We Interview Nigerian Rapper-Singer Sensation Kah-Lo
Her latest Riton collab 'Ginger' is out now.
New York-based, Nigerian-born singer-songwriter Kah-Lo stormed onto the scene back in 2016 with 'Rinse & Repeat,' a track produced in collaboration with British house producer, Riton. It was an instant classic, making it to one of the top ten most played songs by BBC Radio 1 that year, before bagging a nomination for Best Dance Track at the 2017 Grammy Awards.
Since then, the green-haired game-changer has continued to pump out super-catchy dance beats both solo and in collaboration. Now, the Kah-Lo and Riton dream team is back in action with their fresh new single, 'Ginger,' out today. In the run up to the release, we sat down with Kah-Lo to find out more about the rising star.
Hey, nice to meet you! Thanks so much for talking to us. So let's start at the beginning, how did you become Kah-Lo?
Kah-Lo began a year after college, right after I graduated. I’d gotten a job and I was like, “This is nice” for the first two paychecks. And then, it’s not. So then I had the whole “Okay, what do I actually want to do?” thing. I always wanted to be a musician, I just didn’t have the balls to go for it at full ham. I’d always been focusing on my back-up plan, just in case music didn’t work. And then I realized that all of it just wasn’t really making sense.
So then I just went for it with music, changed my stage name to Kah-Lo (before that, it was just my real name) and started putting out more music online. I was doing a thing called Kah-Lo Tuesdays where I’d put new music up every Tuesday. Then one day, Riton just randomly followed me on Twitter. It was super random, I think it was a glitch on his account that was following people who had SoundCloud links up at the time, so that happened and then…boom. We got into the studio and that was it. The first song we recorded was 'Rinse & Repeat' and that’s how the Kah-Lo began that everyone knows today.
You grew in up Nigeria, right?
Yeah, I grew up in Nigeria. I moved here when I was 16, so I’ve been in New York maybe six or seven years.
When did you get into music? Was that part of your childhood in Nigeria too?
Yeah. But Nigerian parents are always like, “Oh, find a real job, be a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant” or something like that, so it’s very rare that they would be encouraging in a creative career. I don’t blame them now. I was very bitter about it before, but in hindsight, they were right. And seriously, growing up, I was more focused on good grades. So when I graduated and I had that whole epiphany, I started performing at coffee shops and bars, put my stuff on SoundCloud, and just tried to get out there as much as possible.
In terms of the wider dance scene and community, there’s not very many African women performing or producing house music. Would you say that your roots have aided you or influenced your musical style in any way?
Definitely. And I think coming to New York when I was 16, because it’s like the hip hop mecca, was inspiring. And, of course, growing up in Nigeria too. I started rapping because there was this new wave of Nigerian rap where you didn’t have to be…well, before that, you had to be really fluent in dialect. But that was hard because, you know, I didn’t grow up on the streets so I couldn’t really imagine myself like that. But then this new wave of Nigerian rap came and it was a more of a Western kind of rap. And that was the stuff I related to.
Let’s go back to the success with Riton. 'Rinse & Repeat' received a Best Dance Record nomination at the Grammy’s – it went massive. What was is like to experience that at the beginning of your music career?
I mean, you know, when you have a whole career plan in your head. I was like, “Maybe in five years' time I’ll be nominated for a Grammy.” So I wasn’t expecting anything like that to happen. It was very, very wild. It was unreal that the first single we did was nominated. My sister had actually won tickets to the Grammy’s the year before. We were sat high up in the bleachers and I was like “Give me five years and we’ll be right down there on the floor level.” And it was crazy that the very next year, we were down there. I got nominated.
The tracks you've released so far are pretty versatile in terms of style, with both rap and singing. Do you think being such a versatile performer has helped your success?
It’s kind of too early to tell. I haven’t sang that much yet on any track that we’ve put out so it’s too early to say. When people say, “Oh, we want a Kah-Lo feature,” they want me to do the monotone rap. But I’ve done monotone rap, I can do real rap – even if, to me, it’s not my strong suit – and then I can sing. I actually prefer to sing but like, marketing, branding [laughing]. So we’ll see, time will tell.
Coming back to genre, the dance music industry is not only dominated by men but also by white people. What have your experiences been around that?
I was actually kind of worried about it when I first went into the studio with Riton because the stuff on my SoundCloud was more R&B electronica, kind of like Sia’s earlier stuff. He played a house beat and I was like, “…maybe not” and he really had to convince me. When you check the YouTube comments and stuff, it’s full of people saying, “She sounds like Azealia Banks.” We sound nothing alike but people compare us because I’m dark-skinned and doing monotone rap over a dance track when there are really no other similarities.
People are very quick to pin you as this unicorn, this stereotype, and it’s a very strange position to be in. Most of what I know about house, Riton introduced me to. Before I only new about Faithless and that stream of EDM that happened in the early 2010s, when Americans really started embracing it. It was only with Riton that I came to discover deep house, acid house and all these sub-genres. So yeah, it’s all pretty crazy.
Let’s talk a bit about fashion. How important do you think your style is as an artist?
I think style is very important for artists. It’s your branding, it’s how you go beyond your music. Some people just make music and then they’re like, ‘Ah I don’t care about fashion.’ But, at the end of the day, if you make music and have no interest in fashion, you’re not creating a trend that people can follow with your music. So for me, I try to use my style as my branding and how I want people to see me. Because, you know, my mum is a very fashionable lady and she always told me that you have to dress the way you want to be treated and perceived. And I want people to think that I’m a colorful person that shits glitter, so I will dress accordingly.
[Laughing] Makes sense. And what brands are influencing you right now?
I really like a lot of the streetwear brands like Kith, Supreme, Nike, adidas. I also really like House Of Holland right now. I like that streetwear vibe with the high-fashion threshold. I also wear a lot of logo tees and print T-shirts. I don’t really care where I find them, like from vintage stores or H&M. The men’s section there has really good stuff. I love colorful prints with shiny stuff.
Can you tell us a bit about the single and what’s coming next.
Right now, Riton and I have just finished the single. That’s coming very soon and I’m really excited to get it out. And right now, I’m kind of just taking a step back. I’m trying to go back to my roots because I don’t want to lose my identity or my sound, which is kind of ironic to say because I don’t really have identity in my sound as of yet. It’s good but it’s but also kind of sad right now that I could really be on anything. I could be on jazz, I could be on Bossa Nova… So I’m trying to find the perfect balance of all the things I can do and just streamline that sound.
And, like I said, branding. I also want to bring people along if they’re liking it and keep a balance of all the things I’m inspired by and ultimately make a nice record out of that. So once the hype for this new album is kind of marinating, hopefully there’ll be more Kah-Lo stuff after that. Other than that, we’re about to announce a world tour soon. Stay tuned.
Looking forward to it. Thanks so much for talking to us!
Listen to Kah-Lo and Riton's new single,'Ginger' here.
Next up, read our interview with EDM superstar Alison Wonderland.