Sydney Rapper Kwame is a man with strong convictions and big intentions. Straight outta the ‘burbs of Western Sydney, and at just 20 years old, this triple threat writer, artist and producer is coming into his own. A chance meeting with A$AP Ferg two years ago confirmed the path he now treads and set this young hip-hop prodigy on a quest to not only release his own music but also empower others just as he has been. His most well-known track ‘WOW’ had millions of plays just a few short months and he commands a growing legion of fans. As we go to print he’s just come off his biggest stage yet at Splendour in the Grass, getting there via a Triple J radio fan favourite vote. The people have spoken and he’s not about to slow down now. He spoke to Chris Lorimer about working within a collective creative melting pot, working to maintain that love and work balance, and when to say no to the Yes men.
You’re based out in Sydney’s West, is that where you grew up?
My parents they came from Ghana, being the young couple that they were, just travelling the world, through Italy, France, Spain and they happened to stumble across New Zealand and start their family there. But then once both my sister and I came into the picture, Australia won out. So I’m born in Auckland and I came to Australia when I was two, to the suburbs of Sydney’s west. I’m still at home with the family and plan on not leaving for a while [laughs].
Is high school where you latched on to your love of music?
100%. The thing I loved about my school was that I found people there who were very low key but were already pursuing the creative arts. I did study traditional music from Year 7 through Year 11 but I wanted to learn production and write so learning classical pieces wasn't my true direction. Then my best friend’s older brother who did music production and reached out, saying “I hear you're trying to get in music, I've got a little setup, come through”. I went over there to see what they were doing and I built that relationship up, going over to his place every day and literally just sitting there, watching and keeping quiet, then going home to make something to bring it back to show. That was my music school. I was assigning the homework to myself and asking "Is this correct? What can I work on?” I found the direction outside of school but with the people that I’d met within school.
And you’re making music full time now?
I’m always in the studio. I wake up and I’m out of the house by 9 am, back at 1 am or 2 am and it's like that each and every day. All music. I just love surrounding myself in that. Because I look at it as work, going to the office but then it's also a creative hub. Likeminded people surround me and I like that energy that is just floating around. Keeping myself charged and if something sparks and then it's straight to the drawing board. I do a lot of production as well, so working with other artists within our group. It’s made up of singers, songwriters, engineers, producers, designers, photographers, and videographers, everything that we need. It's just cool to have all of that in that one place because I can have a song and then bring it out to five other people to listen to. The ideas for a photo shoot, for the video, it’s all done in-house, so we don't really need to outsource to anyone. The in-house family vibe is the best because it’s people that know me on a personal level as well as on an artistic level. Aiming to create something new fresh, unheard of, we're all about just bouncing ideas to one another and really removing the ego.
So you have people you trust to collaborate with and give you honest feedback almost every day?
100%. Having Yes men around is the worst. I know when I’m doing something there are going to be flaws, there will always be positives and negatives. So I need truth, I need people to be critical and really analyse what I am doing. A lot of people would just say, "Yeah, this is amazing" but then I wonder "Is it though?" Are you saying this to make me feel better?” A Yes man. Whereas within our group, we acknowledge the talent but also say we can always push ourselves to do better, really take things to the next level. It’s not personal because at the end of the day it's just about the art, it's about the creativity. It’s definitely has helped with my art a lot, getting different opinions and looking back in from different angles. With the other artists there, we respect the movement and the hustle. It's inspiring to see someone else doing the same thing. And I'd say all the praise to you, keep pushing, it can only get better.
Because in the end, the final call is really yours?
Of course, I'm always open but if someone has an idea and I don't like it, let it be known. I'll hear you out because this might take me in a different direction and open me up to a new channel. Some artists can be a bit vulnerable where they may not have certain knowledge or they just choose to focus on one key thing and then saying yes to everything else. But sometimes you can be putting yourself in situations where it didn't benefit you, in the long run, it was just it was cool at that moment. Everything we do it has to be calculated to some degree.
Is there a point where you know that it's finished? How do you know when to just stop getting feedback and just saying, “I'm good”?
That's a good question; deadlines can be one! [laughs]. It's my gut feeling, something in me saying that's it because there's no pushing the track further. Then taking the risk to just stop. Whatever the outcome, I'll learn from it.
Your lyrics involve big ideas but in the context of your own thoughts and feelings. Where do you start out when you’re writing something?
At the end of the day I feel that everyone that creates should be making for himself or herself, never for anyone else I need to speak from my own experiences, and for me, music is a way that I use to tell others how I'm feeling. It's very important to me to really to speak from within myself. Artists are the ones who express on a larger scale for everyone else, they. Being in the public eye and speaking about how I’m feeling could help other people feel comfortable, give them the confidence to go and get help or guidance if they need it. When I'm making a collection of songs, I want them to be connected, to feel like an album, a journey. I don't want to put out something that's not cohesive, all over the place. There has to be a statement, to come to a conclusion. With the Endless Conversations ep, that was an interesting time in my life, making the change from being a regular kid to an artist who is now in the public eye. And there was another side where I’m trying to balance relationships and love and working out how I do that as a young man trying to take things forward and working out how to bring it all with me.
What can you us about your musical process? How do you go about making a track?
My music is very computer based, I make everything in there. I'll grab my laptop and I always start with a beat first, with drums. Drums are something that moves me, the biggest driving force. Then the melody comes in, that what drives the mood. If I’m feeling down, it'll go in minor tone, and if I'm happy or feeling uplifted it'll be a major kind of feel. I'll just be making the music and find myself humming, saying random stuff, then there'll be just a sentence that works and I'll stop writing, loop that and then I'm going, continuing to see if there's anything pushing it further. I'll try and get a verse or a hook down first and it just comes from there. It needs a bridge, it needs a pre-chorus, maybe it doesn't need an intro, maybe it just starts straight away. Then I’ll bring in live sounds and incorporate that, whether it is saxophone, bass, keys and or a whole choir. I present the vibe and talk about how can I really show movement, transition, create a different kind of feel. Then they’ll take that to a crazy level, enhance it, often teaching me a lot. Giving a choir something I’ve written to sing it puts even more emphasis on the statement and it sounds bigger.
It seems very important to you to remain independent, how do you find having such a DIY approach works?
Nowadays you don't really need a label, if you're driven, you can do it yourself. It's a matter of taking it into your own hands and believing. Sometimes it can be overwhelming to make music so independently because there are so many roles to take on, but there are people who will find you, step in with knowledge. All people need is an opportunity to really make themselves present and shine.
Visuals are so important to the music industry now, what sort of image are you trying to portray?
It's about stripping everything down to just me being a human being. I'm just a normal person. Someone who just is. I’m not trying to make videos where we need to hire a cool car [laughs]. I feel sometimes some artists can try too much, pushing to go for that “natural feel”. Do go for it, Just do it. That's truly being natural. Being in the moment. And that's my image; it's just being me. Maybe it’ll influence someone else to say “Yes, and I can just be myself now too”. That's what everyone should be doing. We’re each one of one not one of ten, you’re here to do what you need to do.
What do you love about performing?
I started off playing intimate gigs, really tight where the audience is only a metre away. I like those. It's so personal, getting to know everyone. We're family so let's all bring it in together, like a team huddle. In those shows, I’ve even stopped halfway to chat to people, “Yo, how's your day? I like what you're wearing” That’s dope for me; it’s fun. And you never know within that small crowd, if they’ll go and tell more friends about you. They’ll have seen the start of the journey and I appreciate that word of mouth.
And now you’re beginning to do much bigger shows?
That is crazy, it's every musician’s dream to play to big crowds. When I played Groovin The Moo, I remember when I initially arrived to set up there weren't many people and I thought “It's cool, whatever, I'm just going to do me” But then I come out on stage and then it was just packed. People singing my lyrics back to me and I was just blown away! When I play in a festival and there are people from all over, it’s so surreal. It's a blessing and gives me even more motivation and drive to go back into the studio, create more, and give it out to the people.
What’s the best industry advice you’ve had?
Some advice that’s stuck with me was to never conform because even if other people may be happy with your work that won’t make you happy and you need to find happiness within yourself. Finding happiness within yourself can really make a difference in how you are as a person, how you are to other people, it comes through in the art. That's very important to me because that's how I’ll grow. Stay true, just believe and have that tunnel vision of looking forward and you will achieve everything.
How do you see yourself within the Australian hip-hop scene?
One of my goals is to really just remove the Australian hip-hop label and just make it music. That's all I'm trying to make at the end of the day whether it be hip-hop, jazz, rock or whatever. Just good music that can stand up anywhere across the world because it's come to a point now where people can’t even put a locality to a particular song. With streaming services, local musicians can find themselves in playlists alongside much bigger artists and then when listeners find out that we're Australian they're surprised. What I'm trying to be is someone who opens doors, passes that torch on so that the next generation after me can do the exact same thing. They can come through.
So the country of origin is not so important to you? Is it not a defining factor of your culture as an artist?
Opening up and allowing everyone in to feel, learn and understand. To me, that’s our culture. At the end of the day, we're all human, we need to come together. And so everything is for everyone. Not just stay fixed to one thing and say this is it, this is mine and that's yours. Let's all share what we have, share with everyone else.
What are your next steps?
I also have goals set on moving into the international market. That's where I want to be, to take my art to everyone across the world, just getting out there with the backing of Australia, the home country. I want to show what we're doing here to the international market, that we're Australian but what we're making is of the world.
I get told a lot that outwardly the perception of Australians is that they think big; they go hard or go home. I want to change the local mentality of being stuck, thinking that we can only be down here. Take the work outward; really build the culture, open more doors. That's the difference is just thinking bigger, throwing yourself into that deep end. Just do it. Go experience the world, cross the water.
Photography: Scott Lowe
Interview and Fashion: Chris Lorimer
Sepcial thanks to the Surry Hills Village Grocer and Love + Rent