Photo: Emmanuel Robert
Kota the Friend has the world at his fingertips. The rapper, producer, photographer, and visual storyteller has stayed radically true to himself, avoiding the pitfalls and creative redtape of major label trappings. In doing so, the legacy he is carving out with each stellar release belongs completely to himself and the family he one day hopes to inherit his masters and publishing.
That is not to say the journey of Kota the Friend thus far has been a completely solitary one. The Brooklyn rapper's effortlessly thought-provoking flow has built him an avid following and co-signs across the hip-hop spectrum. All this comes to focus in his standout sophomore album, EVERYTHING.
Joined by KYLE, Joey Bada$$, BAS, tobi lou, Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o, and more, the sophomore album from the Brooklyn artist arrives as his most fleshed out to date. Over an array of idyllic lo-fi beats, we are brought face to face with mortality-induced lows and ambitious highs, often in the same bar. EVERYTHING feels like just that, a sonic crystallization of everything Kota the Friend has strived to achieve and everything he still aspires to.
We had the unique pleasure to catch up with Kota the Friend via e-mail to talk EVERYTHING and remaining fiercely independent.
Ones To Watch: From Anything. to EVERYTHING, what you has changed most for you?
Kota the Friend: When I was making Anything., I couldn't imagine having two million monthly listeners and collaborating with established artists, being in demand for festivals, and having packed out shows all over the world. Everything has changed as far as my career is concerned. All of a sudden opportunities that seemed crazy before don't seem as crazy now.
Your sophomore album comes close on the heels of Lyrics to Go, Vol. 1. What is it about this collection of songs that made you want to release it as your sophomore album?
It's a legitimate album. I consider a project an album based on how much time and energy I put in. I wouldn't call Lyrics To Go, Vol. 1 an album because it was a compilation of verses that I threw together just for the fans. It's an extension of my series that's been growing on Youtube. It's like over 60 million views - it's something that gets me closer with my fans and helps me discover new friends. But this project is a carefully thought out piece of art. It's album worthy.
You blend these idyllic sunny lo-fi beats with hard-hitting lyricism throughout EVERYTHING. What are some of the central themes running through your sophomore outing?
I think the central theme is positive energy and manifesting good things no matter what life throws at you. I want this album to be a force of good in people’s lives.
You've got no shortage of features this time around. What was it like getting everyone from Joey Bada$$ to Lupita Nyong'o to jump on EVERYTHING?
I wanted it to be collaborative. FOTO only had one feature, which was Saba. This time around I wanted to involve more artists to share in this album experience with me. FOTO was very personal so I kept it personal. EVERYTHING is more inclusive in its themes.
What do you hope people take away from EVERYTHING?
I hope people listen to it and feel grateful for what they have and motivated to be better and keep going.
You've remained completely independent since your initial release. Is there anything that has fueled your decision to not sign a major label deal?
Well, I enjoy my freedom. I also want my kids to inherit my masters and publishing. I'm trying to put my kids through private school, not some label executives kids. That time is coming to an end. I'm not going to give up my hard work to a label so they can benefit from what I've been forced to build on my own. I made it this far so I might as well keep going.
What would you say to anyone else currently on the come up?
Keep going. Hopefully, I'll meet you at the top.
Have you been staying safe and sane while in quarantine?
Yes, super safe. I have a child so in order to see him, I have to stay healthy so I'm super conscious.
Who are your Ones To Watch?
bLAck pARty, Kaiit, and Kenny Manson.
Listen to EVERYTHING below: