Through contrasting musical backgrounds, Brooklyn-raised, D.C.-based artist, KingKLA$$, aspires to create a new trend in music while cultivating a genre reminiscent of the New York nostalgia present in hip-hop. Drawing influences from 90’s funk, the rapper delivers candid lyrics over a laid back flow while evoking the sound of classic east coast hip-hop. We caught up with KingKla$$ to discuss his new single, “Lucid,” the importance of social media for emerging artists, how he landed a feature on THUMP through ReverbNation, and his take on the impact of hip-hop culture in America.
What’s good, KingKLA$$? Thanks for being part of our series! Where does the alias KingKla$$ come from?
My name stems from a mixture of two things really, the King concept and the KLA$$ concept.
King comes from both my name (it means king of kings) and my hometown, Brooklyn, is Kings County or the County of Kings, so I kind of ran with the re-occurring theme and it stuck. In addition, Egyptian art and history plays a large role in both my music and supporting artwork, so King became a parallel between those times and now. KLA$$ to me just meant Life’s Lesson, as much as I learned should be conveyed and taught. It stemmed from Classic, I felt regardless of the name I offered you’d remember me and for that I was timeless or classic. The K is because my name actually starts with a K.
How has being from Brooklyn influenced your sound?
It’s helped to create a type of musical objectiveness. Brooklyn being a microcosm of New York is essentially one big melting pot. My daily musical regimen may consist of things spanning from classical jazz to old school hip-hop. Things like reggae in addition to bachata. You hear these things in passing, whether it be stopping at the store for some juice or riding a cab to your next destination, you become privy to all of these sounds. When I finally return to my own music or anything I may listen to personally, I began to hear it differently and then create differently. I express what I see.
Tell us the story behind your new single, “Lucid.”
These are singles coming off upcoming collaborative projects – one with Q$L (Quise Limye) out of Philly and another with Gandhi Ali from DC. Lucid came to be primarily through time. I’d never really made a song that was released where females, feelings, and fears were the the subject matter. I had the outro of the song for over a year. Elohe Dereje, a friend of Noble Black Society and talented artist, had recorded it in preparation for another project at my home studio. I didn’t know what I wanted it for, but I knew I wanted it. As far as the good bulk of the song, Quise and I wrote that in about an hour. We had been chillin’ and some friends were in the room – soon as they heard the beat they couldn’t stop humming the melody. Quise had the first four bars and that honestly dictated the entire song. The hook was a run-on from my verse which Quise added some harmony to. After hearing it I decided that Elohe’s outro belonged there. That was it. We had “Lucid.”
Walk us through your writing process – where do you draw inspiration from?
Anything from other songs to a tumultuous day or even a bland one. It all starts with the beat though. The only stipulation I’d say I have is not saying the same thing a bunch of times or just saying bullshit. If I don’t feel I’m saying anything or have anything to say I just won’t make music at the time. Other than that I play the beat over and over, repeating the lines I have until it’s an entire verse and then I drop it. Usually that means I didn’t write it down though. If I do write it then it’s a similar process but it may take more time and be more detailed, if that makes sense. The only deciding factor in which method I use is how I feel about the beat.
Earlier this year, Thump premiered your single “Rackson” and said, “Hitting the ghostly, antique beat with agility, the rapper brings his skills to bear with equal parts sincerity and lightheartedness, evoking the sound of classic east coast hip-hop without losing his singular voice in the process.” How did you land an impressive premiere and how did it feel to have Thump give you a favorable review?
I landed that premiere through ReverbNation – they’re the shit. But I mean it felt great, it was a breath of fresh air. It was like your best friend or something saying I BELIEVE IN YOU. It gives you that drive to do more. It makes it appear so much more feasible.
Tell us about some of your aspirations – where would you like to see yourself as an artist in the next few years?
I’d love to be touring. I wanna find dope music everywhere. Work with new people who aren’t confined by trying to hit the mainstream. More recently, I’m interested in film and current events, so I may delve into that. Overall though, I mostly see myself cultivating new sounds region by region.
Social platforms have been an extraordinary and vital tool for artists to market themselves in today’s day and age. What secondary tools or assets do you think are important for emerging artists to have?
Twitter and IG, outside of a ReverbNation account. I say this because you’ll need something to drive your traffic and to help with market analysis. A big part of music is knowing your sound and how it’s received. With something like Twitter it’s free to ask for an opinion and it’s free to see your analytics – key points in growing your market and presenting yourself as a musician. After a while these markets work as an artist’s portfolio. Venues wanna know how many people you can guarantee and from where. A lot of social media services grant you this information.
What kind of influence do you think hip-hop has had in shaping American culture in the past decade or two?
It became America’s culture. Big and Pac kind of enveloped America in the reality of not only urban America but America as a whole. You had kids in the suburbs thinking they were 50 Cent and Eminem. It was a point where the flyest thing you could own was some Rocawear. Sad moment in American swag but still true. In this span of twenty years hip-hop has infiltrated other forms of music like rock, gaming and major film. Children can name you more song titles than states and cities. I could go on for days about what’s changed. All in all, as an American you have to try extremely hard to avoid the reach of hip-hop in 2016. Especially if you have access to anyone under the age of 20 with a smartphone.