Most artists have to put out a host of tracks on SoundCloud just to gain a small following. This has not been the case for NY native Kazi. He’s officially released just two records on the popular streaming site, and already garnered 40K plays between them. His first release Options even landed on Hotnewhiphop, and received accolades and lots of attention.
My initial introduction to Kazi was through his second release, Neo Yokio. I had a lot of good things to say about it – and I was not alone. I like to catch artists early in their career when I truly believe they have the talent and drive to succeed in the music industry. Many of his friends and fans have been wondering what’s next for him as he just graduated high school. The official announcement is in our wonderful conversation which is below. Make sure you peep the creation and inspiration for Neo Yokio, as it is creativity at its finest.
Hey Kazi! Thanks for talking with us. Please give us a formal introduction.
Hey, thanks for having me! I’m Kazi. I’m a singer, rapper, songwriter, & producer from New York City. I’m 18. I pretty much do everything related to music that I can get my hands on.
When did this love of music start?
So growing up I lived in an apartment complex on the lower east side of Manhattan. During the summer they’d hold these small outdoor concerts in the quad kinda area and my parents would take me- usually, they were local rock bands and shit- and I would run up on stage and start strumming this tiny beginner’s guitar I had. I was like 4 and had no idea what I was doing but they thought it was hilarious so they let me up there every week.
Eventually, I started taking piano lessons when I was like 8, which led me teaching myself guitar and bass- just kinda evolved from there. I’m 18 now so I guess it’s been 10 years since I technically started. That’s crazy.
That is crazy – but it seems you were destined to make music. You just graduated high school – what are your plans now?
Keep doing the shit I love until I can live off it haha. I was supposed to start college this fall, but the school I enrolled in is in Connecticut and I wanted to be able to stay in New York for at least a year to see where music could take me. I’d already been able to do so much more than I expected during high school, and I’ve been confident that I could make this a career since I was like 13. My parents obviously wanted me to go to school so I requested a gap year as a compromise, like a trial period where I had a year to prove that I was onto something- but the school denied my request. So I withdrew myself from the school and obviously, my parents flipped a shit. I spent the summer building an industry foundation for myself and made a shit ton of music.
A lot of artists’ struggle with parents not supporting their dreams. How do you deal with that?
It’s definitely rough. I’ve found that parents (not just mine) tend to think they know what’s best for their kid 100% of the time. When you’re younger they’re usually right, but like… if your old enough to vote in a presidential election or do all the other crazy shit that becomes available when you turn 18, you should probably know yourself better than anyone else does.
Parents want to eliminate all possible risk from their kids’ lives. Makes sense, but it’s important to balance a parent’s knowledge with a young adult’s own plan for the direction of their life, you know? It’s a compromise.
I think you have to hold on to your truth – and what you believe in. This leads to your latest track, and my personal favorite. Tell us about it and the creation of it.
Haha dope, thanks. Neo Yokio is a Netflix cartoon series created by Ezra Koenig, the lead singer of Vampire Weekend. It’s set in a sort of alternate-dimension New York City. It’s an extremely satirical take on the city’s elite. It hit hella close to home for me because I went to school in that exact environment and related heavily with the main character, who’s a bit of an outcast in some spaces but is put on a BIG pedestal in others.
I’m an Asian dude who makes music that falls between hip-hop/R&B and pop (whatever that means *eye roll*) but grew up listening to Vampire Weekend AND grew up around an extreme amount of wealth- wealth that created a culture that made me hella uncomfortable because I didn’t have it. So to see a show created in a traditional Asian style (anime) that critiques the stuff I didn’t know how to critique growing up was super relatable. Too many parallels between the show and my life to not make something of it.
So I finished watching the show at like 3am one night, was feeling hella inspired and decided to just freestyle some shit. CashmoneyAP put out this beat like a day before and I had already downloaded it, so I just used that. The main character’s name is (coincidentally) Kaz, and he’s a demon slayer- so I started with that first line and the rest spilled out. It took like 3 takes to get through the whole beat.
I ended it with the hook, and it felt like the song wasn’t done even though I had spilled everything on my mind. Rocket has been my go-to feature for a minute- we have hella unreleased joints together- so obviously I sent it to him to see if he could kind wrap up the track. He sent me back his verse like the next day.
He fucks with the show heavy as well so I think he was equally inspired. I wouldn’t say the song is ABOUT the show- but definitely inspired by it. I sort of flipped the name “Neo Yokio” to reflect the concept of the “New New York”- the underground scene that’s been bubbling here that we’re all a part of and I think is gonna fuckin’ explode back into the mainstream very soon.
What I’m most excited about though is that Ezra fucks with the song. I managed to get it to him on Twitter and he said he loves it. Tryna get in that soundtrack though lol… y’all gotta let him know!
That was quite an intricate process. You had a previous track that made it on hotnewhiphop. What was that like for you?
Every part of that release was fucking crazy yo. I had no idea people were going to like that shit as much as they did. They ran those numbers up and got it a LOT of attention. The HotNewHipHop feature was wild because I’ve been reading them for a minute now and didn’t see myself being featured somewhere like that for at least a year. Getting that recognition from my first release made me stop and check myself for a second. At the time it was the only song I had completely finished and people were already asking me for more. That song made me raise my own bar significantly and create a new work ethic.
It’s amazing because you have released such a small amount of music. Who are your influences musically?
It’s weird because right now I think I have infinite influences and also none. I’ve played so many different kinds of music leading up to this (rock, jazz, acoustic folk shit, choral & orchestral) that now it’s hard to say where the inspiration actually comes from. Feels like a ton of different instruments playing in my head all the time. Obviously, if I freestyle over a Soundcloud producer “type beat” it’s going to sound a certain way because there’s only so many things you can do with that. Even then, I try to spice shit up with harmonies & more intricate vocal arrangements that come more from my rock/folk/choral experiences. It’s hard to put a finger on where certain elements of my music come from, but it’s safe to say that all the ones I mentioned lend themselves to my new shit in some way.
Which (so I’ve heard from other people) makes me sound more musical & easy on the ear, but still comfortably familiar without being a carbon copy of everything else that’s out there. It’s funny cause when I’ve asked people who they think I sound like, I’ve gotten the most random responses from Post Malone to Pnb Rock to Bieber to The Weeknd to A Boogie to Troye Sivan. So I think I’m doing something right haha.
Incorporating a lot of genres into music seems to be appreciated in the SoundCloud universe. To wrap things up – what can we expect from you music wise?
What’s crazy is that those two tracks barely scratch the surface of what I’m musically capable of. They’re tight and I’m glad people fuck with my vocals but I haven’t even released any of my self-produced & other in-house tracks yet and I think those are going to be the real game changers for me. Expect more singles on Soundcloud for the next few months. Expect a completely different sound every time. You already know ima hit you first when the next update is here!
Thank you so my for speaking with us – it was an honor and we are rooting for you!
Thanks for supporting me. Much love.
All photo credits: Jeffrey Chambers