re gonna be with each other forever now!’ Everybody is so geeked about it and we’re so proud about it!
How much of your good mood is living in L.A. and how much is just inborn nature?
70% is my good nature. I smile at everything. If you look at my Myspace pictures, you’ll be like, ‘Why you cheesin’?’ I like life! People like me, girls like me—shit is awesome! I lived in Canada, Chicago, all these places—people would be like, ‘I don’t know you but I like you!’ You know Bigg Jus? When I recorded with him years ago for Big Dada, I went to Atlanta, where he was living at the time. We go to this convenience store and I forgot what I asked, but the lady was like, ‘You from up top?’ As they say in the south. And I started talking to her. And the last thing she said—I don’t know if you can quote me or not—was ‘I really do not like niggers, but for some reason I really like you!’ I would wanna tell her she was the most ignorant son of a bitch of all time, but I’d probably get lynched. I didn’t know how to take it! ‘Thank you-slash-fuck you?’ ‘Uh, I’m glad I upped your game on the black side?’ That’s my life for you—straight up. And L.A. added the 30% because it’s Cali. Cali just has that—you guys are so chill compared to everywhere else!
What vital life lessons has L.A. taught you so far?
Tread lightly when talking to females here! I’m a very hopeless romantic.
Rom-coms and ice cream on the couch?
Everything! Massages! Tell them they’re beautiful! I think every female is beautiful. I do everything for them. But girls don’t wanna date anybody as much as guys don’t wanna. I learned it the harsh way! So don’t be that dude—‘Man, girl, I’d place rose petals in front of your foot every step you walk!’
When was the last time you said something nice to a girl on the street?
Probably a few months ago—right before I went on tour. Well, to keep it real—probably twenty minutes ago.
k-the-i??? WITH MICHAEL NHAT, ONEPERSUN AND WALTER GROSS ON SUN., DEC. 7, AT THE AIRLINER, 2419 N. BROADWAY, LOS ANGELES. 9 PM / $5 / 21+. MYSPACE.COM/THEAIRLINERCLUB. k-the-i???’s YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW IS OUT NOW ON MUSH. VISIT k-the-i??? AT MYSPACE.COM/KTHEI.