Kilo Kish is a willowy fashionista-turned-rapstress who’s found a place at the heart of the current hip New York rap scene. Her K+ mini-album, which dropped in February, features a whopping 25 guests, headed up by brightly hyped artists like Earl Sweatshirt, Childish Gambino and the Flatbush Zombies. In modern rap terms that usually means the project’s been packed with social media-savvy names to lure in outsider fans, and with scant consideration as to whether any of the guest appearances do anything to improve the listening experience. Kish is different. As she tells Hive, she mandated that every collaboration went down in person in the studio; songs were sketched out through back and forth conversations about the content and direction of the track, both in person and via electronic means. (This ephemera from the project’s creation stage was recently displayed at an exhibition to mark K+’s release.) It leaves the impression of the Brooklyn-based Kilo Kish’s music as a grand and ongoing process of collaboration.
So before she jets off and runs through a short tour of the United Kingdom, Hive sat down with Ms. Kish at a Soho spot and got her to talk about living in a Bushwick apartment besieged with kittens, Earl Sweatshirt’s funny faces, and the likely chances of her covering a Lil Boosie song.
You showcased a bunch of notes and correspondence about the making of K+ to go along with the release. How did that go?
Over the course of the project I collected all the materials that made up what we were making — so all the emails and texts and Skype conversations between me and other artists — and then all of the drafts for the artwork and lyrics. I taped it all up in this like theater and it was available for everyone to look at and read. On top of that I projected a lot of video and other media. The idea was to have people feel a little more a part of my project, rather than being from the outside.
While curating it, did you comes across notes or references you’d totally forgotten about?
Yeah, like it’s funny to see how all the little conversations you have end up snowballing into something bigger. I think back to the conversation I was having with Jesse Boykins III on Skype and we were talking about apartments; I was like, “Yeah, I want a white apartment with white bricks and this and that.” He was like, “Yeah, I’m looking too and I really really want a loft.” And that was basically the basis for the song “Creepwave” — all the descriptive properties we were talking about online turned into a song.
Which artist did you have the most correspondence with while making a song?
I would say Jesse. He helps me practice for shows and sometimes I’ll be making music and in the last year he’s been giving me feedback about what I do. I go back and forth with him a lot. Other than that it was Nick Hook, who really helped me a lot.
What sort of feedback did Jesse Boykins give you?
Jesse’s funny ’cause he has kinda like a big brother approach to doing stuff so we argue a lot. He’s a super artist, so it’s like, “You always have to be true to yourself and your craft.” Then I’m like, “I don’t know, I want to have fun and make this!” He’ll be like, “Well your songs have to have depth and this and that.” We argue a lot, but he gives good feedback and will tell me if something is not that great of a song.
Do you ever give him feedback about his music?
I’m pretty blunt. Sometimes I’m a hard pill to swallow ’cause I’m like an outside source — I don’t listen to much current music so I really don’t have any basis to criticize current music — but I’m really opinionated and I’ll be like, “I just don’t like it.” And with Jesse, it’s usually the ones he likes.
Do you find it strange to hear people or peers talk about your music?
No, not really. I went to art school so I’m very like used to critique — it was a daily thing in school. It doesn’t really hurt me in anyway if it’s negative; it helps me to see if I’m getting my point across the right way and making sure people understand what I want them to understand about a song.
Why are so many artists so bad at receiving feedback on their music?
I think it’s an ego thing. But it’s also an attachment to the things you create. Me, I see my projects as projects, so once it’s done it’s complete — it doesn’t take away from me in any way. But some people are so closely connected to the things they make, and that’s good that it makes you feel that way, but everyone’s entitled to opinions and music is such a subjective thing so you can like it or not. There’s a million artists around.
Which of the artists who guested on K+ send the funniest texts or emails?
I think Vince [Staples] and Earl [Sweatshirt] are the funniest. Whenever I’m with those two and they’re together, I don’t stop laughing for sure.
What’s Earl Sweatshirt’s sense of humor like?
Earl’s just silly. He’s always making jokes, always making faces. It’s just like a natural silliness that comes from being a naturally funny person. It’s not forced.
What are the faces Earl makes?
Earl just has like a blank face, it’s always just blank! It’s really funny. And then Vince is always saying something slick or smart. They’re like a double act.
How did your collaboration with the Flatbush Zombies (on “Creepwave”) come about?
I met Juice first of all and worked with him on their song “JupiterSound” on their project [D.R.U.G.S.] so I wanted to have them along on my project. We’re all in the same friend group — all the New York acts that are coming out right now are all friendly with each other — so it’s like a cool family unit and it’s really simple to work with other people like Joey Bada$$ or Flatbush Zombies. I wanted them on “Creepwave” ’cause they’re zombies and it just goes.
Flatbush Zombies only rap on the end of that song, like you actually worked out the format of the song with them before recording it.
I mean I really didn’t want to have these conventional features.
Just a bunch of random 16-bar raps on songs.
Yeah, it gets boring and it gets repetitive. I want you to come in and I want your voices and I want what you bring to the table. I think they did it perfect.
So the collaborations for K+ were all done in-person?
I did everything in the studio in person. There was no sending back and forth through the Internet.
Do you write fast?
I write pretty fast myself, and I also get really impatient and I want things to get done. Personally, I don’t like to do too many takes myself, but some people in the studio love trying out every option and every way to say a word. I’m just sitting there thinking, “How many times can you try this exact line?!” But it’s cool if it works for them.
Which artists take the longest to record?
I’d say Erick Arc Elliot and Childish Gambino for sure. They both love trying it out as many ways as possible and seeing where it goes.
There are a lot of artists from New York on K+. It seems like there’s a lot of solidarity between this generation.
Yeah, I wasn’t in the music business three or four years ago but I think a shift happened to where New York got its power back I guess and everyone just came out of the woodwork and started making things and we all happened to know each other. We’ve been really supportive of each other rather than having issues and beefing. It’s helped us all get to that next level — it’s not catty and there’s not as much hate as before.
When did you move to New York?
I moved to New York in 2008.
What’s the worst apartment you’ve lived in?
I’ve never really had any crazy bad apartments. [Pauses.] Oh, I did! The worst apartment I had was my second apartment where we had this crazy landlord who was psychotic and we had mold all over our house and no one came to fix it. We had to call 311 on him.
Where was the apartment?
That was in Bushwick. But it was like before Bushwick got cute like how it is now, like now it’s organic delis and stuff there.
How much rent were you paying there?
$500. But it was fun, my roommates were awesome, we handled it like troopers — but I hated that apartment.
What were your first months in New York like?
Well when I first moved to New York I was 18 and I went to this party and it was an N.E.R.D. show and Pharrell was there and I was too afraid to speak to him! I had idolized him forever, but he was right there, and I did not say hi. Now I really wouldn’t care, but then it was my first month in New York and I’d never seen any celebrities before that. Since then I’ve worked in a lot of downtown restaurants so I’ve served most celebrities, so now I just don’t care.
Which celebrities that you served were the worst tippers?
[Laughs.] I can’t! I know exactly who they are. I’ll say everyone tips pretty well, like 20%, everyone’s good. My favorite person to serve is David Schwimmer. Random, but he’s like the nicest person and he always remembers you every time. He’s cool. There’s only maybe like a few people that didn’t tip well. They were probably drunk.
Now that K+ has been released, what are you working on?
I’m getting ready to go on tour and I’m also working on quite a lot of new merchandise.
Does that include the “Free Lil Boosie” t-shirt you posted on Twitter?
Yeah, it’s me and J. Scott doing a t-shirt from when Earl and Vince were having a little dialogue about J. Scott and he used to make these “Free Boosie” beanies and so I gave them one of those. I’m gonna bring some of those t-shirts on tour and then I’ll put them up online afterwards.
Do you think there’s a chance Lil Boosie actually did most of the things he’s in prison for?
If you had to do a cover of a Lil Boosie song, what would you pick?
Let me see, what song would I do? Oh, “Wipe Me Down.” I’d definitely do like a “Wipe Me Down” acoustic guitar version, snapping fingers and adding a little tambourine.