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Forbes: Rich Brian in 30 Under 30 Asia

via Forbes

The internet has created many a celebrity, but possibly no one as memorable as Indonesia’s Brian Imanuel. This 18-year-old from Jakarta, best known today as Rich Brian, was a social media darling for much of his adolescence, mastering platforms like Twitter, YouTube and the now defunct Vine to amass a huge online following. Starting out with comedy skits, he eventually transitioned into rapping, and released the viral debut single “Dat $tick” in February 2016. The video currently has 87 million views on YouTube. This catapulted him onto the American music scene, where he’s collaborated with Diplo and Pharrell, performed on sold-out tours and, in early 2018, released his first full length album, Amen. Looks like Imanuel’s prayers have been answered.

XXL: Rich Brian’s Pitch for XXL Freshman

via XXL
words by Peter A. Berry

Before the 2018 XXL Freshman class will be revealed this summer, the Freshman hopefuls are here to show and prove why they deserve a spot in this year’s class. The 10th Spot voting has officially launched, which means hip-hop’s rising newcomers are vying for a spot on the 2018 XXL Freshman cover.

Rich Brian first burst onto the scene with “Dat Stick,” a comical song that immediately solidified his status as a viral phenomenon in the making. Now he’s off to greener artistic pastures—and he’s still a big deal on the web. Two months removed from dropping his debut project, Amen, Rich Brian remains in good standing. His videos—like the one for his 21 Savage-assisted track, “Crisis”—routinely amass millions of views, matching his SoundCloud totals, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down.

Now that you’ve watched his pitch below, it’s time to vote. The 2018 XXL Freshman 10th Spot will run for one week. This is where the public gets the chance to vote an artist into the XXL Freshman Class. Go here to make your vote count for your favorite artist.

Once you’ve voted, head over to XXL’s YouTube page to take a look back at the 2017 XXL Freshman Class, which featured A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, Aminé, Kap G, Kamaiyah, Kyle, Madeintyo, Playboi Carti, PnB Rock, Ugly God and 10th spot winner XXXTentacion.

And watch all the 2018 XXL Freshman pitch videos that have been released on XXL‘s YouTube page here.

Afropunk: Duckwrth Interview

via Afropunk
words by Priscilla Ward

“Mistakes are a natural part of the human experience, as far as like a whole. It’s really just having confidence in yourself and knowing your true intentions,” said Duckwrth, the west coast artist fusing feel good disco with hip-hop.

He’s back home in his South Central LA neighborhood after a press tour on the east coast. On the phone it sounds like he’s a well loved politician, as he pauses our conversation to greet those who say, hello. In an image obsessed society Duckwrth’s music is campaign to embrace our flaws. His strong sense of self translates into his ability to define masculinity on his own terms and create meaningful work that aligns with his own mission verses a label’s agenda.

Duckwrth is allowing an audience of listeners to share this space with him in the mirror. This exposure to his curiosity and intellectual nudity has enabled an audience of listeners to become actively engaged in his movement.

He released his first album in 2016, I’m Uugly and then followed up with, an XTRA UUGLY Mixtape at the end of 2017. During our phone conversation we discuss everything from the evolution of his identity to his desire to help end the food desert crisis in South Central LA.

AFROPUNK: How would you describe the creative community in LA? 

DUCKWRTH: There’s a lot of sun out here, it kind of helps with the creative side. It definitely gets hot in New York. It’s kind of like plants, it’s just a different vibe. The sound is more industrial in New York and the sound is more groovy and funky in LA.

AFROPUNK: I peeped your Instagram,  are you and Mette Towley working on anything together?

DUCKWRTH: She helped me write the music video for “Boy.” She came in with her version and it was super congruent. She knows the direction, so we joined forces. We kind of defy gender norms. She’s a beautiful woman that pulls from her male side and I pull from my female side.

AFROPUNK: Could you expand a little bit more on what you mean by pulling from your female side? 

DUCKWRTH: Before I didn’t know that it was there, and then it kind of was like having knowledge of self. I was around singers who were super masculine. In a sense it showed me who I wanted to be and who I didn’t want to be. Once I was around a bunch of women, and someone said, you are like Michael Jackson, you have a childlike imagination. After awhile I found myself very familiar with Michael Jackson’s energy. It began to be a focal point of being the new black male and being comfortable with both sides of my identity. I use it when I’m on stage and I have a certain level of comfort. I think people like Prince, David Bowie, Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury are great examples of this fluidity.

AFROPUNK: How would you define your masculinity?

DUCKWRTH: Masculinity is ice, femininity is water, masculinity is solid, femininity is liquid. Not saying that both can’t pull from one another, but they are very similar to one another. I’m a very visual person.

AFROPUNK: I know that you are a graphic designer and illustrator can you tell me a little bit about that?

DUCKWRTH: I went to school for graphic design. I checked out the Academy of Art in San Francisco. I did four years and I pulled out, because I felt like I learned enough.

AFROPUNK: Was graphic design like a gig for you at all? 

DUCKWRTH: It used to be a gig. I would brand an artist if I had the time and energy. My main thing is selling merchandise and getting shows. I come from a family of artists. My mom sings and dad plays the keys. They did a duet at their wedding.  I have always been around music. Art was another type of expression, it’s kind of natural. Music and art work together. My Dad was really good at drawing and I used to watch him. I got like this catalog and it had Simba and Nala. My mom keeps it in a frame.

AFROPUNK: Who are some people you’d like to collaborate with in the near future?

DUCKWRTH: I really like, “Stranger Things,” The Hoffman Bros and Wes Anderson. I’d like to sit down with Spike Lee. I like Ho9909. Sometimes I write in story form. Writing in story form makes it easier. I know that if I put it in story form it won’t be too hard to translate that experience.

AFROPUNK: Was there a particular life event or something that happened that caused you to be more aware of the importance of making room for your flaws? 

DUCKWRTH: I was having a lot of meetings with producers in Hollywood. After the meetings were done I was taking the bus back to the hood and it took a long time. I kind of wanted to put that whole juxtaposition into the songs. The shit isn’t rainbows. I kind of wanted to just speak my mind. It’s kind of hard to go back to the hood after that whole process.

AFROPUNK: Did you ever feel like you had to hide?

DUCKWRTH: When I was in white environments, people would be like shocked that I was from South Central they would go ‘you speak so well.’ A lot of the work I want to do is in South Central, it’s about food deserts. In my neighborhood there’s Ralphs, a soul food spot full of grease, and then there are liquor stores. So if you were to find some good food you would have to leave the food. This sends the message that people in lower income neighborhoods aren’t worth living, the fact that this narrative is going on in America where there is so much privilege bothers me. This should be talked about in the arts. Or even just educating people on more affordable options.

AFROPUNK: Do you want to have some sort of campaign? 

DUCKWRTH: I want to find a funky way of presenting something that taste good as well.

AFROPUNK: How are you giving yourself the space for flaws and mistakes in a culture that doesn’t really provide much room for this? 

DUCKWRTH: Sometimes you have to challenge people’s intelligence and some people are just trolls. Some people may just operate in a certain way. The whole thing that happen to Migos, you should probably just educate and not everyone has to agree with that kind of living, but if you don’t agree with certain things in life you just need to chill out. If you really want to help someone then you really need to educate.

AFROPUNK: Do you have a self-care routine? 

DUCKWRTH: Hella fruit, hella produce, hella water and take a day off. It grows. I know for me, because I work a lot and I need to take that time and dive into what I want. How can you do more of what you want do? I learned a better way of living when I lived in San Fran and Oakland for 8 years.

The Source: Melii “Icey” (Official Video)

via The Source
words by Brad Washington

 

After gaining traction last year with a remix of Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow,” 20-year-old artist Melii comes through with a new track titled “Icey.” Comparisons to Cardi will be imminent but unfair, as Melii comes through with her own style and swag which permeates all throughout the track. The track has already been featured on DJ Booth and Worldstarhiphop, so it’s worth a listen. To check out Melii’s, watch the video above.

The New Yorker: How 88rising Is Making a Place for Asians in Hip-Hop

With artists like Rich Brian and Higher Brothers, Sean Miyashiro’s company is an authority on how to create pop-culture crossovers.

via The New Yorker
words by Hua Hsu

A few years ago, Kris Wu decided that he wanted to be known as a rapper. Wu, who is twenty-six, grew up in Canada and in China, where he is famous as an actor, singer, and model. In middle school, he had become a devotee of N.B.A. basketball and, subsequently, of hip-hop. After a stint in the Korean pop group EXO, he became a judge on “Rap of China,” a hugely successful reality show about aspiring rappers. (His catchphrase, delivered in Mandarin, was “Do you even freestyle?”) Like many Asian superstars, who are mobbed at home yet walk around Manhattan in relative ano­nymity, he wanted to measure himself against American artists.

In February, 2016, Wu played in the celebrity game at the N.B.A.’s All-Star Weekend, in Toronto. There, he met Sean Miyashiro. A few months earlier, Miyashiro had raised money to start 88rising, a company that he pitched as “Vice for Asian culture.” For decades, hip-hop has been central to young Americans’ understanding of what is cool, and Miyashiro knew that, increasingly, this was also the case in Asia. He wanted to document that culture, but he wanted to make things that shaped it, too. That summer, when Wu was working on music in Los Angeles, Miyashiro connected him with the Houston rapper Travis Scott. It wasn’t hard to persuade Scott to work with him. “This motherfucker right here,” Scott recalled, referring to Wu, “called me from a long-distance number and was, like, ‘Ayo, I got this joint for you.’ And I was, like, ‘Ayo, motherfucker, I seen you in like a hundred movies.’ ”

Last October, at the 88rising offices in New York, Miyashiro and Wu were preparing for the release of “Deserve,” the result of the collaboration. On the track, Wu and Scott list the various forms of attention that their women warrant, including a spot on a club’s guest list, a French kiss, and the song itself. Wu adopts Scott’s signature style, which is melodic, sleazy, and heavily reliant on Auto-Tune. Miyashiro was anxious to see how the single would be received. “It’s how to sell a thought,” he said, of promoting the song. “A new perception. That’s the opportunity for Kris, and for us as a company.” Asian fans rarely see their stars venture outside their regional hip-hop ecosystems, let alone stand alongside an established figure like Scott. “But, if they see someone that looks like them do it, then it changes the whole perception, just like Obama did for African-Americans,” Miyashiro said. “Now you can really be fuckin’ anything.”

Against a backdrop of twentysomethings draped in minimalist streetwear, Miyashiro, who was wearing a fitted shirt with a dark floral pattern and a baseball cap with a fluorescent stripe, looked only slightly more adult. He’s thirty-six, but his wispy mustache and sideburns make him look much younger. As he moved around the office, he stopped to peer over the shoulder of an employee who was experimenting with a logo typeface. “I want that to look like a hologram, like on New Era caps,” he told him. Everyone was praised as “fire,” a “badass,” or, occasionally, a “genius.”

In just two years, 88rising, which also has an office in Los Angeles and a small team in Shanghai, has become an authority on how to create Asian and American pop-culture crossovers. The company understands how to sell Asian artists, like Wu, to American audiences. Similarly, it offers a vision of Asian cool to industries—music, advertising, fashion, television—that are desperate to be cool in Asia. Jonathan Park, a Korean-American rapper who performs as Dumbfoundead, has been associated with 88rising since its beginning. “Everybody wants to get into Asia,” he told me. Miyashiro, he added, had been “pulling that card early on and selling people on that Asia dream.”

“There’s this kind of contagious optimism about his vision,” Jeremy Erlich, an executive at Interscope Records, told me about Miyashiro. “I think, to a large extent, Western music companies see the huge potential in China and are really focussed on cracking the code.”

On the floor of Miyashiro’s office is a neon 88rising logo, which features the number 88 and the Chinese characters for “rising.” In Chinese, eighty-eight means “double happiness.” (To neo-Nazis, the number has come to stand for “Heil Hitler.”) His glass desk is so long that it barely fits in the room, but there are no papers on it. (“Why would we need paper, bro?” he said.) On the walls are framed photos of 88rising’s core roster: Joji, a Japanese-born singer whose graceful and heartbroken music belies his past as a hugely successful YouTube comedian; Keith Ape, a Korean rapper known for his rowdy, shrill style; the Higher Brothers, a streetwear­-obsessed rap group from China who named themselves for the Chinese electronics giant Haier; and Brian Imanuel, an Indonesian rapper known as Rich Chigga. Though Wu was probably more famous than all of them put together, it was a world that he wanted to be a part of. “Where’s my picture, bro?” Wu asked politely, as he squeezed behind Miyashiro’s desk. He was dressed casually, with only subtle allusions to his trendy tastes—a Supreme x TNF baseball cap, rare Nikes—and was accompanied by his mother, his manager, and a couple of friends.

Miyashiro believed that Wu had a rare chance to penetrate the American rap charts, as long as he was careful. Wu’s team had initially wanted him to appear on shows like “Good Morning America.” Miyashiro told me, “I’m, like, ‘Bro, that’s not gonna mean shit. That’s not gonna do a goddam thing for you, bro.’ ” Instead, he had a strategy for getting Wu all the “dope press looks” at hip-hop-oriented outlets like XXL and Complex.

“Deserve” was scheduled to première on Zane Lowe’s show on Beats 1, Apple Music’s streaming-­radio service, and Wu began to record videos on Instagram to promote the song. He looked at himself in his phone’s camera and tried to find the best angle. He recited the script, throwing in his own ad-libs. (“Ye-e-eah,” “Love, love.”) It felt a little stiff, so Miyashiro ran through the lines a few times, and Wu mimicked his swaggering intonation.

The next day, Miyashiro sat in a small conference room with a few employees. His assistant projected her computer onto a screen. There were about thirty tabs open. Miyashiro wanted to see the rate at which people were tweeting about the song, which Lowe would be playing in minutes. “Does anybody have Apple Music?” he said. “Where does Zane Lowe play?”

Hip-hop Web sites began posting about the song. “Oh, shit,” Miyashiro said. “Pitchfork just fuckin’ posted it. That’s wild shit. God damn.” It was twelve-thirty. They waited for Travis Scott to wake up, so that he could tweet about the single.

Wu, his mother, and his manager monitored the song’s progress on their phones between promotional appearances. They were in an Uber when it reached the top of the charts, and they looked up and screamed. Wu was the first Chinese artist ever to top iTunes’ rap charts, and the second Asian, after Psy, whose “Gangnam Style” was a novelty hit in 2012. Wu also became a top trending topic on the Chinese social-­media network Weibo.

At 88rising’s offices, Miyashiro was too exhausted to bask in this new success. He was overseeing the song’s global distribution, its promotion across a range of social platforms, and an arsenal of related memes. He flopped down on the couch in his office and tried to post a picture on 88rising’s Instagram account, but it wasn’t working. It was strange, he said, because Instagram had verified the account that morning. He found the e-mail and showed it to me. I pointed out that it was a phishing scam; the account was being controlled by a hacker. “It’s fuckin’ up my whole vibe right now,” he exclaimed. As some no-name rappers from the Bay Area diverted 88rising’s Instagram traffic to their own account, I asked if 88rising had any cybersecurity protocols. “Shit,” Miyashiro said, lightening up for a moment. “We’re too hip-hop for that.”

Miyashiro has a hard time explaining what, exactly, 88rising does. We were eating curry at a Japanese restaurant around the corner from the office. “C.A.A. has talent,” he said. “They’re an agent business. Vice has a great media platform.” Before finishing his thought, he looked down at his phone and laughed, and asked if he could take the call. The screen read “Migos,” the popular Atlanta rap group. After a short conversation, in which every sentence was punctuated with “bro,” he switched back to cogent C.E.O.-speak. “People from the business world say, ‘Hey, Sean, you should start positioning your company as this new hybrid media company that can play in these different mediums and make it work together.’ I’m, like, ‘Yeah, that’s what we’re doing.’ ”

Miyashiro’s ascent is a symbol of the current tumult in the music industry. Recording sales are on a permanent decline, but there’s still money to be made from catchy songs, particularly if you have a vision for whom to collaborate with, or how to reach new markets. Like a traditional talent-­management company, 88rising oversees the careers of a few rappers and singers, and, like a rec­ord label, it releases and distributes music. Like a media startup, it produces video content for its artists and other clients. These videos are inventive and polished, ranging from short, viral memes and commercials to music videos and feature-­length documentaries. They do basic things in a clever way, from interviews in virtual-­reality settings to live performances in Koreatown karaoke bars. (One of the best features the rapper Lil Yachty trying to freestyle over a song by the K-pop group Big Bang.)

Miyashiro was raised in San Jose, California. His father, who is Japanese, worked as a mechanical engineer, and his mother, who is Korean, mostly stayed at home. Miyashiro went to the type of Silicon Valley high school that has a sizable and competitive Asian-­American population, and where most students go on to four-year colleges. But he lacked focus. He spent a lot of time hanging out with friends whom he describes as “wannabe” Asian gangsters, looking tough in the parking lots of bubble-tea cafés.

Miyashiro enrolled at San Jose State University, but he would often drive to campus, circle the parking lot, and, if he couldn’t find a space, go home. One day, he realized that the university’s student clubs staged concerts. He visited African-American fraternities and Asian Christian groups, and began putting on the shows they wanted to see. He also started to throw warehouse parties in Santa Clara. He stopped attending classes, and he turned his work as a campus promoter into a string of marketing jobs in the Bay Area, including one for what he describes as a “social network for hipsters.” Eventually, he helped to launch Thump, Vice’s onetime electronic-music site, where he brokered deals for corporate sponsors eager to align themselves with dance culture.

In 2015, Miyashiro left Thump, looking for his next challenge. One day, Jonathan Park, whom he’d begun managing, showed him the video for Keith Ape’s “It G Ma,” an appealingly jagged and raw rap song. Miyashiro and Park got on FaceTime with Keith Ape, who was in South Korea, and persuaded him to come to the South by Southwest talent showcase, in Austin, Texas. Soon, Miyashiro was Ape’s manager, too. Miyashiro drew on his industry contacts and, for a little less than ten thousand dollars, got Waka Flocka, A$AP Ferg, and Father to record a remix of “It G Ma” with Keith Ape and Park. Around this time, Miyashiro told a friend over dinner at Quarters Korean BBQ, in Los Angeles, that he wanted to build something. That night, the friend connected him to Allen DeBevoise, of Third Wave Partners, who became his first backer. “It was mad easy, bro,” Miyashiro told me. “It was easy as fuck. I’m being dead serious.”

DeBevoise shared Miyashiro’s belief that a portal for Asian culture could serve both a long-ignored audience and the mainstream. “I heard his vision, and I said, ‘This is it,’ ” DeBevoise recalled. “I was sold, probably, in twenty minutes.”

“One of Sean’s strongest qualities is selling the dream,” Donnie Kwak, the 88rising Web site’s first editor, recently told me. Kwak had worked at traditional media companies such as Complex and ESPN, and the idea of devoting himself to something Asian was appealing.

The new company had money, but for months Miyashiro, Kwak, and a handful of employees couldn’t decide where to devote their resources: videos or essays, short form or investigative features, content production or artist management. They built a couple of Web sites but didn’t publish them. Miyashiro was now living in student housing in the Bronx with his wife, a graduate student in virology at Einstein College. He worked out of a Dunkin’ Donuts nearby, and took meetings in his car. “It was f— I was about to say it was fire,” he told me, growing solemn. “It wasn’t fire. It was what it was. We didn’t know what the fuck it was going to be.”

In early 2016, Brian Imanuel, as Rich Chigga, released a video for a rap song called “Dat Stick.” Over a menacing, squelching beat, Imanuel, a scrawny Asian with an exceptionally deep voice, fantasizes about driving a Maserati and killing cops. The song went viral, in part because of how incongruous (in the video, Imanuel wears a pink polo shirt and a fanny pack) and outrageous (he uses the N-word) it was. Imanuel, who was homeschooled in Jakarta, says that he learned English by watching YouTube videos. Miyashiro and Park, who had been following Imanuel on Vine, called him and offered to fly him to South by Southwest to perform. Imanuel said that he’d have to ask his mother—he was sixteen years old. She agreed, but he was unable to get a visa.

At the festival, Miyashiro, Park, and some 88rising employees set up a “shrine”—decorated with plants, Chinese guardian-lion statues, and candles—in an Austin warehouse, where they booked a string of up-and-coming rappers to perform and be interviewed. Behind the camera, Miyashiro asked them about their favorite anime characters, their impressions of Asia, and their reactions to a series of videos by Asian rappers, including Imanuel’s.

88rising uploaded its first video to YouTube in May, 2016. It was a clip of the Brooklyn rapper Desiigner’s “Panda,” filmed at the shrine, with Chinese subtitles—a cute, if self-exoticizing, way for 88rising to emphasize its Asian identity.

When “Dat Stick” went viral, it seemed like a testament to how easy it had become to make vaguely authentic-­sounding rap music. Fans saw it as either a well-executed novelty hit or a well-aimed prank. Though Imanuel was a fluid, nimble rapper, the song didn’t fetishize black culture as much as it frolicked within an outlandish, sex-and-violence-obsessed version of it; it ended up feeling like mockery.

But Miyashiro believed that Imanuel was a kid from the other side of the world who didn’t know any better. Imanuel had joined Twitter when he was ten, and he had always been drawn to irreverent humor. As the song grew more popular, he became apologetic about his use of the N-word, which he eventually promised never to use again, and also about his name, which he felt stuck with. Miyashiro did not dismiss the idea that people would find the name Rich Chigga offensive—some of them were on his staff—but, he told me in an e-mail, “this is a global culture whether anyone likes it or not and nobody can stop someone from loving something.”

For his follow-up, Imanuel wanted to release a song called “Hold My Strap.” But Miyashiro was afraid that another dose of gunplay make-believe would permanently entrench him as little more than a meme. Miyashiro felt that it would be smarter to release a video, made to address the “Dat Stick” controversy, called “Rappers React to Rich Chigga.” While people on Twitter argued about whether “Dat Stick” appropriated black culture, the reaction video posed a complicated question: What if other rappers liked “Dat Stick”? When the video begins, many of the rappers seem confused, even speechless. “He even found a way to say ‘nigga’ without saying it,” Meechy Darko, a member of Brooklyn’s Flatbush Zombies, says. “They dead-ass serious?” 21 Savage asks, as Imanuel and his friends wave guns and mug at the camera. But, by the song’s end, they welcome him as a colleague. “This shit is fire,” Meechy Darko says. “I see the comedic side,” Cam’ron says, but “what he was spittin’ was dope. His flow was tough.” Ghostface volunteers to do a remix with him.

There are other businesses trying to mediate between Asian and American music culture. Zhong.tv, a media company focussed on China’s “urban millennials,” offers a more direct portal into Chinese hip-hop. The recently launched Banana Culture is an experiment in merging traditional K-pop management with a media company, and it is linked to the Wanda Group, one of China’s largest entertainment conglomerates.

But 88rising is distinguished by its idiosyncratic tone and its up-to-the-nanosecond appreciation of hip-hop’s youthful, Internet-driven trends. In the year and a half since “Rappers React to Rich Chigga,” the company has gone from documenting these underworlds to becoming a part of them. The staff began collaborating with new rappers such as XXXTentacion, Ski Mask the Slump God, and Killy. This was good business, and it also lent 88rising, as a predominantly Asian company in hip-hop, a kind of credibility. Its artists often borrow from the idioms of black culture, but in a way that’s increasingly detached from the music’s originating streets and struggles. Instead, their sensibility celebrates the free flow of the Internet, in which cultural crossovers should be fast, frictionless, and shorn of historical context.

Hip-hop is 88rising’s core, but its periphery is always changing. Despite the global popularity of Japanese anime, Korean pop music, and Korean e-sports competitions, 88rising has been judicious about how it interacts with these preëxisting markers of Asian popular culture. Its early videos featured Asian beauty vloggers, electronic-dance-music d.j.s, and a radiantly weird philosopher-bodybuilder named Frank Yang. There are hypnotic videos starring a renowned Japanese mixologist whose cocktails resemble tiny terrariums, and a series in which a sushi chef makes onigiri—rice balls—that resemble the rapper Lil Uzi Vert or the K-pop star G-Dragon. Recently, 88rising began chiselling away at its dude-­centric world view, hosting videos featuring the Korean-American dance producer and singer Yaeji, the Korean-American rock musician Japanese Breakfast, and the Japanese pop singer Rina Sawayama. This year, Miyashiro began managing the R. & B. singer august 08, the company’s first non-Asian act.

Miyashiro said that the harshest critics of 88rising are often Asian-­Americans. “Asian-Americans my age are typically scared,” he told me. “And when something starts to penetrate, like we are, for whatever reason, the Asian-Americans are most skeptical.” Given the relative scarcity of Asian-­Americans in popular culture, it’s understandable that expectations fall on those with some degree of clout—witness the anxieties that surrounded the success of the comedian Margaret Cho, in the nineties, or of the rapper Jin, in the two-thousands. Both were scrutinized by fellow Asian-­Americans, many of whom were worried that they would bring negative representations to a broader audience. Miyashiro said, “They’re, like, fearful of making sure that we don’t offend anyone. Making sure that we’re staying safe. Making sure we don’t appropriate anything.”

He mentioned Niki, an Indonesian R. & B. singer who knew Imanuel in Jakarta. In a video that she had collaborated on with 88rising, the object of her affection is white. “There were these Reddit threads about this guy,” Miyashiro said. “Being, like—I’m not joking—‘What’s up with 88rising having this white-male-Asian-female-type fetish shit?’ Some wild shit, bro.” Miyashiro said that, at the 88rising offices, the controversy reminded staffers of the power they had to shape perceptions of Asian people. But he noted that some of the Asian­-American men in the office argued that it was up to those who felt emasculated to, as he said, “do something about it and be fuckin’ fire.”

Miyashiro’s assistant, a twenty-three-year-old from Queens named Cynthia Guo, told me, “I think, growing up, I was always made to feel that Asian culture wasn’t cool.” On her desk was a stack of classic Asian-American history books, including Ronald Takaki’s “Strangers from a Different Shore” and Helen Zia’s “Asian American Dreams,” which she had read in college. When she found an internship posting for 88rising, she said, it was “like a dream come true,” adding, “There was no one brand I could pinpoint as this really cool Asian thing until 88rising.”

Phil Chen, an adviser at Horizons Ventures, an investment firm in Hong Kong, was one of 88rising’s early backers. He told me that he had been initially skeptical of the company, because of its narrow focus on Asian and Asian-American culture. “I think the goal with assimilation, or trying to fit into the dominant culture, is you don’t try to marginalize yourself,” he said. But, after Keith Ape and Rich Chigga were embraced by non-Asian audiences, he began to see things differently. Maybe 88rising could help Asians feel less “inferior,” he said, about their peripheral status in Western culture. Whenever he finds himself in an Uber in the U.S., he enjoys playing the driver songs by 88rising’s artists. “They flip out,” he says. “It’s just so fun for me, as an Asian, to see an Asian voice being celebrated.”

Before I started hanging out with Miyashiro, I had never truly understood what it means for “creative” to become a noun. Creatives can make a piece of art or an advertisement, but it’s all the same, as long as it makes culture. They work toward outcomes rather than from intentions. (There was a moment when someone mentioned Breitbart, which Miyashiro had never heard of. He was interested in learning if its Web site did video in addition to written pieces.) As much time as I spend on the Internet, I had never felt so attuned to its whims as when Miyashiro would describe an idea so good that it was obviously destined to go viral. And the next time I visited it would have happened—it would be part of the culture.

In late October, Miyashiro was at the office, preparing for the company’s annual board meeting. It was dinnertime, but everyone was working late on his presentation. Miyashiro said, “I can’t decide whether to come professional or swag the fuck out on them.” He had news: he had just returned from Los Angeles, where he had discussed a partnership with a major rec­ord label that would insure much of his company’s autonomy. “It’s so sick,” he said. “It’s the sickest deal ever.”

I asked if 88rising was a profitable business. Miyashiro thought about it for a moment. “In this game, it’s more value-based or projection-based,” he said. “I don’t even know if profitable means much in this shit anymore. Are you making revenue? Are you scaling your audience?” 88rising’s fans are a constant preoccupation of Mi­­ya­shiro’s. “They take ownership,” he said. “No one’s going to walk around and get a Complex tattoo, or a Vice tattoo. People are getting 88rising tattoos. On their body, bro. That’s how we’re different.”

Around the time when Miyashiro and his team were working on Kris Wu’s single, another 88rising artist, Joji, who was born George Miller, appeared on “Hot Ones,” a popular Internet interview show in which guests answer questions while eating increasingly spicy chicken wings. Within a day, and with minimal promotion, it was one of the top trending videos on YouTube. Joji was formerly a YouTube skit-and-prank comedian famous for his characters Filthy Frank (a squawking, anti-­P.C., antisocial nerd with a self-destructive streak) and Pink Guy (a sex-positive Lycra-clad alien with the same predilection for destruction, only he rapped, too). Joji was perhaps best known for his “Harlem Shake” meme, from 2013, which is set to Baauer’s song of the same name. The thirty-­five-second video begins with Pink Guy and three costumed friends thrusting their hips robotically, as the song rises toward a wobbly climax. When the beat drops, everyone begins dancing wildly, as though trying to convulse out of their clothes. At the height of the popularity of “Harlem Shake,” more than four thousand tribute videos were uploaded to YouTube every day. Ethan Klein, who runs the YouTube comedy channel H3H3, described Joji as the best YouTuber of all time.

But, for the past two or three years, Joji had just been going through the motions of his clownish career, turned off, he said, by the increasingly “toxic” Internet. He had begun recording music that was languid and uncontrollably sad, somewhat reminiscent of the British singer James Blake. But he occasionally wondered if the closest he’d come to committing to a music career were the novelty rap albums that he recorded as Pink Guy.

“Sean pulled me out of that slump,” Joji said. He had come to 88rising to discuss making viral videos, but when Miyashiro heard his demos he suggested that they focus on Joji’s music.

Last fall, Joji and Miyashiro were at a studio in Brooklyn, working on a new song, tentatively called “Rising,” featuring Wu, Imanuel, Baauer, and the rapper Trippie Redd. “Bro, it’s inspiring shit,” Miyashiro said. But Wu had recorded a new verse for it, which took up nearly half the song, and they had to figure out how to work around it.

Joji’s début EP, “In Tongues,” was scheduled to be released the following day. As Miyashiro and the studio engineer discussed ways to restructure “Rising,” Joji bounced between his social-­media accounts unconsciously, like an ex-smoker with permanently fidgety hands. “When I was heavy on the Internet, I was checking everything,” he said. “Stats, everything. Because in that world your value is determined by your numbers.” He was earnest, gracious, polite—qualities that his YouTube personae might have mocked.

Joji and Miyashiro brainstormed ideas for viral content to promote “In Tongues.” “When something blows up, and you made it, it’s fucking ful­filling,” Miyashiro had told me. One of Joji’s ideas for a meme involved a car full of tough “hood dudes” who are sobbing as his latest single plays. “Let’s do that,” Miyashiro said. He called a professional meme-maker, who suggested synchronizing the music to short, repetitive clips. “I just need you to tell me your concept for the meme,” Miyashiro said to Joji, covering the receiver. Joji thought about it for a second. “Hard falls. Funny crying. Punching.”

A few nights later, Joji headed to Irving Plaza, for the New York date of Brian Imanuel’s first American tour. Imanuel’s upcoming single, “Crisis,” featured the grim, deadpan Atlanta rapper 21 Savage, who had been one of the more skeptical voices on “Rappers React to Rich Chigga.” 21’s music is fierce, lumbering, and largely joyless, the seeming opposite of Imanuel’s bouncy, Internet-honed sense of wit. Now 21 was dancing alongside Imanuel in a video, appearing to enjoy himself. “21 is cool, bro,” Miyashiro told me. “He genuinely likes Rich and us.”

In the first year that Imanuel and Miyashiro worked together, they mostly talked on the phone, which was complicated by the twelve-hour time difference between Jakarta and New York. They finally met last May, in Miami, where Imanuel performed at Rolling Loud, one of the biggest hip-hop festivals in the world. Backstage, Imanuel surprised the rapper Post Malone with a mariachi band that he had ordered using the mobile delivery service Post Mates. The band performed a buoyant rendition of Post Malone’s single “Congratulations,” and soon a video of the stunt was trending on social media. Miyashiro told me that the clip initially grew out of a discussion with Post Mates about making a short video featuring Imanuel using the company’s app to book the band. But someone standing nearby had captured the entire thing on his cell phone and uploaded it himself, thwarting the plan.

From politics to the pop charts, one of the conditions of contemporary life is our inability to distinguish organic popularity from movements that have been carefully engineered. The work of making something go viral is largely invisible. The entertainment business has always worked this way—an illusion of popularity can beget actual popularity. But, in the Internet age, the velocity of change outpaces our ability to process and reflect on it. When you’re constantly dealing with effects, rather than nursing skepticism about causes, the stakes seem much higher. The amateur video had accomplished the initial gag’s aims: it got people to think about Post Mates, and it made Imanuel seem like a sweet, endearing kid.

At Irving Plaza, fans arrived six hours early to be the first ones inside. The crowd was young, jubilant, and diverse, heavy on college students in a range of streetwear trends, from futuristic, utilitarian chic to vintage rap T-shirts older than they were. They chanted “Chigga! Chigga!” before switching to “Brian! Brian!” “These aren’t K-pop pretty-boy motherfuckers,” Park told me, about 88rising’s artists. “These are all the outcast, weirdo dudes. I think that’s kinda refreshing, because I think every Asian’s kinda felt like that, especially in America, whether you’re an F.O.B. or a nerd, a weirdo, all these different things.”

Imanuel sat in front of a mirror in his dressing room, flanked by Miyashiro and Joji. He stared at his reflection, dancing and rapping along to the d.j.’s music. He seems comfortable in his own skin, like someone who grew up making faces on Snapchat and Vine. He said that he was feeling a little homesick after being on the road for so long. “When I was thirteen, I was super obsessed with this country,” he said. He had been in awe of the actors in the Indonesian action film “The Raid,” who parlayed its success into playing bit parts in Hollywood blockbusters. He spoke with a soft deference, as though this were the voice he reserved for adults. “I’ve always wanted to come here. I’ve seen everything on the Internet, really. It feels like a second home.”

Miyashiro, Joji, and Imanuel had a clubby rapport. The d.j. played Drake’s “Know Yourself,” and they began talking about how the chorus—“Runnin’ through the 6 with my woes”—had been a perfect impetus for viral videos involving Drake’s woes, or running. They discussed memes in the way that a previous generation might have dissected movies or an episode of a sitcom. When Imanuel was ready to take the stage, he removed his hoodie, revealing a T-shirt that featured an illustration of himself. The crowd sang along to all his lyrics and knew all his ad-libs. An audience member held up a framed photograph of Imanuel as if it were a devotional offering. As Imanuel danced and leaped across the stage, his small frame seemed to expand. He had recently turned eighteen, and a few members of 88rising’s staff stood in the wings, ready to wheel a giant cake onstage. Joji, wearing a Limp Biz­kit baseball jersey, came out and sang a couple of songs from his EP. It had been out for only a few days, but the audience sang along to his songs, too.

Shortly before the holidays, I met Miyashiro at his home, in a part of the Upper East Side where someone wearing a leather jacket with the words “Road to Nowhere” across the back, as he was, really stands out. We waited in the lobby of his apartment for one of his employees to deliver a Christmas tree.

Imanuel, Joji, Keith Ape, and the Higher Brothers were at the end of an Asian tour that had sold out quickly. Miyashiro wanted to do big things in 2018. 88rising had already sold out concerts in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. The staff were developing a television series. They are also working on a crew album called “88 Degrees and Rising,” which Miyashiro described as their version of Puff Daddy and the Family’s “No Way Out,” from 1997, which featured the Notorious B.I.G., Lil’ Kim, and other artists on the Bad Boy label. 88rising also wanted to look into curating its own festivals, including one in China. Miyashiro was no longer managing the company’s social-­media accounts himself.

We ended up at a nearby Italian restaurant. “It’s so fire, drinking hot soup with you,” he said. He thought that, because I was from San Jose, too, I could appreciate the unlikeliness of his trajectory. “This is some New York shit.”

Another translation of the Chinese homophone for eighty-eight is that it means “fortune and good luck.” I asked Miyashiro how he would know if 88rising had succeeded. “I never have to be filthy rich,” he said. “That’s not why we’re doing this shit. It’s more about: How do we contain this purity of the brand?” 88rising had become an expression of Miyashiro—his style, his taste, his sense of humor. He didn’t promote himself on a personal Twitter or Instagram account. Instead, he poured himself into 88rising. “I’d rather die than not continue this,” he said. “I feel like I’m high all the time, even though I’m sober.”

Miyashiro spent New Year’s Eve at home. The next day, at 1 p.m., he posted on 88rising’s Twitter account that Imanuel had changed his stage name to Brian. There was a link to an introspective new song called “See Me.” I talked to Miyashiro about an hour later. In late December, Imanuel had announced that his début album, “Amen,” would be coming out in February. The criticism around his name was fiercer than ever. After months of discussion, “he hit me up one morning,” Miyashiro said. “He was, like, ‘Yo, I want to change my name.’ This was after we had had a million conversations. He sent me some screenshots of things that really got to him on Twitter. It finally made sense to him.” A couple of days later, Imanuel changed his name again, this time to Rich Brian.

In mid-January, 88rising was finally ready to release the single showcasing Imanuel, Kris Wu, and Joji, alongside Baauer and Trippie Redd. It was now called “18.” In the days leading up to its release, however, 88rising got caught in a social-media war among rabid pop fans in Asia. One of them had circulated an old 88rising image featuring a row of Asian flags, including that of Tibet, as a way of suggesting that the company was somehow anti-Chinese. It was a reminder of the cross-cultural knowledge required to credibly enter any Asian market. Around this time, Chinese censors began cracking down on rap lyrics, targeting some of the contestants who had been made famous by “Rap of China.” Miyashiro decided that “18” wasn’t worth the potential drama. He released the single quietly, with only light promotion. Wu and 88rising have not worked together since.

Miyashiro turned his attention to Imanuel’s album, and, on February 2nd, “Amen” became the first album by an Asian artist to top iTunes’ hip-hop charts. Given the novelty of “Dat Stick,” few listeners could have anticipated the charm of “Amen,” which is filled with moments of teen-age innocence—one track is about Imanuel losing his virginity—and earnest contentment. But Miyashiro had seen it all along. “Brian’s a musical genius,” he had told me the first time we met.

Just before the 88rising show at San Francisco’s Warfield Theatre, Miyashiro texted to tell me that the reception to “Amen” was “a turning point for us.” A few seconds later, he texted again: “Or another one.” ♦

This article appears in the print edition of the March 26, 2018, issue, with the headline “Hip-Hop’s New Frontier.”

Pitchfork: KILLY ‘Surrender Your Soul’ Review

The Toronto rapper’s debut shows off his ridiculously catchy melodies and distinct persona, even as it moves within templates set by his peers.

via Pitchfork
words by Michelle Kim

Featured Tracks:

Last year, Toronto rapper Killy took his last paycheck from working a sales job at Nordstrom and spent it on the video for his breakout hit, “Killamonjaro.” In the song, his whispery sing-song floats over an eerie, bass-heavy beat, as the 20-year-old beckons: “I can introduce you to this life we live forever.” Killy most obviously belongs to the Travis Scott camp of trap music, in which creating a dark mood through sound design and vocal manipulation almost always takes priority over lyrical depth or melodic complexity. Nor is that the only resemblance to be found in his style: His nasally voice and goofy ad-libs recall Lil Uzi Vert, while the re-looping of hooks mirrors Trippie Redd’s approach. With his debut album, Surrender Your Soul, Killy shows that he’s adept at following a template already established by his peers, while also suggesting—with his knack for ridiculously catchy melodies and his distinct persona—that he could soon pull away from the pack.

Raised in a Filipino and Bajan household, Killy has described being the only non-French student at his Francophone school, where his classmates would mispronounce his given name, Khalil. This led to the alias Kill Ill, which later morphed into the stage name he uses today. As a performer, he has stepped into the role of a menacing antihero, sprinkling in fantasy imagery and lyrics about fighting for your legacy throughout the album. “I’m the only worthy opposition… See me as a hero or a villain,” he croons on “Distance.” Later, he compares himself to a notoriously cold-blooded “Dragon Ball Z” prince in “Live Your Last”: “Screw face lookin’ like Vegeta/I’m a demon with the divas.” And on “Doomsday,” Killy seems to challenge fate itself, as he claims he’ll “come alive” at the end of the world.

The music on Surrender Your Soul, too, fits within Killy’s vision. Crafted by Torontonian hitmakers like WondaGurl, Boi-1da, and Daxz (all of whom have worked with both Drake and Travis Scott), the beats ring with dramatic synths and guitars and mysteriously twinkling piano. This album sounds like it could soundtrack the moment in a first-person adventure game when your character first enters a new, dark, and scary world.

Killy generally steers clear of the common melodramatic or disaffected vocal tropes of his SoundCloud and emo rap counterparts. Instead, he sounds like he’s having fun—like he perpetually has a mischievous smirk on his face. The only instance where he leans heavily into the emo rap aesthetic is the album’s closer, “Fireflies (Outro).” Essentially a slowed-down Blink-182 song with trap drums, the sunset of a track opens with Killy’s Auto-Tune-drenched voice, evoking Rebirth-era Lil Wayne: “Lately I’ve been searching for my purpose/Will you show me where the Earth ends?”

With the majority of its tracks clocking in under the three-minute mark, Surrender Your Soul is a lean offering. In many ways, it seems designed for quickly bored listeners who are eager to move onto the next hype artist. As enjoyable as they often are, the tracks largely conclude without transitioning to a bridge section or reaching a climax, resulting in bite-sized songs that are easy to consume but ultimately unsatiating. Killy clearly has killer natural instincts, but his debut shows that he has ample room for more complexity. He once said that the name “Killamonjaro” represents his “ultimate form.” If he wants to fulfill his potential, he’s going to need to keep evolving.

DJ Booth: Melii in ’10 New Songs You Need This Week’

The music you need this week, simplified.

via DJ Booth
words by Brendan Varan

In honor of Rich Homie Quan’s very good Rich As In Spirit, which is somehow his debut album, I will never, ever stop going in.

And so, here are the 10 best new songs from the realms of hip-hop and R&B and *looks down* soul and everything else that made this week’s cut.

Hope you enjoy (and if you’re on Spotify, we’ve got a playlist right here).

Rich Homie Quan — “Same Year”

Rich Homie Quan is still going in. After last year’s slept-on Back To the Basics, the Atlanta native returns with an even better body of work, entitled Rich As In Spirit, which finds him taking stock of past tribulations and his present identity as an artist and as a man. “Same Year” is not just a poignant look back at losing his grandmother and his freedom the same year, it’s a promise to always keep it moving no matter the obstacle.

Leon Bridges — “Bad Bad News”

I was so ready to head to church with my grandmother at the prospect of new music from Leon Bridges, and instead, I got this. Not that Granny wouldn’t approve, but “Bad Bad News” is much better suited to the after hours than Sunday morning prayers. Still firmly rooted in his classic sound, “Bad Bad News” sounds refreshingly fresh. (“Bet Ain’t Worth the Hand” is pretty damn good, too.)

Junglepussy — “Showers”

To quote my dear friend Donna, “Showers” is food for the soul. I can’t shower with my chains on, but if I could, I would listen to this while doing so.

Wale — “Black Bonnie” ft. Jacquees

Wale is back with his first project since the polished, global sheen of SHINE, and more importantly, his split from Atlantic. It’s Complicated is short, but few do R&B/rap combos better than Folarin, and this Jacquees collab is sweet.

Sango — “Mateo 2.19” ft. Romaro Franceswa & Dave B

Do not miss out on Sango’s new albumIn the Comfort Of. Picking a favorite track is a lot like throwing a dart at the wall—any is deserving of the honor, but for the sake of this list, let’s rock with “Mateo 2.19,” a therapeutic collaboration with fellow Pacific Northwest talents Romaro Franceswa and Dave B.

Chris McClenney — “sidetoside”

Maryland-raised, LA-based Chris McClenney is a man of many talents: singing, songwriting, producing, and playing a variety of instruments. “sidetoside” sounds like it could have easily been released 20-30 years ago, and it will probably sound just as good 20-30 years from now.

Melii — “Icey”

20-year-old Harlem native Melii started picking up steam late last year for an explosive “Bodak Yellow” remix. “Icey” channels the Cardi inspiration into her own banger, absolutely dripping in charisma.

PRhyme — “Flirt” ft. 2 Chainz

2 Chainz over Preemo production is simply a must-hear. *shrugs*

Denzel Curry — “Uh Huh” ft. IDK

“Hardest tag-team in the game, uh huh.”

Juice Wrld — “All Girls Are The Same”

This record came out a few weeks ago, but I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since. Better late than never, right? For all my fellow sad boys out there, here’s your new breakup anthem.

Album of the Week:

Tie: Sango — In the Comfort Of / Rich Homie Quan — Rich As In Spirit

Meme of the Week:

Pigeons & Planes: KILLY Interview

The Inevitability of Killy

via Pigeons & Planes
words by Grant Rindner

From the moment he burst onto the scene with the inky visuals of his breakout single “Killamonjaro,” Toronto rapper Killy seemed committed to creating a world all his own, equal parts inviting and sinister. His music, which blended raucous energy and end-of-the-world urgency with the woozy soundscapes of his city, was an instant hit, and has racked up millions of streams.

But while his rapid rise mirrors many of the so-called SoundCloud rappers who’ve dominated recent rap discourse, Killy is fixated on building for the long-haul, invoking names like Drake, Travis Scott, and Outkast. It’s fitting that the first words most listeners ever heard him say were, “I can introduce you to this life we live forever.”

Last week, Killy released his debut project, Surrender Your Soul. The project builds on Killy’s ability to ride metallic production with slick flows and melodic bars, creating textures akin to steel sharpening steel. The record includes his hit singles “Killamonjaro” and “Distance,” as well as impressive new tracks like the pensive “Fireflies,” the electric “No Sad No Bad,” and “Doomsday.”

When discussing his music, Killy is cognizant of the pitfalls young rappers often face, and projects a purposefulness and clear sense of the direction he wants for his career. “I wanted a real intimate connection with my fans and a real, authentic come up,” he explained. “I could’ve dropped 10 songs like ‘Killamonjaro’ at once a year ago, and said, ‘What’s up? I’m here now.’ But I want a legacy, a real legacy.”

On the eve of the Surrender Your Soul release, the 20-year-old MC joined us in New York to discuss his long journey crafting music outside of the public eye, his take on the state of Toronto rap, and how he hopes people will look back on his music in 5,000 years.

Your Canadian tour opens up in Toronto. What’s going to be the signature of a Killy show?

Chaos. Pure chaos, pure energy, that’s all it is.

I read a quote where you talked about how you prefer to “build” a track rather than just rap on it. Could you explain that a little more?

I’ll have the beat, I’ll go in, I’ll mumble throughout the song for a couple tries, and then I channel in on something I like and work on that and just build it up. My songs have layers, sometimes 10 layers of my voice in the same five seconds, but I have to build it to sound good.

“No Sad No Bad” in particular really uses your backing vocals to create a menacing effect.

Yeah, all those high-pitched sounds you hear in the back, that’s all my voice. That’s me telling my engineer, “Let’s hear this pitched up. What would this sound like if we put Auto-tune on this and then pitched it down?” You know, so a lot of the instruments you think you’re hearing on that song in the background are really my voice and we’re just tweaking with it and putting effects to make it sound like an instrument. The flute—the “woo” that you hear, all that shit, that’s all my voice.

How’d you link up with producers on the project like Y2K and Wondagurl?

Wondagurl—we’re both from Toronto, before ever meeting her I was a fan of her beats, she’s a legend. She’s been a legend since she was young. It just happened naturally, I don’t even know. I just met her in the studio one time and we just started working a lot. Y2K I met through Nessly. I worked with him, made “No Sad, No Bad” and I was like, “What the fuck, this was live, we need to do more.” And he ended up working on the project heavy, mixing, adding guitar riffs.

Obviously you’ve worked with Nessly and a few other artists, but there were no features on Surrender Your Soul. Was that deliberate so the project would just be your singular perspective?

It wasn’t deliberate… it wasn’t like, “No features allowed.” I just feel like there’s no one in my life right now that could give me a feature that deserves to really. If Drake came and was like, “Yo, I have a feature,” maybe that would’ve gone on the album. My mentality is that I can do what most of these people are doing. Rapping, having bars, I can do that, you know? If I’m doing a feature either I’m a fan of your music, you’re a legend, or you’re my friend type of thing.

So it would be a Drake, or a Travis Scott or somebody like that. 

Yeah, basically. Drake, Travis. Uzi is super sick, I think Uzi’s up there with all of them. But yeah, someone who’s a real sicko, Outkast or something like that. Those are the people I really wanna end up working with, the established legends. I feel like that’s where I stand. That’s where my music stands, not in the perception of other people yet, but eventually. I hold myself to that standard.

What was the process like to select what made it on the final project?

It kinda happened naturally. I probably have—excluding those 10, maybe 90 songs, 100 songs. They kind of just picked themselves. They all were themed, they all were kind of woven together. I think I have cooler songs than some of the songs [on Surrender Your Soul], but as a body of work from one to 11 those are the songs that were best suited for that.

killy
Credit: Alix Kramer

Sometimes people will put out records where the singles really stick out, but you did a good job of blending “Killamonjaro” and “Distance” into the rest of the project.

People say your first album is your best album because you have your whole life to work up towards it, and that’s really what it is. A lot of these songs date back a long time, or I’ve had the idea of them or reused concepts, and finally found a way to package it the way I wanted to. A lot of the concepts that are in these songs I’ve had since I was young and finally just got a good way to translate it properly.

As someone who represents a community that doesn’t always have a huge platform in hip-hop [Killy was raised in a Filipino and Bajan household], how does that factor into the music and how you present yourself? 

When you meet someone the first interaction is always sight, so on the surface in this industry you put me next to the people who look like me, and they’re either meme rappers or they have an overseas perspective on hip-hop culture in North America. They either make parody rap or battle rap or they don’t speak English. I didn’t like how instantly, based off appearance, I was thrown into this category of other people, because my music is not like that.

Now, I guess I’ve embraced it more. I just want to be known regardless, I want my music to speak for me, that’s all I want to represent me. You know how Nav came out, or The Weeknd came out and no one knew what they looked like? For a long time I wanted to do that. It just didn’t work out like that because my image was a big reason of why “Killamonjaro” hit. That didn’t work out, but that was my mentality at first.

Your Canadian tour opens up in Toronto. What’s going to be the signature of a Killy show?

Chaos. Pure chaos, pure energy, that’s all it is.

I read a quote where you talked about how you prefer to “build” a track rather than just rap on it. Could you explain that a little more?

I’ll have the beat, I’ll go in, I’ll mumble throughout the song for a couple tries, and then I channel in on something I like and work on that and just build it up. My songs have layers, sometimes 10 layers of my voice in the same five seconds, but I have to build it to sound good.

“No Sad No Bad” in particular really uses your backing vocals to create a menacing effect.

Yeah, all those high-pitched sounds you hear in the back, that’s all my voice. That’s me telling my engineer, “Let’s hear this pitched up. What would this sound like if we put Auto-tune on this and then pitched it down?” You know, so a lot of the instruments you think you’re hearing on that song in the background are really my voice and we’re just tweaking with it and putting effects to make it sound like an instrument. The flute—the “woo” that you hear, all that shit, that’s all my voice.

How’d you link up with producers on the project like Y2K and Wondagurl?

Wondagurl—we’re both from Toronto, before ever meeting her I was a fan of her beats, she’s a legend. She’s been a legend since she was young. It just happened naturally, I don’t even know. I just met her in the studio one time and we just started working a lot. Y2K I met through Nessly. I worked with him, made “No Sad, No Bad” and I was like, “What the fuck, this was live, we need to do more.” And he ended up working on the project heavy, mixing, adding guitar riffs.

Obviously you’ve worked with Nessly and a few other artists, but there were no features on Surrender Your Soul. Was that deliberate so the project would just be your singular perspective?

It wasn’t deliberate… it wasn’t like, “No features allowed.” I just feel like there’s no one in my life right now that could give me a feature that deserves to really. If Drake came and was like, “Yo, I have a feature,” maybe that would’ve gone on the album. My mentality is that I can do what most of these people are doing. Rapping, having bars, I can do that, you know? If I’m doing a feature either I’m a fan of your music, you’re a legend, or you’re my friend type of thing.

So it would be a Drake, or a Travis Scott or somebody like that. 

Yeah, basically. Drake, Travis. Uzi is super sick, I think Uzi’s up there with all of them. But yeah, someone who’s a real sicko, Outkast or something like that. Those are the people I really wanna end up working with, the established legends. I feel like that’s where I stand. That’s where my music stands, not in the perception of other people yet, but eventually. I hold myself to that standard.

What was the process like to select what made it on the final project?

It kinda happened naturally. I probably have—excluding those 10, maybe 90 songs, 100 songs. They kind of just picked themselves. They all were themed, they all were kind of woven together. I think I have cooler songs than some of the songs [on Surrender Your Soul], but as a body of work from one to 11 those are the songs that were best suited for that.

killy
Credit: Alix Kramer

Sometimes people will put out records where the singles really stick out, but you did a good job of blending “Killamonjaro” and “Distance” into the rest of the project.

People say your first album is your best album because you have your whole life to work up towards it, and that’s really what it is. A lot of these songs date back a long time, or I’ve had the idea of them or reused concepts, and finally found a way to package it the way I wanted to. A lot of the concepts that are in these songs I’ve had since I was young and finally just got a good way to translate it properly.

As someone who represents a community that doesn’t always have a huge platform in hip-hop [Killy was raised in a Filipino and Bajan household], how does that factor into the music and how you present yourself? 

When you meet someone the first interaction is always sight, so on the surface in this industry you put me next to the people who look like me, and they’re either meme rappers or they have an overseas perspective on hip-hop culture in North America. They either make parody rap or battle rap or they don’t speak English. I didn’t like how instantly, based off appearance, I was thrown into this category of other people, because my music is not like that.

Now, I guess I’ve embraced it more. I just want to be known regardless, I want my music to speak for me, that’s all I want to represent me. You know how Nav came out, or The Weeknd came out and no one knew what they looked like? For a long time I wanted to do that. It just didn’t work out like that because my image was a big reason of why “Killamonjaro” hit. That didn’t work out, but that was my mentality at first.

You’ve said you were pretty hands on shooting your music videos.

The reason why I came in with such a defined identity is because for years prior, I wasn’t showing the public my grind. I’ve been on the same grind since middle school. I’ve been working for Surrender Your Soul, this project, since middle school, to be honest. Even if I didn’t call it Surrender Your Soul back then, all my work has been going towards this. People see me drop a video and they see me go up that fast, but they don’t see the six, seven years that came before that.

Do you feel like there’s too much of the opposite of that in hip-hop? There’s too many people putting everything they do out there in the world?

The state of the music is fucked, because it’s not music anymore. Music is so disposable, and people are thriving off their hair, or off a meme, or off their beef. It’s rare that someone is going crazy for the music they’re making, in this genre at least, and that’s just something that I want to push. I might be on Instagram Live getting mad ignorant, beefing, but at the end of the day, the spine of this, the motor on this machine is my music that’s pushing it. It’s not anything other than that.

Where does the title Surrender Your Soul come from? 

Surrender Your Soul, it kind of named itself really. I had a song called “Surrender,” which is now on YouTube. It’s the intro [for the album]. I recorded it before “Killamonjaro.” I was drunk in a limo, and I did a snippet of it, and the snippet has now 500,000 views on YouTube. And people named it “Surrender Your Soul” instead of “Surrender” because I say the words “surrender your soul” in it.

I don’t know how to explain it, but I can’t remember the time when I was like, “This is called Surrender Your Soul.” I just kind of started calling it that, it just happened. One day, I  started referring to my project as Surrender Your Soul and didn’t really say or think too much about it. I guess the people mostly decided for me.

I didn’t even know you had a project coming out for a while. I figured you were going to release a couple more singles. 

I could drop two more projects if I wanted to. I have a lot of songs. It’s just about, [sings] “I could introduce you to this life we live forever.” I’m very legacy based. I want to live forever. I want people to look back in fifty to 500 to 5,000 years, the same way that you have someone like Socrates who’s still relevant in today’s conversations, or you have philosophers that are still relevant in everyday philosophy courses that really you don’t even know what they looked like they’re so old—2,000 years ago—but they live forever. And that’s what I want to do.

killy
Credit: Alix Kramer

If you pioneer something, if you come up with a concept that has not been explored before, then that’s a legacy. It’s not just dropping tracks. 

A lot of people thought I was also an industry plant, a lot of people think that I’m signed and I’m really not. I’m fully independent. I wanted a real intimate connection with my fans and a real, authentic come up. I could’ve dropped 10 [tracks like] “Killamonjaro” at once a year ago, and been like, “What’s up? I’m here now.” But I want a legacy, a real legacy.

You’ve talked in interviews before about meeting with labels and being open to signing with one. What are your feelings on that now?

It’s gotten harder, but it’s gotten a lot easier, too. If anything, I’ve learned a lot about the industry and I don’t know if I want to sign to a label anymore. I’ve gotten this far on my own—well not on my own, with my team—everything we do is in-house. If we’re doing this, why can’t we just keep doing it like this? That’s more of my thought process now, but obviously, I do want to take it to the next level, so whatever the best option for that is, I’ll consider. And if that’s a label, that’s a label. If it’s doing it myself, it’s myself.

I wanted to ask about “Fireflies.” It’s super melodic and low-key. When you were writing it were you thinking, “This is a different side of me that I haven’t shown?”

That’s what I’m saying, people just don’t know. If I wanted, I could drop a five-song EP of just “Fireflies” type of songs, just guitar and singing type shit. I just make music. I just made the song and was like, “This is sick. This would be a sick outro.” It’s still me, it’s just people don’t see me as that yet. Since I have so little out, there’s a lot that people don’t—like with the song “Doomsday,” that one is different as well. They’re used to “Killamonjaro,” “Very Scary,” “No Romance,” the ignorant bangers, so it’s just like, I’m excited to finally have this project out so they can now see that there’s other [dimensions]. As far as “Fireflies” goes, I really like that type of vibe, I have a lot of other songs with the same producer with the same type of style. Now that I have a project out I’m gonna start releasing a lot more music.

What do you think about the state of Toronto hip-hop at the moment?

I think it’s super sick. I think Toronto is slowly becoming a hotspot for hip-hop. Since I’ve been in this and since I’ve been paying attention to the scene in Toronto, I’ve noticed people are now working together more, kind of on an Atlanta vibe where everyone is there to support each other and leaving the street politics out of it. Toronto is called “Screwface City,” that’s a nickname for the city because you’re walking down the street and people are preeing you like they hate you and you don’t even know them. That’s the stigma that comes with the city. But now it’s like, I see a lot of rappers that are from different blocks and they’re all working together. It’s a real cool thing that’s happening for sure.

 

XXL: Duckwrth Interview

Why Duckwrth Nearly Stopped Making Music

via XXL
words by Robby Seabrook III

Los Angeles artist Duckwrth is still in awe of how far beyond his South Central stomping grounds that his music has traversed. The genre-hopping rapper and singer, who dropped an Xtra Uugly Mixtape in November 2017, remembers logging onto Instagram and witnessing the project’s reach—it went as far as Australia.

“My song, ‘Michuul’ is on repeat on Triple J—that’s like their Power 105,” the 29-year-old artist tells XXL of his internationally celebrated track. “My homies who produce out there, Sachi, they was on IG like, ‘Look here bro, it’s on the radio,’ they had the lil’ zoom-in video and shit.”

For Duckwrth, the feat was a lesson in perseverance. As recently as 2016, Duckwrth, dissatisfied with the traction his music was making, had strongly considered leaving music behind altogether. His career kicked off around 2012, when he was releasing songs online on his own, trying to find his sound. He settled on a unique style of music—toeing the line between funk and hip-hop—as he dropped projects like 2014’s Duckwrth® Taxfree V.1 and Nowhere, his 2015 collaboration album with production team The KickDrums. But the results didn’t match the heights that Duckwrth saw for himself (the video for his 2015 song “Psycho” is currently sitting at 57,000 views on YouTube.)

“There was a moment where I was gonna just say ‘fuck it’ and do graphic design, advertisements and shit, garment design,” he says. “Just with the state of where hip-hop was, I was over it. And just the fact that it was such a struggle because I been making awesome, creative music, but it wasn’t hitting the way it should.”

Things began to take shape for Duckwrth in 2016, when he would routinely record in luxurious Hollywood studios only to return home to his rough neighborhood. The topographic contrast helped Duckwrth’s perspective and musicality to evolve. “That shit was taking a toll in my brain,” he told XXL that year. “I feel like those textures in that experience made this whole next-level vibe on the album. I don’t want to be in a comfortable environment and make crappy music.”

Those sessions led to the creation of his 2016 release I’m Uugly, which showed a more polished and concise Duckwrth. The songs seamlessly covered a breadth of topics, from love to police brutality, catching the attention of Urban Outfitters. The clothing retailer booked him for its 2017 SXSW showcase, and has kept him close since.

The I’m Uugly follow-up, 2017’s An Xtra Uugly Mixtape, brought him acclaim of the international variety. He now has hopes that his upcoming U.S.-based tour will expand to other countries. “For me to actually be able to go overseas is big because a lot of people from my neighborhood, they don’t even get to leave my fuckin’ neighborhood,” Duckwrth said. “I need that experience, ’cause I need to be able to take that back, and tell the people that are in my neighborhood that it’s possible, I did it.”

While he’s gained some fans overseas, things are also going well stateside. Duckwrth wrapped up a tour with Rich Brian in late 2017, then hit the ground running in 2018 with a special show in Los Angeles at Hollywood’s Space 1520 in February.

“We did this event with Urban Outfitters where I pretty much created this circular stage, a 20-foot circular stage,” he says. “Then the audience, they were like 360 [degrees] around the stage, and we recreated my album I just dropped, from like scratch, with all instrumentation.”

He also dropped a limited-edition cassette of An Xtra Uugly Mixtape—exclusively in Urban Outfitters locations—and wants to put more music on the retailer’s shelves, particularly vinyl releases.”I swear when I walk into Urban Outfitters and I see a vinyl, I’ma call my mama,” he says

 

Never one to get caught up in his own hype, Duckwrth has more plans on the horizon: a spring tour, landing radio play for his an Xtra Uugly Mixtape single “ThrowYoAssOut” and finding ways to be more engaging on social media. “I just hate talking about myself a lot,” he says. “For me to boast about myself all the time, it just feels weird. That’s what I feel social networks are sometimes, it’s just like ‘Hey, look at me, I’m doing this, I’m doing that!’ So I’m tryna find a new way.”

You get the feeling that whether he embarked on Plan A, B, C or Z, Duckwrth would’ve found his way. And he’s still going. “It’s trippy… I’m sitting here scratching my head, like ‘This shit is crazy!'” he says. “There’s more to be obtained, for sure. There’s hella more plateaus to reach.”

Plug Society: AUGUST 08 “Funeral” (Official Video)

via Plug Society
words by Ryan

August 08 debuts on our pages today with the music video for his debut single “Funeral”  Funeral is a great example of his clean vocals and intimate songwriting ability. “Funeral” is his first ever release and the track generated over 250K streams on Spotify in less than a month. The video is directed by Scott Cramer. Plug in below to August 08’s debut visuals for “Funeral below. Enjoy!

XXL: The Break Presents: Higher Brothers

via XXL

On a February evening in Los Angeles, Higher Brothers have big plans for its second-ever performance in the United States.

“I hope to stage dive for the first time!” KnowKnow, one-fourth of the Chinese rap group, tells XXL (he unfortunately didn’t surf the crowd that night). The group, which also consists of Psy.P, MaSiWei and Melo, is making history as one of China’s greatest hip-hop hopes. Drawing comparisons to Migos, Higher Brothers is its country’s first internationally acclaimed rap crew of its kind.

The artists are holding court in the backstage area of L.A.’s historic Shrine Auditorium as part of the Double Happiness tour, alongside fellow 88Rising artists Rich Brian, Joji and Keith Ape. And they’re taking in the moment. “[Rap] saved my life,” says MaSiWei. “Because of rap, we had the Asia tour. Because of rap, we out of Chengdu, a small city. We toured China, we toured Asia, and now we’re here.”

Higher Brothers have had a long journey to reach its current status, attempting to break language and geographic barriers and find massive success stateside. They’re making headway, though—the Sichuanese Mandarin-speaking rappers have already collaborated with Famous Dex, Ski Mask the Slump God, Richie Souf, Jay Park and Keith Ape. One of their biggest viral moment thus far has been a reaction video that shows the likes of Migos, Lil Yachty and Smokepurpp watching and commenting on the group’s Famous Dex-featured song, “Made In China.” The song’s video and its reaction clip have combined for more than 12 million views to date.

Bukunmi Grace

Chengdu, China natives MasiWei, Melo and Psy.P first met at the age of 18, building a home studio where they could create music full-time. The began moving as part of a larger rap collective called CDC Rap House before meeting KnowKnow via Sina Weibo (the Far Eastern equivalent of Twitter). “We shared each other’s songs,” says Masiwei. “Then we toured to Nanjing and met [KnowKnow]. He was so young, just graduated. Then he came to Chengdu and we did some [music] shit together.”

Higher Brothers have held a certain panache for tapping into the sweet spot of rap culture that bridges the Eastern and Western hemispheres. In 2016, the group began to make waves with the release of its eponymous first project, which yielded the breakout song and video “Black Cab.” The debut album Black Cab dropped in May 2017, and they have wasted no time in releasing new music in 2018, already unveiling two EPs—Journey to the West and Type-3—in January and February of this year, respectively.

For now, though, Higher Brothers are focused on converting some new fans on this run of shows in the States, which includes showcases at SXSW later this month. “If they know us, they’ll keep listening to our new music,” MasiWei says of prospective concertgoers. “If they don’t know us, they will watch our show, follow us and search ‘Higher Brothers.’”

Get familiar with Higher Brothers in the latest installment of XXL’s The Break. —Bukunmi Grace

Name: KnowKnow (a.k.a. DZ), MaSiWei, Melo, Psy.P

Age: Knowknow, 21; Psy.P, 23; Melo, 23; MaSiWei, 25.

Hometown: Knowknow, Nanjing, Jiangsu; MaSiWei, Chengdu, Sichuan; Melo, Chengdu, Sichuan; Psy.P, Chengdu, Sichuan;

I grew up listening to:

Knowknow: “My first and favorite would be Kendrick Lamar. He made me want to come to L.A.”

Psy.P: “The Chinese rapper MC HotDog.”

My style has been compared to:

Psy.P: “Comedy rappers. Because when you listen at first, our music doesn’t sound that serious, but when we make it we’re very serious. Sounds like comedy music because it’s very chill, very relaxed.”

Most people don’t know:

KnowKnow: “My own friends in my hometown, we all liked Kendrick Lamar. But they don’t know I’m in L.A. Now I don’t have any of my old friends—I’m famous.”

Psy. P: “When I sleep I snore.”

MaSiWei: “I don’t smoke, no cigarettes, no weed. I don’t like the way it smells. ”

Melo: “I used to be a soccer player. I was a forward because I ran very fast.”

My standout moment to date:

Psy. P: “My first day in America.”

Melo: “The day I decided to become a rapper. I quit my job, and became a full-time rapper. I think that’s a big deal—I was working for zoo before that! Feeding the animals. It was dangerous, but chill.”

My goal in hip-hop is:

Psy.P: “More money, new watch, nice car.”

Melo: “Better life.”

MaSiWei: “Money, fame, respect.”

KnowKnow: “Ballin’, beautiful women, food, big house. And VVS. I want people to never forget us.”

Follow Higher Brothers on Twitter and SoundCloud.

Standouts: 

Type-3 EP

“AD Milk”

“Made in China”

“5:30AM”

“WeChat”

“Nothing Wrong”

“Black Cab”

HotNewHipHop: KILLY On The Come Up

Killy joins us for “On The Come Up” and talks “Surrender Your Soul,” “Killamonjaro,” Toronto and more.

via HotNewHipHop
words by Aron. A

2017 was a breakthrough year for Killy. The success of his breakthrough single “Killamonjaro” lead to some major exposure in hip hop. He’s since been working alongside Nessly, 16yrold and many others. Last Friday, he surprised the world with his first single of 2018, “Very Scary.” The young rapper followed it with the release of his debut project Surrender Your Soul on Tuesday morning. He recently joined us for the latest episode of “On The Come Up” where he spoke about his new mixtape, “Killamonjaro” and more.

Killy’s is the next one out of Toronto to blow up. His song “Killamonjaro” helped him blow up to a whole other level. However, the video came at a risk. The rapper explained that he quit his job at Nordstrom and used the last paycheque as his video budget. The move he made ended up launching his career to a whole other level.

“I think that was definitely just the beginning, really. It’s just what I had to do.” He said, “I didn’t really think twice about it. It just kind of happened.”

During our conversation, he also explained the title of Surrender Your Soul, dream collaborations, being an artist out of Toronto and more.

Watch the latest episode of “On The Come Up” above and subscribe to HNHH TV for more exclusive content with some of your favorite artists.

Genius: Read All The Lyrics To KILLY’s Debut Project ‘Surrender Your Soul’

The Toronto rapper finally delivers a full-length display of his skills.

via Genius
words by Chris Mench

Following the success of his breakout 2017 single “Killamonjaro,” Toronto rapper KILLY drops his debut project Surrender Your Soul today. The 11-track project is entirely featureless, but boasts production from GrayJacquesBoi-1daDaxzY2KWondaGurl1Mind, and more. In addition to “Killamonjaro,” the project also features his 2017 single “Distance.”

“There wasn’t really a marketing plan, I just had a plan,” KILLY told XXL last yearabout his breakout popularity. “I’m the type [that] if I was gonna do something I was gonna do it thoroughly… [People] try to box me into the SoundCloud rap shit; that’s a comparison that I get that I don’t really agree with… And they try to classify me and box me in with those other people that dress the same as me, but my music’s very, very different—generally speaking.”

Check out all the lyrics to KILLY’s ‘Surrender Your Soul’ below:

  1. “Surrender (Intro)”
  2. “Killamonjaro”
  3. “No Sad No Bad”
  4. “Starstream*”
  5. “Distance”
  6. “Doomsday”
  7. “Never Let Up”
  8. “Deadtalks”
  9. “Pray For Me”
  10. “Live Your Last”
  11. “Fireflies (Outro)”

NOW Magazine: KILLY Interview

Killy demands your attention on his first full-length project Surrender Your Soul

via NOW Magazine
words by Jordan Sowunmi

In a city suddenly bursting with breakout rappers, one of the buzziest is Killy.

The 20-year-old Toronto musician’s gift for melody, creative cadences and ability to find unique pockets within twinkling, foreboding production has generated interest from hip-hop fans and major labels around the world.

“Imagine if an alien just popped up in your city,” Killy says over the phone from an east-end hangout where he’s enjoying his last few days of relaxation before a seven-city Canadian tour and the release of his debut 11-track project, Surrender Your Soul (out March 6 via Secret Sound Club and streaming below). “People will pay attention.”

Killy seemed to have come out of nowhere in 2017, with his first four singles – Killamonjaro, Distance, No Romance and Forecast – scoring 68 million streams across platforms and gaining him fans around the world.

Killy’s on a roll, and he knows it. His self-assurance is so potent that it borders on cockiness.

“The reason why I garnered so much attention so fast is because people have never seen something this authentic come packaged like this, be marketed like this, look like this, sound like this,” he says.

That confidence might seem hubristic if its vessel wasn’t so sharply presented. His videos complement his music with flashy jump cuts and manic energy, his Instagram posts are succinct and cryptic, with Killy usually draped in Alexander McQueen and Rick Owens.

His latest trap ballad single, the non-album Very Scary, powered by relentless 808s drums and tremulous hi-hats from producers 16yrold and Daxz, is a hallucinatory display of rugged power. If the so-called Toronto Sound is the aural equivalent of dark nights in a harsh winter, Killy’s music is an energy drink at a loft after-party.

“Look at the state of music right now,” he says. “If you look at music as a whole and see who’s poppin’ and what people are listening to, and you compare it to what I’m trying to do, it’s two very different things.”

Killy gets routinely lumped in with other artists who initially found their start and success through SoundCloud, but he’s quick to dismiss similarities.

“If you look at the people they try to put me up next with, yeah, they have braids, they’re wearing Supreme, [we have] rips in our jeans, but when it comes down to it, it’s about music,” he says. “With music, real will recognize real, regardless of any extra thing: internet presence, memes, how you look, how you dress. The music will always be the biggest drive of anything.”

With the hype Killy has been generating, expectations are sky-high for Surrender Your Soul. When asked what fans can expect from it, Killy is, much like his music, terse and enigmatic.

“Nothing. I don’t want them to know anything. I want them to hear the project and [feel whatever they feel about it]. I want it to be the cleanest slate possible.”

The Fader Premiere: KILLY ‘Surrender Your Soul’

KILLY’s debut project Surrender Your Soul goes past the point of no return

via The Fader
words by Jordan Darville

Canadian winters are alienating. Brutal cold sends everyone inside, relationships deteriorate, and sunless days bring into sharp focus the routine that shapes our day-to-day. That separation is what I hear listening to KILLY, a 20 year old rapper from Toronto and one of the city’s most buzzed-about talents. His release schedule is like a polar vortex – infrequent, but memorable each time. He exploded last February with “Killamanjaro” and its music video, shot at a house party for $300, both picking up millions of streams. But KILLY didn’t reemerge quickly with half-baked material to keep the wave going. Instead, he chose to stagger out subsequent releases, trusting the material to create its own hype (it paid off, with videos for “Distance” and “No Romance” at a combined 14 million views). Today, KILLY is pulling back the curtain in his biggest way ever with his debut project Surrender Your Soul, premiering today on The FADER.

Born in a Bajan and Filipino household, KILLY has lived in both Toronto and Vancouver, and over email he tells me how his rap alias was borne from a culture clash in a French-speaking school. “None of the French speaking kids or teachers could say my first name right,” he writes. “‘Khalil’ came off sounding like ‘Kill-ill,’ my friends started calling me ‘Killy Illy’ and that eventually evolved into KILLY.” Now, KILLY considers the Toronto east end neighbourhood Scarborough his home – it’s where he can find “$10 Backwoods, staircase ball ups, and family.”

Once KILLY started writing raps in grade 7, he didn’t stop. A huge inspiration, he says, was hearing Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks” on the radio. “I was sitting in the back seat of a car and I never paid attention to the radio but when I heard the first chant of that Kanye track that all changed. I started paying attention to music on a whole different level.” After “Killamanjaro” took off — which KILLY says he could feel would happen before he recorded the song – he began preparing Surrender Your Soul, recording over 100 songs. “The songs picked themselves,” he says.

KILLY rejects “SoundCloud rap” or “emo rap” as a label for his sound, though fans of both will find a lot to love here. KILLY does have a better ear for melody and composition than most artists working in those genres, and his lyrics are distinguished, too. KILLY’s bars are the sound of a final boss battle between natural talent and the voice we all have that tells us we aren’t shit: a cocktail of self-doubt mixed with sauce that you can mosh to. Surrender Your Soul plays out over 11 tracks, with epic production from 1mind, Y2K, and Wondagurl (“a legend,” KILLY says, and promises more music with the producer is to come). KILLY says the project’s title is reflective of his own experience, but doesn’t elaborate. As always, KILLY’s not revealing everything just yet, but with Surrender Your Soul, fans have more than ever to hold them over.

KILLY’s debut project <i>Surrender Your Soul</i> goes past the point of no return

KILLY’s debut project <i>Surrender Your Soul</i> goes past the point of no return


Photography by Dave Suals, cover art by Max Cohen