Kamau is anything but orthodox in the way he does anything.
The DMV-raised artist is extremely innovative in his approach, flexibly transitioning between rhyming and a wide vocal range. Kamau has been slowly but surely getting his name out. Video game players will recognize his song “Jusfayu” ft. No Wyld from the FIFA 17 soundtrack and the song “The Icarus” is featured in the movie The Birth of a Nation‘s album. His interpretations of Outkast’s “Hey Ya!” and Adele’s “Hometown Glory” quickly racked up views on YouTube. I caught up with him earlier this week to find out some more about him.
When did you first start to get into music?
Kamau: It was probably at some point as I was suspended in a liquid, inside of my mother’s person. I imagine something along the lines of her humming a lot inspired me to continue doing so when I exited the womb. I would happily say I don’t know or remember, and that it’s always been something that’s helped me and been the catalyst for growth in a lot of different points in my life.
I would say you have a pretty unique sound to your music, how would you describe it to someone who has never heard it before?
It would easier to describe a dish by its ingredients, right?
I don’t want to run the risk of saying some biased things that don’t necessarily sync up. I could describe it as “it’s really spicy”, then to the person who doesn’t think it’s spicy at all there’s like a biased thing. But I could say it has a lot of cayenne pepper and some lime in it, so then at least you know.
I have a lot of influences that are African, so I listened to a lot of South African and Malian music growing up. My initial introduction and conversation with music happened in school where it was mandatory that all males learn to play the djembe. We learned a lot of West African drumming. You can hear the influence of an early infatuation with movie scores. I listen to a lot of Hans Zimmer and whenever I watch films the most memorable parts for me are always sonic things, even though I’m really into film, I went to film school. There’s a lot of jazz, some Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis. Louis Armstrong was one of my first favorite singers aside from my mother. The cooking process itself is like hip-hop and I guess also what some would call soul. If it was fried, then it’s fried food but the ingredients are those things. I do rap and I do sing, but those are the things that have inspired me that could account for the peculiarities of what I’ve been doing.
So you were talking about how you’re into films and film scoring. You’ve said before you went to school for film and it’s something you’re passionate about, could you maybe talk a little more about that?
I love film. I think it makes a lot of sense because it’s a great-grandchild of story-telling. In music, telling a story of some sort is like a literal narrative like a narrative film, or a narrative rhyme where you’re Slick Rick’n it out and really telling a story. I’m really into stories. Telling stories, learning stories and putting them together. I got into Pratt [Institute] as a painting major. For me, after taking a 4D class, I realized I loved telling stories that way [on film] and wanted to focus on that instead. I was raised on a lot of Kung Fu movies, action cinema in general. I have a production company with a bunch of my friends that I went to school with and met shortly after, called Invisible Firm. All my visuals from A Gorgeous Fortune and all the visuals for the next project are shot by the Invisible Firm.
All the tracks off your EP have music videos, is that something you’re planning on continuing to do into the future?
Well, no one knows the future, we don’t even really know our own future. We only have educated guesses if we’re being honest with ourselves. So I can say yes, that’s the plan, but most plans are near-sighted because none of us can see everything. As it stands right now, I fancy the idea of having a video for every song, but more importantly having an amount of videos or video that covers the topics that are discussed in every song in video format.
You currently live in Brooklyn, but you’re from the DMV area right?
I was born in the DMV area, born in D.C. raised in Maryland. “From” is a whole other conversation.
Would you say both of these places have influenced your sound a lot?
Absolutely. D.C. is like the center of that whole culture. It’s the birthplace of go-go and a certain way of viewing time measures and swing. I think that the swing and bounce that comes out of the DMV is very seductive and attractive. One of the things that was highly present in the forming of my interest in music was percussion.
New York, it’s specifically in the hip-hop when it comes to delivery and becoming more charismatic with how I say things and the amount of words that I use. When I came to New York I got inducted into this brotherhood called Big City Big City. A lot of the artists and brothers in that collective gave me a re-education on efficient language.
I think a lot of it is genetic as well. In popular culture and African people who have maybe never set foot in Africa, you find tendencies. I’ll hear the Migos or Young Thug do something and I’ll be like “That sounds just like something I heard in this South African music demo my father used to watch”, or “That sounds something like what Hugh Masekela did”.
So it’s nearly been a year since A Gorgeous Forturne EP, can we expect any new music from you soon?
A ton actually. We have an extremely populated project coming out in just a matter of months.
What does populated mean?
A lot of songs. We had this project called the Kamau Cassette, it was a mixtape. So this next project that’s coming out is a continuation of the Kamau Cassette series. When I think of a mixtape, and I don’t know if this is technically a requirement, but I think of just a lot of music in general. It’s a lot of collaborations with really dope producers like Dave Monks from Tokyo Police Club. There’s a lot of things coming out that are not attached to that project as well. There’s literally like a boatload of content coming right at your door.