KAMI's New Wave Rap Is Rap's New Wave
The SaveMoney artist breaks down his forthcoming 'Just Like the Movies' which doesn't sound like much else you can think of.
Photos by Bryan Allen Lamb
KAMI, whom you might know previously as one half of Leather Corduroys, his experimental rap duo with Joey Purp, is making movie soundtracks. Or, OK, not exactly movie soundtracks, but songs that pulse with the cinematic touch of the atmospheric 80s and the cinematic idea that life itself is a bit of a film. Sonic movies, maybe, if you will. Basically, he has a lot of synthesizers on deck, courtesy largely of production mastermind Knox Fortune. Those synths sound fucking cool, and the result is a hypnotic upcoming album he would like to play for you called Just Like the Movies. It's due early next year, and, although it features a couple of his longtime buddies in the Chicago collective Save Money, it's an aesthetic you haven't heard from that circle before, if at all.
"I felt really good that we all can attack these different avenues so strongly," he told me recently over the phone, alluding to the work coming out of the country's most fertile rap scene, one that includes pals of his like Towkio, Vic Mensa, Joey Purp, and Chance the Rapper. KAMI's own work with Purp, most recently on 2015's Season, found the duo playing with all kinds of whimsical rap ideas, drawing connections between Young Thug and Elton John before those guys did it themselves. But as Joey leaned hard into making one of the most well-rapped albums of this year, KAMI was busy taking his melodies further down the rabbit hole.
The result feels like an album Travis $cott might make if he had a soul, a logical extrapolation of Kanye West's recent sung material filtered through the world of new wave synths. Imagine Miami Vice but where all the characters are people you'd hang out and talk about your feelings with. It's full of big, beautiful synth washes cut through with melodic raps and harder-edged bars alike. KAMI's voice sweeps in, dreamlike, through tableaus describing wild nights and the occasionally less wild realities of those nights that become apparent when the drugs clear. There's heart, as on the roots-affirming rap "Foundation," and heartbreak, as on the blown-out coping anthem "World." On "Tropico," KAMI channels Future's flow without the hard-edged nihilism, melting into a broken repetition of the phrase "you make me feel." Just Like the Movies is the fascinating extension of rap's current druggy, emotive melodicism into the more extreme sonic possibilities that mood demands.
All of this might make KAMI's music seem like a bummer, but it's generally a lot of fun, as fans of the consummately goofy Leather Corduroys might guess or as listeners of already-released bangers like "Right Now" might intuit. KAMI, in person, is hilarious, with a cutting, deadpan sense of humor. He's someone you want to sit around and talk about music with, but he's also the guy you want by your side at an epic party. He's like, well, the cool best friend in a movie. Now, imagine this conversation in one of those awkward 80s split screens:
Noisey: Your album is called Just Like the Movies . Have there been like specific moments you can think of where things feel like the movies in that way?
KAMI: Yeah, man. It's just like something as early as like my father going to jail for 20 years. For the most part people see that in a movie and never have experienced it. Sometimes it's like going out with Vic and meeting Jay Z and Beyoncé and seeing them right in front of you. Those are all experiences that are like movies, but they're not. They're like life.
What about for like the kids listening to this on the bus or whatever, and they're like, "I want my life to be like a movie"? How does their life imitate art?
(Laughs) How does somebody else get get their life to be like a movie—shit! I don't know. I think you just kind of answered the question. The idea that it plays out in very specific-to-you ways. I'm pretty sure that everybody for the most part, more often than not, is living some sort of different life that you could probably make a movie out of, you know?
You were saying you grew up and your dad was in jail. What was that like? What were your impressions of that as a kid?
As a kid you're just confused. Like you really don't know like why. That's the question that you ask like periodically. Like why or where? What's going on? But as you get older and you find out exactly what happened it's always a situation of, well, realizing life is life, and choices are cemented, and there are consequences, and it just happened to be my father. Luckily I have the strongest mom who's able to you know forgo all of that and still raise her son. It's not something that's real heavy on me anymore as a grown man, as a 23-year-old man, but at the same time it's like that's an experience that I feel like you can't get back. It created a new experience of not experiencing that. Luckily enough I had a stepfather for most of my life. I always considered him, my stepfather—that's my father. It's not the biggest deal at this point.
You were also talking about meeting Jay Z and Beyoncé and having these crazy experiences. I feel like that's kind of the vibe of a lot of the album. Like, "I can't believe I'm in this club in Miami partying right now."
Yeah, shout out to—what's that called—Eleven? Twenty-four-hour strip club in Miami. It was fuckin' lit. I think we was down there for New Years and we was like chillin' with some homies in the A$AP crew and shit. Sometimes it'll just be so fantastic that when you get a chance to like re-evaluate you're like damn, that was like an episode of fucking Entourage or some shit. And we were in that room in New York for Vic's birthday, meeting Jay Z and Beyoncé. That shit's scary. Jay Z is not a scary person, but as drunk as you are you're on your toes.
Speaking of the club, according to your friends you have a reputation that you like to hang out at the club whenever they want to just go to the bar and chill.
That's so fucked up because that's not true—who said that?
Like Joey and them.
Get the fuck outta here! ( Laughs) That's just a fucking lie. I can attest to them not going to the club as much, but I don't go to the club buying tables, doing—get the fuck outta here! I'm not that guy, man. I can't handle the slander, man. That's so fucked up. I'm gonna look at these niggas differently. Oh, I wanna go to the club every time I see y'all, huh? I'm gonna only throw like club exclusive parties and not invite them. Or I am gonna invite them, and I'm actually gonna start doing just that, going to the clubs all the time.
Nah, man, on record: The club is a bad place. The club is an evil place. The club is hell on earth—literally. Going in there, spending like a thousand dollars on a bottle that cost 30. It's like Lucifer runs it.
What was the process recording the album?
Basically what happened is after Season, the Leather Cords shit with me and Joey, he started doing a lot of solo stuff, and I kind of was just in a weird space. I started recording with Knox. We never got a chance to just work by ourselves because it was always me, Knox, and Joey working. So when me and Knox started working, we kind of realized the type of music we both were well versed in. The first thing that we made is a song on the project called "Tropico." I was going through a phase of listening to mad Future, almost to the point where I was rapping like this nigga. But I wanted to get out of that, so I just kept making music. The first thing that I made that I was like "oh shit, this has a real good feeling to it" was "Tropico." And from there the sound just kept evolving and turning into whatever.
There's that outro that's like a pop-punk song. How did you end up with that?
One day we were talking about how Blink-182 used to make fun of other boy bands, like they had that one video where they were obviously making fun of NSYNC or shit like that. I had written some lyrics, and I was doing them another way or trying to sing them. I used the same lyrics and kind of did that approach to it, and it just sounded good, so we were like "that'd be a dope statement, at the end of an album that didn't sound like that."
You were saying you and Knox found similar interests working alone for the first time. What did you discover?
I used to always chill at Knox's crib. We would just be sitting there listening to music, and a lot of our taste was just aligning. Like for instance our love of The Beatles. Or like I'd ask Knox, "have you heard this cover of Tears for Fears' 'Mad World' that Gary Jules covered?" And he would just know that shit. And then we'd either put each other onto new shit or be discovering new shit together. Shit like Bowie, Beatles, shit like that. It was a cool way to find out that somebody has similar taste to you and then be able to act on that taste and create.
Were there any sort of Eureka moments for you guys in the studio?
Hell yeah! When we made that song called "Behind the Scenes," we were like "word, we've got like a dope-ass sound that we just kind of got in tune with." Especially compared to my friends and the music that we all make as a unit.
What do you want to project about yourself with this project? Who do you feel that you're presenting yourself as?
Really I just want people to know that I just go to the club every day and spend a thousand dollars on bottles, you feel me?
No, I want people to recognize that it's cool to have a duality to you, to be able to adapt, to be a different person but not just for the sake of being different. Things can be natural. Sometimes I'm in the studio with people and they like to say like, "y'all just drop that freaky shit." Like music that doesn't sound similar to what they're accustomed to is freaky or out of pocket. And it's like nah, bro, I just happen to make music, and that's just what comes out.
For so many people if they have an interest in something creative, their friends don't necessarily encourage them, and so they drop it before they really have time to get good. And I think your circle is lucky because you've been good about encouraging the creative instincts that most people never pursue.
It's funny as hell because our group of friends is probably the worst with each other in real life. Like no bullshit we're probably the worst group of friends from a friendship standpoint. But we will pull the card of encouraging each other to do better through us being terrible to each other. Initially it was "who can rap the best?" Before we started trying to make songs, it was like "I just killed your verse." That type of thing. It would just force people into a bubble of always evolving, always trying to figure out how to beat each other. And that's where we're still at. That's why it might come off sometimes as "oh, Vic and Chano are into it" from whatever perspective. Nah, niggas just be wanting to be better than each other, and that shit's cool. That shit drives niggas to be at wherever they're gonna be. And it's always going to shift because nobody's going to be in first place forever, especially not with our group of friends. It's a really, really healthy competition, and it's all love, too.
How do you look at Leather Corduroys at this point?
Leather Corduroys, what's that? Nah, Joey that's my brother. That's somebody who even unbeknownst to him has helped me become a better person. Not even from like me being at a bad place or anything, just me being like a better person overall. Like competitively.
What about musically?
What happened is when we were making Cords it was like, this nigga's rapping better than me. And I was like damn, I'm so good at rapping, but this nigga's better than me at rapping, so what else am I doing here? So a lot of the songs, I just kind of gravitated more toward all my melodies. And I realized I can do this shit. I'm really good at writing a song from this perspective, to sing it. And I just started doing that more. I think both the sounds from Leather Cords/ Season, you can see, with both of our projects, our contributions to Leather Cords.
Do you have a favorite song that we didn't talk about?
Favorite song would have to be "World." It wasn't, like, emotional, but it's the most sentimental because of the message. It's a really subtle-ass message that I was thinking about that I think came across. And it was just the idea of being insignificant sometimes and accepting it. And changing it. Things can go crazy wrong, your world can literally be broken, someone else can fuck your life up in one day. And it's up to you about rebuilding. At least you can. That's really it.
Another philosophical question for you: What is love?
It's a Haddaway song, made in fucking 1990, with vampires in the music video.
Kyle Kramer is an editor at Noisey and is wearing a blue shirt right now. Follow him on Twitter.