Currently preparing to release his new album, rapper and rights leader from WA Indian Reservation Komplex Kai has been honing his craft for over a decade and has already been dubbed the “Native American Tupac.” With a growing social media following and hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube, he chatted to ThisIsTheLatest about favourite artists, performance plans and career ambitions.
TITL: At what age did you first realize you wanted to make music a career and before that, did you have any other ambitions?
KK: I’d say 16 or so is when I thought I could make a career out of it. Naturally there were a lot of learning curves in the beginning, so it took a while before I became a professional, or actually began treating it as a profession. I was writing well before that but that’s when I thought I could put all of it into an album and try and give that to the world. When I was a lot younger, I wanted to be a doctor for a period of time. I thought of it as a good job you know; taking care of people and helping people in that way but once music came in, any prior ambitions took a backseat.
TITL: What would you say your unique selling point is?
KK: The obvious one to go to is me being Native American. I always look for the music to bring people in first, but the thing they always gravitate towards is the Native thing anyway, so I’ve been just going with that. I’ve been telling people that first and the response or reaction is always that it is a unique thing – to be native and be in my position or actively pursuing a career in Hip Hop music. I’m often classed as a “Native Rapper.”
TITL: Which bands or artists most influenced you growing up and how, if at all, have those influences changed over the years? What impact do they have on the music you make?
KK: I mean my influences go back to a lot of early west coast stuff. N.W.A, of course, including Dre and Ice Cube, and Pac was always an influence as well. From them up to Eminem D.M.X and some of the other acts around the time I was “coming of age”, otherwise known as my early teenage years. I still look back to some of the older stuff for influence, just to recapture the feeling of when it was all new or the impact it had on me at the time. The old stuff still resonates with me more than the newer stuff. For example I connect with a new Jay-z album more than I would say a new artists’ album. Just stylistically and content wise it just connects with me more. I always say there’s a little bit of these guys in my music; just in the sense that they helped shape me, rather kind of like mentors. I studied their stuff closely when I was younger; I even tried to sound like them at times until I grew into my own and was able to do my own thing and create my own sound and fully and easily express my point of view through my music, in my way.
TITL: Is there a band or artist you might say you sound most similar to?
KK: I’ve heard quite a few compare to some of the above artists like X, or Em or the early west coast stuff or Pac, as far as some content or some of the more political type of stuff. Even Mobb Deep one time so. I never like to say stuff like that though, I’ll let the fans decide that. I hope they’re able to just say “that’s Kai and he sounds like Kai, and does his own thing and has his own lane.” But I think there will always be comparisons to artists that came before me.
TITL: What can you tell me about your upcoming album?
KK: This upcoming album is just me getting back fully into the swing of things musically. It’s been awhile since I felt like I was able to fully tune in, to the process and focus and what I want to deliver to my fans. I think you can expect a lot of energy, The lyrical style my fans have become accustomed to and some of the more serious stuff too; my deep thoughts or stuff of a deeper perspective. I think it’ll have something for everyone – something to grab the ones who haven’t heard of me yet and some stuff to resonate with my long-time fans as well.
TITL: Which of your songs are you most proud of and why?
KK: Wow that’s a tough question. I’m proud of ‘em all. But the main one that will always be something I’m very proud of for my own personal reasons is probably, “About The Rez” or “Rise Up” both for somewhat the same reason. How I broke into the game so to speak was with “About The Rez” and it let you know who I was, where I was from, what I stood and stand for, and my beliefs all in three or four minutes. “Rise Up” also means a lot to me because I felt like it did that same thing for my people; spanning bigger than just my rez or my state or hometown and was able to connect with a lot of people who felt or believed the same thing and had similar beliefs. I’ll always be proud of those two, though especially “The Rez” because it was the first song of mine that really said something in a powerful way that connected with people, and has had staying power; it still brings me new listeners to this day.
TITL: Who or what most inspires you lyrically and with that in mind, which song would you say is the greatest ever written and why?
KK: There is no greatest song ever written I don’t think. There are just certain types of songs you know. Like say story tracks to me…there are easily top two in my opinion are “Stan” by Eminem and “Dance with the Devil” by Immortal Technique. If we’re talking all genres it’s just an impossible thing to do – to think of one greatest song, or artist, ever. I’ll go with what Nas said, “Ain’t No Best.” It was something like that anyway and he had and has a point. There are just too many great artists and great songs to ever point to one as the greatest ever. Just to complete the thought, a song of any genre can have an influence on me; if the story or lyrics are great, chances are I’ll give it a shot.
TITL: How do you feel about being labelled the “Native American Tupac” by The Seattle Times?
KK: I think that the subject I was hitting the people with at the time and the attitude in which I was presenting it with, kind of set me up for that comparison. Again, all I can do is be the best me and hope people appreciate the music and shy away from latching onto any comparisons or labels anyone might throw out there, negative or positive. But at the time, it was cool, I’m not going to lie. Pac’s music was a huge influence on me so it was dope to be compared to him in that way.
TITL: Do you have any tour plans/upcoming performances you can tell me about and which venue, anywhere in the world, would you most like to play and why?
KK: I’d like to get to the point where I’m able to play in an arena like the key or Madison Square Garden or something of that size. I’m going to be putting a lot of energy to booking shows as soon as I’m at a point where I feel I’m in the last quarter of wrapping this project up and am ready to hit the road and share that with the world. I have plans and I’ll be sure to share them soon.
TITL: If you could share a stage with three acts, living or dead, who would you choose?
KK: Three? Pac, Em, Tech N9ne.
TITL: How do you feel about social media and what impact does it/is it having on your career? Do you think it’s possible for artists to succeed without it?
KK: I think artist can succeed to a certain extent without it, but to grow a sustainable career, I believe you have to use it and engage with your fans as often as possible. Don’t obsess too much…or maybe obsess a lot if you want to reach a high level. There are a lot of levels to success in the music business though, but I think all of them include social media engagement.
TITL: Do you have any other plans/projects in the pipeline?
KK: I’ve had thoughts of doing another song with another push to try to continue to raise awareness on things of this nature, it’s still going on, still affecting people and their way of life. The beat has to come to me or the hook, or the general outline of the song and when that happens I’ll put it out.
TITL: Looking ahead, what would you have to achieve in order for you to finally feel like you’d truly made it? Whose career would you most like to emulate and why?
KK: Dre, Jay-Z , Diddy; those names come to mind as to the heights I’d like to reach but first for me to feel like I’ve truly made it, I’d need to have the freedom to work on any project want without any limits attached to it – and just do the music I love. Also, I’d like to have the ability and connections to work with anyone I might want to in the music industry. That, along with a strong base of fans who look forward to any new material or songs I put out – I want the freedom to make my art, and have people look for and appreciate and enjoy my art. I feel like I’m almost there; I mean I’ve made it in a sense in my own mind. I’m doing the music I love and am connecting with more people who appreciate that by the day, so if I just continue do this in a positive way and continue to grow, then to me, I’ve made and will continue to make it.