Music Interviews

Senor Kaos: The Veteran Rookie

"It wasn’t until the 2000s when all the crunk and snap stuff started coming out. After that people were like Atlanta had to be crunk, or sound like Lil Jon. After that came and went, then Atlanta had to sound like snap. That disappeared, and now everything is trap and dope boys. I try not to get in any of those trends, because as you can see they come and go..."

The old saying is you only get once chance to make a first impression. And that why since launching his career as a teenager in the late 90’s, Senor Kaos has made sure to treat every live performance, guest appearance, and song like it’s the first time everyone is hearing him. Even with over a decade spent perfecting his craft, Kaos is still well under 30, and a best kept secret of sorts once you get out of his regular stomping grounds of Atlanta. That may well change in early 2011. With two “best of” styled albums under his belt, Kaos will finally release his official debut in early 2011 on High Water Music, the home of well-received artists like Homeboy Sandman and Fresh Daily.

Part emcee, media consultant, promoter and entrepreneur, find out why Kaos embodies the hustler spirit most rappers only pay lip service to.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Anybody who goes to Hip-Hop shows in Atlanta is very familiar with you. But for those who aren’t, give a little background on yourself.

Senor Kaos: I got into music at a very young age. My father was a DJ, and my mother a poet. So off the rip, I started dabbling with poetry around 10 or 11. Writing rhymes around 12. How I got into it, being skinny and scrawny, you kinda had to be doing something. Either you danced, you could draw, you rhymed, or you played basketball to be cool. That’s how people left you alone. If you weren’t doing nothing they took your lunch tickets and all that.

I wanted to dance, but I got more into the vocal aspect of it. As a young man I was scared to do it at first, because I placed high importance on the culture and music. I didn’t want to just come out and say I emceed. So I hid it for a few years. I only rhymed for a couple people at school. One day I rhymed for somebody, and they told the big loudmouth dude at school that was willing to challenge anybody. I came and I was mad nervous like “yo, I only do this for fun.”

But I battled this dude and served him. So after that I had props, and it was a great feeling being a teenager. So then it was “maybe I could do something with this.” This is around ’97, and my first project, loose demo came in ’99. At this point I’m 16 with music out. At 17 I’m sneaking into clubs for battles. I’m at Fat Beats, Tapemasters, Earwax, and finding out who’s who on the scene.

Now in 2010, the game has changed like four times. When I first got into it, there wasn’t anything called social media. It used to mean you were balling if you had your own website. There was no YouTube, so people weren’t as inclined to do videos. I’ve learned to adapt since I’m an emerging artist that a lot of people aren’t familiar with yet. Everything I touch, I try to do it like it’s going to be the first time someone is hearing or seeing me.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Let’s touch on the sound of Atlanta, which is constantly evolving…

Initially the sound of Atlanta for me was Hip-Hop. When you had cats like Y’all So Stupid, Goodie, Outkast, and Massinfluence. All these cats were doing their thing in Atlanta when I was 15-16 years old. I looked to them for Atlanta Hip-Hop, and what I was inspired by. When people say now “that doesn’t sound like Atlanta Hip-Hop,” my question is what are you listening to? It depends on what era you were listening to.

It wasn’t until the 2000s when all the crunk and snap stuff started coming out. After that people were like Atlanta had to be crunk, or sound like Lil Jon. After that came and went, then Atlanta had to sound like snap. That disappeared, and now everything is trap and dope boys. I try not to get in any of those trends, because as you can see they come and go. But the only things that have stayed have been artists like Goodie and Outkast. I don’t think they ever said this is southern Hip-Hop. I think it was more “yo, we’re from the South, but this is Hip-Hop.” That’s how I look at it, simple and plain.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: I ran into Waka Flocka at the BET Hip-Hop Awards, and he told me he’d love to work with Nas, and that’s one of his favorite emcees. When you look at that BET event, and something like A3C, there is a clear divide in philosophy. Do you think there can ever be any interaction, or will this line always have to exist in Hip-Hop?

Kaos: Not at all, I definitely think they can merge. Not everybody, but a lot of people got into this to be heard. People want to express themselves, and we have that it common whether you’re super commercial or underground. But people went about it different ways. Some are willing to shift and compromise to be heard, and some aren’t.

People like your Waka Flockas and Guccis, my main 4IZE has a record with Gucci even though they’re on two separate planes. Kweli has a record with Gucci. A lot of times people are like how can that happen? But when you have two cats with a strong work ethic, it can still work. Like Waka Flocka would like to work with Nas, I’d like to jump in another lane and work with cats as well. You can’t keep picking the same fruit from the same tree, and doing the same types of collabs.

That doesn’t mean completely jump in another lane, but it’s always cool to experiment. You never know what you may sound like over a different sound, or with other artists.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: The days of just being an artist are over. You have to be your own manager, publicist, and several other hats. For you, how have you been able to handle the business, and not have it kill your creative side?

Yo, that’s the hardest thing to do, ever! You have some artists who are 100% creative, and they have managers, business advisors and all that. But for me, where the approach is very DIY (Do It yourself) and grassroots, I have to find time to do all that. In a way, it hinders my productivity. I feel like if I didn’t have to handle my own blog, doing all of my own biz, and network, I could get more songs done. I definitely amass a lot of material, but I could have 2-3 albums done instead of finishing one!

But they’re both equally important, so you can’t focus on one over the other. You gotta channel ways to be creative. For me, having that experience, it helps writing rhymes, because you’re going through things you wouldn’t have gone through before. You’re meeting different people, characters, and personalities. That fuels inspiration, and now you have something new to write about.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: The new album, how’s it different from the previous two?

Kaos: Swagger Is Nothing, Talent Is Everything and Walk Softly & Carrying a Big Brick were compilation projects. I won’t call them mixtapes because they weren’t mixed. The first one, a lot of those songs had been scrapped, and were from 2006-2007. It wasn’t until I played a lot of it for my homie Jax that he told me to put it out. Some of those are promos and collaborations. I got great feedback on it. Same thing with Walk Softly… a lot of that stuff had already leaked on the net. It was really just me putting it together so you could have it all in one place.

With this, the entire album was produced by Illastrate. So it wasn’t just I’m putting some tracks together. Every song shares my story and different emotions. The album is about you connecting with me, figuring out who Senor Kaos is if you’re never heard of me in your life. The album is a lot shorter. The album is straight 12 records. I didn’t want to do any filler cuts, we in and out on it.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: What label will this drop on?

Kaos: The album is through High Water Music. They’re an independent label started in New York City by Sucio Smash, who’s a DJ and tastemaker. Basically, he saw a lot of indie labels were just signing older artists, trying to capitalize off the audience they already had. He didn’t want to do that.  He took the road last traveled, “I’m going to take artists you might not have ever heard, but who are dope as shit, and craft projects.”

His thing also is he wants people to trust in the label. Everything you get from the label will be jamming. Anytime you see that name, you know it’s a project that won’t disappoint. DJ Spinna’s album came out, Homeboy Sandman, Fresh Daily, P. Casso, and Daniel Joseph. So far every album has gotten good feedback, and I’m carrying on that tradition. It’s kind of cool, but it’s also pressure. For awhile I was the only southern artist on the label. Now Willie Evans Jr. from Jacksonville, he’ll have his project out on there. So that takes a little pressure off [laughs].

It’s a great label. It’s still independent, so there’s not a lot of money to do a lot. So people will see something and be like “yo, I see your label is doing it big for you!” And I’m like nah, that’s me! I’m definitely excited about the label and the record.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: I always get different answers from people regarding if they have an exit strategy. Meaning, can you see yourself doing music for the rest of your life?

Kaos: I can see myself doing this forever as long as I continue to have something to say. If I don’t have anything else to say, and I’m not having great experiences within it, then I’ll look at other options. I would also like to take my knowledge and music supervise some projects. I’d love to do a score for a movie.

I can see myself 20 years from now doing artist management. I’ve helped a lot of people already for free. A lot of people! I remember when I figured out a way to get my first project distributed, everyone was like “yo, how’d you do that?! Who do I need to talk to?” I’m connecting all these people. As you get older, you realize that’s consulting. I should be getting paid for this. I see that down the road, and playing behind the scenes.

I’m still a young man, so I still feel like sky’s the limit.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: You mentioned Jax’s influence on your earlier. What’s been his lasting impact on you?

Kaos: For those who don’t know, Jax was in a crew called Binkis Recs. When I was about 16 and sneaking into shows, I caught them perform. They had a live show like I’d never seen before in my life. Their live show was super creative and it had hella energy. I never saw them do the same show twice, out of all the years I’ve seen them.

He took me under his wing and showed me what it meant to be independent. He was the do it yourself king. Jax didn’t wait for no one. Labels would approach him, and he’d be like “nah, that’s not sounding right. I’m cool, I’ll do it myself.” It was almost to the point where he was stubborn.

Before that, I was focused on getting signed. Later on, he helped me put together my shows. If you compare, what I do is how Binkis would kind of pattern their shows. You want to have a cool intro off the bat to get the crowd involved. I also learned keeping the show continuous without a lot of pausing.

And on the business end, I learned how to treat people. If it wasn’t for him, I can’t honestly say I’d still be rapping.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Currently, who are the emcees catching your ear ?

Royce da 5’9 is a beast! Black Milk, Von Pea and Tanya Morgan, period. Homeboy Sandman almost made me redo my record. It was that crazy, I was like damn! I love to listen to people that inspire me, like shit, after hearing what they wrote; I have to go back to the lab. Before cats knew who Lupe Fiasco was, a cat in Chicago put me on to his music. He’s a raw emcee, clever with the wordplay.

On the older cats, I still check for Redman, Stat Quo, and 4IZE. He reminds me I can have fun with this. He inspires me to keep things light-hearted at times. There’s a lot more, but really I’m inspired by any emcee that’s consistent, and specifically brings energy. A lot of times you might not be saying the craziest stuff, but if the energy and vibe is there, it shows up to the listener.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: You mentioned earlier you started out visiting places like Fat Beats, which just recently closed their retail spots. Do you think stores like that can still exist is this era? Or did that closure signal the end for those types of places?

Kaos: Man, it’s a really sad thing. They’re only really phasing out in the U.S. If you go overseas, they still have HMVs and Tower’s, and their local record stores. We have to look at ourselves. There’s no reason they can’t still be here. They just have to adjust to the shift. The rate they’re shutting down is kind of alarming. Soon there won’t be a point of having an album, if there’s no place to sell it. It’s like having a bunch of airports, but no planes. Cats will start doing album release parties on Ustream, and to me that’s impersonal and corny.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: I ran into you a few months back at the Damian Marley-Nas show. If you could do an album like theirs, going into a different genre, which one would you select?

Kaos: I would dip into rock, because I could see myself performing it with the heavy drums and guitars. I would have fun with it, but I’d need a crazy rock group like the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: What music albums, no matter the genre, had the biggest influence on you as an artist?

Kaos: I’d say Special Ed’s Youngest In Charge. Gang Starr’s Step Into the Arena. Stevie Wonder’s  Innervisions. Nas’ Illmatic. And the last one I’d say is Mos Def and Kweli’s Black Starr. Those are five joints I’ve lost, re-brought, listened to constantly, and know every word. Those albums made me want to create. Each time I asked myself, what could I do to take it to another level?

And there’s a personal connection with them. With Special Ed’s joint, “I Got It Made” is one of my favorite records. It’s the first one I memorized completely. I knew all the dance moves from the video. When you see him, he’s dressed really normal. A lot of cats had rap uniforms like LL, with the Kangol and jumpsuits. Run DMC had their Adidas. Flash and all them cats had crazy ass outfits. When I saw Ed, he looked mad comfortable. But he’s like I’m shitting on you with the shit I got, but I don’t even have to get hype to do it.

Gang Starr was the DJ-producer. The cuts Primo had on “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight,” those were pivotal points where I was like wow, how did he do that?

Illmatic just because it’s lyrical, and there’s a lot of quotes you can apply to your daily life. As a young man you can listen to it and be like I can relate, like “I woke up early on my born day…” And of course it was produced terrifically.

With Stevie Wonder, the song composition was amazing all the way through. To me that helps when you’re writing records, and not just looking to do verse-hook-verse-hook.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: When’s the release date?

Kaos: Yo, the new album has no release date! I need everybody to hit up www.highwaterismusic.com and hit Sucio Smash on Twitter at @suciosmash! But nah, we’re looking at early 2011. I’m redoing some artwork, and it’s looking like an enhanced CD, so I want to have some videos on there for cats to have something tangible over just the download.

Sometimes as an artist you can be very impatient. But in the grand scheme of things, there’s a plan, and the plan has to be worked. And you don’t want to put out a record, and have no one check for it. Right now the plan is connecting with fans, and letting them know everything I drop will be of a certain quality. So when it drops, people will say “I can purchase this album. I feel comfortable.”

My biggest thing for this album is I want it to critically acclaimed, even if it only sells a certain amount of copies. I want people to listen and talk to their friends about it. I want everyone to take away something different from it.

 Writer’s Note: For more Senor Kaos, visit his official site http://www.thekaoseffect.com/, and on Twitter @senorkaos

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