The best way to describe a KVKA track is high-energy. His raspy delivery erupts into roars, sounding like a call-to-action for moshpits around the world. 808s bellow, singing in harmony with his vocals. Synths contrast the low-end, with spacious arrangements positioning the griminess in a place of euphoria. This is consistent across the Zambia-born, Hamilton-raised, and Melbourne-based artist’s catalogue, from the trap anthem that is ‘WHO YOU’, to the confessionals of his 2021 project Cupid’s Revenge. The thing that changed in those two years is where the energy is channelled from.
KVKA’s trudging journey is now heading down a new path, with the destination being a place of reflection, where can learn from his old self. The artist spent his early days in the church, playing the guitar, drums, and lending his vocals to the choir. His dad knew his way around riffs, and his mother and sister both have a knack for poetry. He took influence from this in his early creative pursuits, posting covers and comedic videos on Youtube, writing his own poems, and enjoying the sounds of neo-soul and bands like The Smiths. He’s hearkening back to these days now, as a major player in the Australian rap scene, to learn from the vulnerability he possessed in these times.
Cupid’s Revenge marked the start of this, where below the bravado and frenzy of flexes, a layer of heartbreak persists, as he ponders his relationship with music and past romances. Settling into his role both as a young veteran, and a new father, he’s stripping away the limitations of being ‘Angry Boy KV’, and while the hype found in his musical output will continue to pertain, it won’t be restricted to the one feeling of rage, instead now stemming from gratitude, vulnerabilities, and his ambitions of creating a long-lasting legacy. This mindset in which he possesses today becomes a consistent theme throughout our interview, as he talks me through the martyrdom of being an artist, how music is like a patient-therapist relationship, and his goals of representing every aspect of his life.
It has been a hell of a journey for you, man. How does it feel to be where you are now?
I’m happy with where the progression of my music has gone. These new records I’m working on reach a new level of vulnerability. There are things I could be happier with, but I think you’re always going to have that as an artist. We’re kind of just insecure people looking for validation from others, and when it feels like you’re not getting that, it can be upsetting. But it’s all about the personal journey at the end of the day.
Let’s dial it back to the start of this journey for a second. How did you know music is what you wanted to do with your life?
I grew up in church, where I sang in the choir, played the guitar, and started playing the drums. So, I’ve always been musically inclined in that sense. My dad can play the guitar, and my mum used to write poetry when she was younger, so it’s always been part of my life. I didn’t have much of an interest in doing music professionally for a while, especially hip-hop. I didn’t really start listening to rap music until I was like 15-16, and when I first started writing raps, I hadn’t even heard a Biggie song before. I listened to a lot of neo-soul and punk rock growing up, bands like The Smiths and The Ramones. Also a little bit of pop-rock stuff, like NeverShoutNever. So when I first started making music, I was doing Youtube covers, and a lot of comedy Youtube videos as well. I’ve always known that I wanted to do something creative. I started with guitar covers and comedy videos on Youtube. My sister won a bunch of Poetry competitions, so I got into that as well. That’s when rap and hip-hop started to click in my head, and I began to understand it.
Who were some of the rappers that made it click for you?
When I found ‘Waves’ by Joey Bada$$, it changed my fucking life. That kind of opened everything up for me, where I started listening to J.Dilla, Freddie Joachim, and MF DOOM, which lead to Method Man, ODB, and all of Wu-Tang. I got super influenced by that because, at the time, I was going to a lot of hardcore and metal shows with my friends, so that transition to the real dusty New York style of hip-hop was super easy. That’s really what got me into rapping, and in 2013, I dropped my first tape LOWS, which stood for Life of Euphoric Souls. I had met this producer called Tony Douglas, who heavily mentored me in the early stages, and helped me craft my identity as an artist.
Progressively, I feel like I’ve kind of tried to revert to who I was before that metamorphosis. I’ve been remembering who I was before the cocoon, so I can become a butterfly. I’m trying to get back to a place where I can be vulnerable. Something that I’ve heard a lot and that resonates with me, especially with his passing, is that Virgil was trying to do everything for his 17-year-old self; that’s who I’m trying to do stuff for as well. I’m trying to be the hometown hero, and rep for the underdogs coming out of Hamilton. Everybody shits on Hamilton, no one cares about it, and nobody thinks anything good is going to come out of there. I think that stigma fucks up the kids coming out of there, where they just become stagnant. So everything I do is for that 17-year-old version of myself that’s still in Hamilton trying to figure myself out, where I’m wondering if I’m going to be a tradie for the rest of my life, or if I’m going to run away from Hamilton and erase that part of my identity. I want to share that you can leave, but still represent it, and you don’t have to be ashamed of your city.
Knowing the stigma of kids coming out of Hamilton, how did you deal with the pressure of having a song like ‘WHO YOU’ gain so much traction at such a young age?
I think the pressure was different from what people would expect. There wasn’t really the pressure of representing my city, it was more so whether or not I wanted the song to be a representation of me. People don’t understand that who you are, to some extent, is an experiment. Like it was the first trap song I ever tried to make, and we were just in the process of figuring things out. The issue is that for me, that’s a draft, and for others, that is something that represents who I am. So I’ve had the pressure of being put into a box throughout my career and trying to find ways to prove that I’m more than just an artist angrily yelling on records all the time.
There’s a period in your journey where you took a hiatus and moved over here to Melbourne. Was that break inspired by wanting to reintroduce yourself?
100%. Shoutout Agung Mango, he’s the reason I’m here. We started talking on Instagram, and one thing he said to me that stood out is “Your music will be much more appreciated over here.” That hurt, because of how truthful that was. Something I always say to my rapping homies back in New Zealand is that it feels like you need validation or a co-sign from someone else before you get any love over there. I consider myself a Kiwi, but I don’t think a lot of other people would look at me as Kiwi, and I feel like there’s a lot of Maori and Polynesian people there doing this music thing that are more representative of what’s going on. It’s just a mad identity crisis, because I want to represent them but do they want me to represent them? That was also a huge part of me coming here because I didn’t know where I fit anymore.
This all leads to your project Cupid’s Revenge, which you’ve mentioned is about the highs and lows of your relationship with music. Where does that relationship stand today?
My relationship with music is like a therapist-patient relationship, where there are hiatuses of going to my treatment because I have too much going on, or I don’t feel like I can pour out in that moment. But then there’s the fact that my music knows me better than anybody else, and I’ve said things in songs that nobody else will understand but means the world to me. The relationship I have with music is very personal; I can explain what I like about all the songs that I listen to, and what I think they represent.
I started going to therapy this year, and there was a moment where I just completely ghosted my therapist because I convinced myself that she thought that I didn’t need to be there anymore. Have you ever felt that way about music?
Yeah, that’s a great analogy for that. In New Zealand, I made a song called ‘3216’, which is the area code for where I grew up in Hamilton, and I don’t think anyone from my neighbourhood even knows the song. I was the person constantly shouting out Hamilton, but it didn’t feel reciprocal. It’s difficult to be, and I hate this word, a trailblazer in the sense of doing something you know people need before they realise they need it. Then there’s the understanding that this could be martyrdom, where I might die before people recognise what I was doing. There is that aspect of this, which is gruelling, to say the least.
Cupid often refers to love, but is this idea of martyrdom why your love for this music is seeking revenge?
Yeah, to some extent. There’s a lot of different meanings in the title, where it can be love’s revenge, or there’s the interpretation of me being Cupid because I was born on Valentine’s Day. I think my revenge is me saying “Look, I’m doing everything you guys said I couldn’t do and it’s working, so fuck all of you!” The project also deals with heartbreak, stemming from a relationship that I had to end when I first moved here, so there’s revenge in the sense of being petty, and wanting the person to regret it. It’s a heartbreaking album if you take the bravado away from it, where it’s me just being broken and trying to feel better about things. It’s also toxic in a way, where I’m just being honest about how I was dealing with it, like, I was sleeping with a lot of people, doing drugs, and spending a lot of money on stupid shit. It is a whirlwind of phases.
Throughout this continuing musical journey, you’ve also become a dad. How do you think fatherhood has changed the goals and motivation behind this quest?
I think it’s why I’m trying to reach that level of vulnerability that I’ve possessed in the past. While I love Cupid’s Revenge, a lot of it is stuff I’m not sure I’d want my daughter to hear. So it has changed things to where I want to make something that makes me proud, but also something she can listen to in life later on, and garner some comfort from.
How would you describe the transition from wanting to become the hometown hero of Hamilton, to being the hometown hero of your family?
Man, that’s crazy. I’m going to have to sit and internalise with that later on. There has been a big change, even in making my mum, dad, brother, and sister proud and telling their stories in the music, not just mine. I also think that Hamilton is a part of my family because that’s where the legacy of my family lies. Zambia is also part of my family legacy, and I want to start talking about the plight of Africa and things that are happening over there more. I think it’s about just representing all the aspects of who I am, who’s around me, and where I come from.
Music in places like Africa is often used to uplift, educate, and withhold the traditions and memories of ancestors. How do you think you can channel that aspect of your heritage in your music?
I think the power of rap. A lot of African traditions, especially stories and stuff, weren’t written down. They’re all oral, and you have specific people that become storytellers and make sure that the stories continued to be passed down through generations. So in hip-hop, especially as African men, we all have to be mindful of what stories we’re telling about our heritage because there’s not a lot of history that’s being taught. And there’s so much beauty in Africa right now, with all the development that’s happening in places like Nigeria. It’s something that a lot of Western civilisation don’t know about, so it’s up to us to share it so people understand.
Lastly, how do you want to round out 2021?
I just want to end it happy, with my daughter. There is nothing I care about more than that. In 2022 I want to release music, and not only become the artist I want to be but the man I want to be.
This feature is in partnership with G-Shock Australia. Follow KVKA here for more.