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Bronx-rapper, Kemba, recently performed at Republic NOLA with electric-funk group Brasstracks and New Orleans-rapper Pell. Before the show, WTUL's interview coordinator, Josh, had the chance to sit down with Kemba to speak with him about the role of people's personal narratives in music, artists that inspire him, and his upcoming projects. 

 

What effects did growing up in the Bronx have on your musical style?

I think for anybody, really, the type of culture they grow up in and the people they grow up around influence the music they listen to, the way they talk, and the way they dress. And the Bronx has always been mostly hip hop, as far as the culture – so I was born into that. I was born into hip hop music being played on the radio and everywhere. Even though my mom didn't really play it herself (she was more R&B and gospel), you couldn’t escape it, it was everywhere. That’s what the kids talked about in school, it was really everywhere. So yeah, growing up in the Bronx it just made it inevitable that hip hop would have affected me.

 

For sure. When and how did you realize that you could really rap and turn it into a career? 

It’s always been something that I did, since I was around 10, and then when people started hearing about it, hearing me do it, coming across my notebooks, or whatever, it would always be an encouraging thing – everybody always seemed impressed and that always just fed me to do it more. So there was never a click, there was never really a time where I was like “Oh I’m actually good, I can do it.” It’s always been people telling me that it was good and me enjoying that energy and figuring out that next way, you know. It was always kind of this super natural path.

 

 

On your 2016 album titled Negus, you say that people shouldn’t call your music conscious, that they shouldn’t call it political. Why is that?

I don’t talk about politics. I don't talk about positions of power. I don't believe in any of that sh*t, you know? I also don’t like the connotation behind conscious music or political music. I don't claim to know the answers and I don't feel like I’m talking to people as if I do. I’m not coming from a perspective where I’m like, “You should be doing this” or that “You should be listening to me.” I feel like I’m coming from a perspective where I’m just trying to figure it out. And so I feel like when people hear the subgenres of conscious and political, they’re turned off immediately by it, and I didn’t want to be associated with that.

 

 

That being said, you do touch on a lot of social issues. Do you artists have some duty or responsibility to touch on these things?

No, I don’t think so. I wouldn’t want anyone that’s not informed or have experience with that type of sh*t to talk about – that would be dumb to just have everyone talk about it whether they’re interested or not. I don’t think that’s the way it should be. I feel like the people that do are usually the people who study it or have been through it or just have some stake or care in it, and that’s how it should be.

 

 

Definitely. So, with the musical aspect of things, what’s the process of picking beats? Are you hands-on with picking beats, do you get a selection?

For the most part, I’m in the studio with the producer. For the past eight years or so it’s mainly been Frank Drake, one producer, and me in the studio just making stuff together – him being the mastermind behind all the production and me just kind of guiding him along the way. Recently, on this album that I’m working on now, it’s been some of that with Frank Drake but it’s also been me fielding beats, meeting producers, and picking stuff and then writing to it, and then taking it all to Ivan [of Brasstracks], like recording the song and then taking it all to Ivan and Brasstracks, and then us sitting every week and making everything better. He’s like a genius musical nerd, and he’s just taking everything to the next level, really, and showing me a lot about production. So, the process has changed recently but I still am super involved in it.

 

 

So you’ve been sticking with the same dude. Do you think that the connection between the producer and the rapper is important?

I think it is, I think it’s super important.

 

 

A lot of people just send in beats, you know what I mean? Like they’re not even in the same place.

Yeah. I think the people who have a heavy subject matter and conceptual projects, they can’t just get beats through email. They need things that fit specifically with how they feel, what they want to talk about. I think it’s a little more work and more hands-on.

 

 

Not necessarily influence, but which artists do you admire and for what reasons?

Frank Ocean, he’s like my number one. Gambino. I used to be a huge Cee Lo Gnarls Barkley fan. I think those are the main writing influences, but I also love everyone from J.Cole and Drake to really everybody, man. I like to listen to and absorb everything that’s going on, and even try to understand – even if I don’t like it immediately – I try to understand why people do. I feel like when artists get too into their own sh*t and start saying that things are bad, that’s like the first step to getting old... getting washed. If you can’t understand why people like new sh*t, then yeah, it’s kind of over.

 

 

Alright for these ones, I’m gonna give two options and you’ll pick your favorite, alright?

Okay

 

 

J-Dilla or Mad Lib?

I will honestly say that I’m not super well-versed on either. But my producer Frank Drake is such a huge Dilla fan, that without Dilla there would probably be no him, and so I’d gotta pick Dilla [laughs]

 

 

I didn’t know if you were a Wu Tang fan [laughs] so I’m not sure about this one but Wu Tang or Dungeon Family?

[Laughs] I gotta go with Dungeon, man – André is like the greatest to me – so really because André is the greatest to me.

 

 

Cuban Linx or Liquid Swords?

I’d say Cuban Linx, for sure.

 

 

Timberland or Pharrell?

That’s hard too [laughs]. I want to say… wow that’s crazy [laughs]. I think I like Timberland and Jay Z’s songs better than Pharrell and Jay Z songs, a little bit. But Seeing Sounds is crazy. Seeing Sounds is incredible. But also 20/20 Experience is crazy. I don’t know [laughs]. Gonna have to be a tie!

 

 

[To DJRoadRunner] What’d you think for Liquid Swords?

[DJ RoadRunner] F*ck… Cuban Linx, bro.

 

 

I'd say Liquid Swords, easy. That album’s so hard

You can’t say easy [laughs]

 

 

[Laughs] This is the last one – Lauryn Hill or Erykah Badu?

[DJ RoadRunner] Oh wow, these questions, bro. You got me sweatin’ over here

 

[Kemba] Yeah, damn. Man… honestly, I feel like “On and On” is one of the most well-written songs I’ve ever heard in my entire life. And she just has a lot longer of a discography. So, I have to go with Erykah Badu.

 

“On and On” on a live album and her rapping too… it’s just crazy. 

Just the lyrics of that song is nuts, man. But Lauryn is a whole legend, man. So absolutely nothing against Lauryn, she’s great. But we only got like one album and we need more.

 

 

Yeah word. Lastly, what do you got going on in the future?

So, we’re halfway through this tour…

 

 

How’s it going?

It’s going amazingly – it’s a lot of fun, man. Working with Brasstracks for this past year, we just built this really good relationship and we’re just taking that on the road. There’s no competition, no pressure. Everybody’s just having fun and that’s awesome. And now that I’m on a label, I’m not struggling in like a low compact car [laughs] so I’m a little more comfortable, and it’s less stress and it’s awesome.

 

 

They got you in the studio?

Nah, we haven’t gotten in the studio during the tour

 

 

Oh I mean the label, must have you in there right?

Oh yeah, for sure. But the album’s almost done and that’s gonna be coming this year. Put out “Deadass” about a month ago and that’s doing well – better than any other song I’ve put out. We’re still working on that, getting the video ready. Right after this tour we’re going to SXSW – it’s going to be a long year [laughs]. It’s going to be a lot of work, man, but I’m excited!

 

 

How do you feel about touring? To me, this is like the real “work” part of being a musician. There’s a lot of cons that go along with touring, I feel like.

Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of work parts [laughs]. There’s a lot of shit you don’t wanna do but have to do because it’s part of the job. But, it’s like a buildup of stress from 10am to around 7pm, and then a release of stress around 8pm. Then you do it all over again [laughs]

 

 

[Laughs] Well that’s all I got, thank you, man.

 

 

 

Keep up with Kemba on his social accounts below:

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Youtube

 

Listen to Kemba's most recent single, "Deadass," here

 

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