by Eric Tullis
Three things I never thought I'd hear from Chapel Hill's Kaze:
1. A "Best I Ever Had" remix. Drake? Seriously?
2. Kaze actually singing hooks on more than one song (also featured on his new mixtape is the 9th Wonder-produced single, "Fresh", which features newcomer Mr. Mohalyn singing the hook).
While toiling within the local hip-hop scene for the past decade and establishing himself as a hard-life, no-frills emcee, it seems as if Kaze has been surreptitiously preparing to be North Carolina's version of Nelly, the St. Louis hitmaker who was once known as a sturdy, threatening emcee before settling and becoming more lady-friendly at the hips and party-friendly at the lips.
Let's be fair, though: Kaze, as much as perhaps any other artist from North Carolina, has deserved a big break, even if it means a break from what we've long known him for. Several months ago, when Kaze won his recording contract with SRC/ Universal, many of us speculated as to what that meant as far as the direction of Kaze's music. His new DJ Whoo-Kid-hosted mixtape, First in Flight (download here), offers some hints. The finding: Kaze can circumnavigate his way around hip-hop all he wants.
While this isn't the DJ Drama-infused Gangsta Grillz mixtape release that Kaze was hoping for (keep reading), having G-Unit's DJ Whoo-Kid at the steering wheel might just be the next-best option if Kaze wants to keep up with the big boys in the mixtape circuit. The guys over at 2dopeboyz are doing the hosting duties for Kaze's new project.
Hit the jump for our interview with Kaze in March (published for the first time here), not long after the SRC/Universal deal was signed.
INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: Congratulations on winning the SRC/Motown/Universal contest and getting signed. You’ve worked really hard over the years, and you had it coming. What does this deal entail?
I get $50,000. The grand prize was $100,000, but since they signed two of us, [I get $50,000]. The deal entails that I’m guaranteed a single. And everything else is based on the success of that release. If it does great, then we can move forward with an album. If it doesn’t do so well, then I guess that will be that. But both of us are guaranteed one single release by them with a major push.
Recently, two tracks leaked onto the Web—“Dusk Till Dawn,” which is produced by Illmind, and “On Smash,” which is produced by Ski Beatz. Are either of those tracks one of the singles that you and your new label are toying with releasing as the one with the “major push”?
Those are just joints that I leaked because my strategy is that, before I put out a single with a video, I wanna just grind and create my buzz in the same way as Asher Roth. I’m just using him as an example because that’s actually my label mate now, so I’m starting to do that same thing: Drop a couple of mixtapes, do like four or five videos of videos for the Net. But those are just two songs that I leaked just to get some excitement out here, and let cats know that I’m makin new music, that the new situation is poppin’, that I’m out here working on new stuff, and that this is the type of stuff to expect from now on. Me and 9th are workin together again, and I got 10 new tracks with him. I got a couple of more tracks with Ski (Beatz). Me and Applejuice Kid are about to start working together, and I’m reaching out to a lot of other big name producers. Things are starting to come together after all this time.
So is this new deal a sigh of relief for your dozen-year career or more of your middle finger to all of those who second-guessed you and never thought you would make it to this point?
It’s a sigh of relief in the sense that all the work that I put in wasn’t for nothing. I think at one point to others on the outside looking in and even me on the inside looking in, it was starting to feel a little bit futile in the sense that anything and everything that I was doing the right way wasn’t giving me the right results. There was a point of getting discouraged, but it wasn’t ever enough to give up or to lose inspiration in the fact that I had to keep bangin' it out and that something is going to pop whether it be independent or major.
But definitely a middle finger to anybody that was happy to see me not succeeding or anybody that might have written me off. [Laughs.] It’s a middle finger to them because those that had love for me and showed love, whether they liked my music or not, those people were saying to me “Yo, you deserve it. I can’t think of anyone else that deserves it more than you." The other ones were like, “I can’t believe it.”
At this point, though, saying “I told you so” isn’t important because I still haven’t done anything. Mad rappers have been in the same position that I’m in right now—an opportunity with a major and a chance to really do something big. It seems like this part is where North Carolina cats get to and then it always becomes the soap opera or cautionary tale.
So is your mission these days to still put North Carolina on the map or whatever, or have you abandoned that idea and are now just focused on working with bigger names and making solid music in general?
It’s on the map. I just want to be my own dot on the timeline. I want N.C. to go toward outerspace. I feel like it’s been on the map with Little Brother, 9th, Peedi, Tyfu. You can go back to Yaggfu Front and even further back than that with Lords of the Underground and all the people that lived down here. I think that for me, if I wanna do anything for the area, it would be to rep North Carolina like it hasn’t been repped before. If I wanna do anything for the area, that’s what it is. I wanna open up some artistic freedom to what it means to be an artist from around here and from the South in general.
If I’m on the mic, North Carolina is getting rep’d period. I don’t care what type of music or sound I’m on--because this (NC) is where I am. But I think at this point it’s more about blowing the roof off everything around here and not making this a flash-in-the-pan or something underground. Everybody thinks they know what the music is and they don’t. That’s what’s important to me about representing North Carolina. People that live here know what the music is, but everybody else has their internet opinion/chat room opinion.
Usually when rappers get major deals, you usually hear fans complaining about their sound changing or about them sounding more mainstream or commercial. Do you see that as a potential problem?
I see it evolving. Yeah, I’m trying some different things just like any other artist would grow. But I think that at the same, there is a responsibility that I have with being on a major label which means trying to be as successful as possible. That doesn’t mean that I have to make up a silly-ass dance and dumb my shit down, but it does mean that I have to make records that people like. I gotta make the biggest Kaze records possible. Otherwise me being on a major is pointless. Now I’m on a major and I still got 9th Wonder joints. I’m still fuckin with Illmind. I’m still on my emcee shit. But you’re gonna see some bigger records too and some different sides of me. But it won’t be me changing—just evolving, trying different things with melody, and different sounds. At this point, fans can come to expect me to do what I’ve always done, lyrically. I’m gonna always keep that truth in the music.
So, what happened to the crew that you used to head, Soul Dojo? Are they still going to be around?
At this point, we’re all cool. Me and Flu (Young Fluent) roll the hardest now though, but Soul Dojo dissolved about three years ago because I wasn’t seeing the progress in my own career, let alone me being able to have a label and be responsible for other people’s careers. At a certain point, I had to tell myself that there was nothing I could do for anybody until I got myself into a better situation. I think that that was a changing philosophy. But that’s still all my people and my family, and you’re gonna see music from them still as well. The new movement that I’m coming forth with is Sounds of the Culture (S.O.T.C). That’s what my publishing, and everything I write is under. You’ll be seeing me rep that in the future.
Looking back on your career and reputation, can you pinpoint any mistakes that you may have made that could have prolonged you’re getting signed or having more success?
I’ll just say it like this: In a sense, I tried to follow Little Brother up the same ladder. Not in the sense that I tried to copy or imitate them, but that same door or same path that they took to their success, I figured that that was the path to go down. But that wasn’t the path for me, so what that forced me to was to be very grassroots when at that time this entire state wasn’t being cultivated on an underground level. I was doing shows in Greenville and Wilmington with no record out. I was in Jacksonville, Raleigh-Durham, Charlotte, Asheville, Boone, and on top of that, I was hostin the hood. I’m in Local 506 hosting Microphone Mondays with the hood and Crips and Bloods and then the following Friday, I would have a show at Cats Cradle with 300-400 white kids. I feel like I kept it funky with everybody. Hopefully people respect that. That’s my album, and that’s how I’m continuing to move. I like good music. I like good Jadakiss and Styles P and I like good B.O.B.. I like good Jay-Z, and I like good Kweli. That’s the aesthetic and that’s how I’m moving forward.
Not being successful and not being able to blast off outta here forced me to doing everything by hand, like drive to 97.5 FM and drive to 102.1 FM, to throw my own shows, to get out there and pass my own shit out. That was a blessing in disguise because it taught me the grind. I am right back at square on, but I had all these years to learn what to do, so now the things that the labels are asking me to do, on a certain level, I’m like “been there, done that.” Now it’s like, “Put me in the game, coach. I’ve been in the minors this whole time getting prepared, and now I’m ready.” That’s how this state helped me become an artist before the rest of the world knew I existed.
What's the word on any surprises or guest emcees or producers?
At this point, all the new stuff I’m doing is in the beginning phases. I think cats can expect a really bangin' mixtape from me real soon. Hopefully, it’ll be a Gangsta Grillz or something like that. I’m trying to have it hosted by somebody major so that it can make some noise. But definitely expect to see me and Ski, 9th, Applejuice. There's a lot of people that I wanna work with, though. I wanna work with Black Milk. I wanna get a Nottz joint. I wanna maybe do some tracks with Killa Mike and different people that I like. I’m definitely gonna be very active on the Web. I’ll be broadcasting a lot of what is going on behind the scenes. I’ll put that reality aspect to my career so that you can know what I got going and feel like you’re a part of it. I’ll have tape of what’s going on in the lab and on the road so cats can get some insight and walk with me.
On a funny note, a certain female musician/ poet in the the Triangle, Kim Arrington, once described you as a “sex symbol." Is that something that you’re going to try to capitalize off of?