I speak to Kota the Friend the day of the horrific terror attack in Manchester when I have been up half the night, and am upset and rattled. Listening to Kota’s music is soothing, almost therapeutic, and so is talking to the Brooklyn artist himself. He is incredibly calm for someone who has a four-month-old baby (who he is pushing in a stroller while we talk) and for someone who is getting a lot of press for his music. Soon he starts to open up, and I get to know the man behind the incredible accomplishments of Lawn Chair, Customs and his recent single Like Water.
He says, “for the recent stuff I’ve been adding new age elements like drums and different sounds that are more modern.”
For there is a whole spectrum of sounds in Kota’s music from jazz to hip-hop, soul, RnB, and Indie. And that’s just on the surface.
His debut project Palm Tree Liquor is a poetic journey through these genres. I ask Kota if there is a theme running through his music and he says, “Yes, it’s like a story. A story of teenage angst, frustrations and being in the heat of everything. You feel a certain way and nothing seems to connect. With everything negative that is happening, there is some centre point and peace of mind so that you can be happy.” He continues, “people wanna find peace, that’s the underlying theme in everybody’s life at this point. Things are corrupt, you can’t trust the people who govern you, the people you’re dating, people you’re married to. You find yourself through all of that. The theme of all my music is trying to reach people so they can find their way more easily. There are so many distractions in the world we so easily forget about the important things, the things that actually matter to our peace and happiness. I try to give people the bigger picture, we need to stop focusing on these things as they are holding us back.”
He says of Palm Tree Liquor, “that was dealing with negativity but at the same time trying to overcome it. The liquor and palm tree show there are two sides, good and bad.”
Like Water, co-produced by Nimbus Beats, is about going with the flow of water not against it. The flow of water is the flow of life. Mellow and reflective you sink into the song gradually, one limb at a time until you are drowning in a river of beats and textures sprinkled with contemporary lifestyle references. Never has the word ‘flow’ for a rapper been so relevant. Kota’s lyrics always roll off his tongue effortlessly.
Since then, Kota the Friend has dropped another track Sun Lady as a tribute to his mother for Mother’s Day earlier this month. It is the third single from Kota’s upcoming sophomore EP Paloma Beach and features Ol’ soul & Emma. Laden with sun-slicked jazz and sweet lyrics about his ‘mama’, “she make everything a better day” it drifts over you like fluffy clouds.
Kota’s name is from the 2003 animated Disney film Brother Bear featuring a character called Kota. He says, “I wanted a regular name, a name that was simple.” The film was about Native Americans who took the bear called Kota and it was also spiritual and about nature. Kota says, “that’s what I’m all about.” Incidentally, his son has Kota as his middle name.
We discuss inspiration and Kota says, “Family inspires me. I just had a son. Also doing the things I love, like traveling, it reminds me of what’s important. Appreciating what you have and not needing more. My son changed my life, he helped me put everything into perspective and get into my head I have so much already.”
Kota admits to being an “old soul“, and doesn’t really listen to that much new music although he does like J. Cole and Chance The Rapper, “he is doing so many great things and really paving the way for a lot of people.” He was recently listening to Frank Oceans Blonde album and one track, Godspeed really stood out for him, “It made me look at a lot of things differently, it changed the way I viewed life and my perception of love. It’s a beautiful song about love not being possessive, being able to love something and let it go at the same time. It helped me in the time that I was in. That is my favourite piece of music.”
Looking back on how Kota the Friend started making music, he says, “I was in elementary school and started rapping and getting musically inclined. I was testing things out and trying to rap around the time Jay-Z came out with ‘The Black Album’. Kanye West was just coming up and other great artists emerging like 50 cent and Ja Rule. Kanye was a pivotal moment in my childhood and the first time I really gravitated towards an artist. I was in a sneaker store and ‘All Fall Down’ was playing and nobody knew who this guy was. I thought “who is this guy?” and after that, I was a die-hard Kanye fan. I was like, wow, this is what hip-hop can sound like, this is the potential.”
I ask what his plans are; writing, touring, etc. and he replies, “all of the above, doing shows, making music, spending time with my son, days out to record and spend with my son, managing my time wisely.”
The release of Kota’s sophomore independent EP Paloma Beach was announced by Ebro on Beats 1 Radio station recently. On the show, Kota describes Paloma as being a type of pigeon and a “New York City staple” where they choose to stay in the city even though their wings can take them anywhere. Relating this to his own feelings, being confined and haunted by his past, “Paloma Beach is a safe space where you won’t be judged for being imperfect and can find peace in this hostile world.” It will contain stories of Kota’s past year filled with the deterioration of friendships, heartbreak, and reconciliation. If this project is anything like previous work; a vessel of nimble similes, metaphors, introspective lyrics and of course Kota’s pacifying, easy, honest sound then we’re in for a real treat. To quote Kota the Friend, “this is what hip-hop can sound like, this is the potential.”
Kota the Friend’s EP ‘Paloma Beach’ will be released on July 12th.