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Home » Lyricist Lounge

Grammy nom thinks outside the toy box

Submitted by on November 17, 2010 – 11:04 pmNo Comment

Kokayi is one of the only independent hip-hop artists to ever be nominated for a Grammy Award. And that’s about the least interesting thing about him.

He sings, raps, produces, plays a handful of instruments and speaks almost as many languages. He’s a devout Christian who has mentored artists in the Middle East, toured China (no small feat for an American MC) and discoursed with respected holy men across the planet.

His self-produced sophomore offering, Robots and Dinosaurs, is a reflection of some but none of those things. It sounds like everything but nothing on the streets. And that, says the D.C. native during a recent phone interview, was the idea.

Admittedly, Kokayi likes to keep people guessing. Cornering the man with even a loose label like, say, ‘hip-hop’ is enough to make him uneasy. He was recently quoted calling his sound “afropunk, hip-hop, funk, rock and psychodiscobilly.” The affable artist admits now the description was a lark used to throw off an opposing pundit.

“Sometimes I just say a whole bunch of stuff so that people can’t say what I am. I get tired of getting the labels so I’m like, ‘aight I’m psychodiscobilly,’” he laughs.

Since the release of his first disc, 2007’s Mass Instructions, Kokayi’s dished up six releases through numerous side projects. In addition to a solo hip-hop career, he forms half of electro-hop duo Dastardly and is a member of Afropunk group TheCaesarz. In short, he stays busy and “don’t like boxes.”

“You have society’s expectation of who you supposed to be based on your race, your economic status. You have all those things that people try and box you in,” he says. “And then, as a musician, you have all those expectations, the pressures, the little squares that people want you to fit in. I just want to do me.”

In line with his eccentric (albeit refreshing) outlook, Kokayi’s new record fits no script. While there are traces of everyone from Eric Sermon to Mos Def and Kanye to Common on Robots and Dinosaurs, the album sounds like nothing any of the aforementioned artists has ever released.

“It’s not typical jazz, it’s not typical hip-hop. It’s black futuristic new music,” Kokayi explains. The overarching theme of R and D, he says, is that rappers these days are either “dinosaurs who claim hip-hop’s dead” or “autotune and getting away from sounding like themselves.

“I just wanted to do me,” he reiterates. “There’s a lot of not-doin’-me goin’ on. A lot of people jus’ don’t do themselves – they don’t have any idea on how to just be original – so what they do is they copy everybody else. Everybody’s doing some shit that sound like somebody else.”

But rather than find fault with, and level shots at, the state of hip-hop in general, Kokayi takes the high road. He believes there’s merit to the music being made by both the backpackers and ballers of old and new.  “I love hip-hop and even in its different stages, there’s redeeming qualities in all it.”

Story: Remi L. Roy

Photo: Sean Josiah

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