As soon as Kwame set foot on the local music scene just a few short years ago, it was always clear that big things were on the horizon. Kicking things off with singles such as “I Get It” and “Next” in 2016, it was clear there was raw talent at play, though no one could predict what would come next.
In 2017, Kwame shared his first EP, with Lesson Learned serving as an amazing showcase of what this young artist could do. The next year, he followed it up with Endless Conversations, which spawned the single “WOW”, and not only saw him score widespread airplay on triple j, but resulted in him being named the winner of the Unearthed J Award for 2018.
But things were just beginning for the Sydney musician, with the end of 2019 bringing with it new music, and the first taste of his forthcoming EP. Releasing tracks such as “STOP KNOCKIN’ @ MY DOOR” and “NOBODY”, it was clear that this new EP was set to be something truly special – a groundbreaking release that continues to show Kwame’s growth as an artist and a musician.
While a standalone single named “schleep.” soon followed, the events of 2020 truly took hold, and upset the plans that Kwame had for what was set to be a big year. A local tour was cancelled, the EP pushed back, and tour plans and writing trips to the UK and US, respectively, were put on hold. But as they say, you can’t keep a good man down, and Kwame is among the best.
Releasing his long-awaited third EP, Please, Get Home Safe. via Def Jam ANZ today, Kwame is showcasing his new era. Described as a “journey of self-discovery, acceptance and catharsis”, the new release sees an artist who has matured over the few short years he has been in the game, looking ahead as he moves out into the big world, ready to claim it as his own as the caring plea of “please, get home safe” rings in his ears.
Unapologetic and unafraid, Kwame is on the cusp of cementing himself as one of the greats of Australian music, and his new EP is here to prove it. In anticipation of its release, the acclaimed artist spoke to Rolling Stone to discuss his new EP, his career to date, and how, no matter what he does, no one will expect him or be able to stop him.
I guess we should kick things off with the standard question lately, so how have you been dealing with everything throughout 2020?
I’ve been very well. As much as a curse this year has been […] it’s actually been a blessing in disguise. Especially for myself last year, it was a very busy year where I was just all over the place, not really being at home much. Now, just being able to kind of take the backseat, look at everything and go, “Oh wow, okay”.
Like, there were certain things I could have potentially have been putting too much of my time into and, now it’s like, just getting myself more acquainted with other parts of even just business to begin with. But also putting time in to directing and creative directing and now just kind of distributing certain energies towards the right sort of avenues that need to be attended to.
So it’s really good just to also be set to see the right people that need to be seen and speaking with the right people that I need to be speaking with as well. So it’s been a blessing and I’m truly grateful for the year of change and for what this year’s really been.
Then of course, while you do have the highlights, there were some lowlights, including the cancelling of your tour near the start of the year. That would’ve been pretty devastating for someone like yourself, wouldn’t it?
Yeah, definitely. I guess I live by that whole thing of everything happens for a reason. So yeah, the tour would have been crazy, I was also going to the UK for the month to tour, and then I would have gone to the US to do writing trips. Like, they would have been amazing. I know that in the future or in the near future to come, those opportunities will rise again, and like I said, everything happens for a reason. So given the current year it definitely needed to happen.
So with the tour being cancelled, and you had all this stuff planned for the rest of the year, was the new EP set to arrive earlier, or was it always set to be released now?
It was always meant to arrive this year, earlier, but during the time of the tour coming out and everything. Like that sort of would have come out of it, and I would have been able to play it on tour. I’ve held onto it since then. But funnily enough, the whole sort of aspect of the project being called Please, Get Home Safe.. showcases the journey of self-discovery and acceptance that I face as a young artist. Manoeuvring in a world that I find it to be quite poisonous, and I also label it to be like the wild, wild west to a certain degree. And just trying to really stay true to who I am and not let thoughts and perceptions of reality hinder and taint my true intentions of what I am destined to be.
That’s where it initially starts, “NOBODY” being the first song is me stepping out of home and just being like, “No one can tell me nothing”. I’m all that I know that I am and will continue to be and manoeuvre through the world and like as I slowly progress through “STOP KNOCKIN’ [@ MY DOOR!]” with that reinforcement, as with “AIN’T SO”. But then “TOMMY’S IN TROUBLE”, it’s like I hit that roadblock and something’s going wrong and I’m now facing all the wrongful doings in the world.
Then once I get to “GLORY”, it’s like my moment to shine and just kind of reflect on all that I’ve gone through. Like, going from the first half of the project and then coming back with “WE CAN BE” is just that reminder that regardless of anything that you may face in this world – you and I and everyone else – we can be everything and anything. Nothing can stop us from reaching all that it is that we want to be, and things will only move exponentially and will continue to stay that way, because we’re destined for greatness. We are great. That’s pretty much the whole project.
Before we sort of get too deep into the EP’s creation, I’d like to take a brief step back for a moment and look at the start of your career for a sec. It all kicked off a few years back, and since then, it feels like it’s been a massive string of highlights. You’re obviously a humble guy, so has this success felt surprising, or is it more of a testament to the hard work you’re putting in?
I guess reflecting back on like the moment in 2016 and then four years later coming here… For me it’s kind of just, it’s overwhelming, however, I’m just like honoured and grateful to just still be here, having a platform to express myself and allow others to take in all that I give. So when I see certain things I’m like, “Wow, that’s so crazy,” but there’s more work, you know what I mean? It’s like, “Cool, I reached that sort of success,” or whatever it may be, but I’m always hungry, and I feel like the best thing about me in the most modest and humble way is that I still have that come-up mentality.
“I give 110% because that’s just what I am and what I’ll continue to do.”
And by that it’s essentially when someone is obviously in that period of time where they’re trying to gain that recognition or have everyone turn towards them, they’ll keep working hard and they’ll just be hungry for every single moment. So any opportunity that I get, I will deliver 110%, and I made that promise to myself when, I remember I did this one show, in my early days, and there was literally no one there, like, there was no one there. And I was like, “You know what? This isn’t going to stop me from giving 110%”.
That show that night, it didn’t matter that there was no one there – you can ask my DJ, there was no one there – I just gave my all because I knew that there could be one person that might even walk past or just see, and be infatuated and they just want to be a part of it and also just try and help amplify all that I was trying to do. So in any opportunity, whether it be an interview, radio, putting out music, anything that gives me assertive energy towards the people, I give 110% because that’s just what I am and what I’ll continue to do.
That’s an amazing approach to take, especially because there are artists who will become complacent along the way. But when you were in that period, was there any particular moment where you really felt like your career was taking off?
I think it was when I made my first project, Lesson Learned [in 2017]. And I was like, “Hey, I think I’m onto something,” and like, “I can do this”. I think as well, it stems from the love that I have and the purpose that I know myself to be in with music and creating. And I knew that even during high school when I was first dabbling into producing I was like, “There’s this certain feeling that I get from doing this and the love I have for it, and I just want to continue to feel that energy and that vibe”. So I was like, “You know what? This is what I love doing and like no matter how I’m feeling, I always walk away with with fulfilment and this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life”.
And just knowing that that was my purpose, and that was my calling and lane, I just continued and stuck by that and pushed, and pushed and pushed until, I guess, I was able to kind of somewhat be on the big stage of being recognised. But then also knowing that there’s more to this and like even when I get further to where I envisage myself to be, there’s still more to go and I’ll just keep continuing.
So it always comes from the passion I have and the love I have – sorry not the passion, the purpose – for the art itself. It’s funny that I mention passion, because I’m reading this book called Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holliday. An amazing book and it’s so humbling to read because it’s really changed my perception on life and all my surroundings. One of the pages, the chapter it says, “Don’t be passionate”. And I was sitting there thinking, “What? What do you mean ‘don’t be passionate’?”
“I guess I owe it all to the purpose of me knowing that music and being a creative was what I always wanted to be.”
And then the first line, and I’m just paraphrasing now, was like, “You’re probably sitting here thinking ‘why should you not be passionate?’ However, it’s okay to be passionate but also understand that passion can come in waves, and you fall for something for a while and then essentially it just disintegrates. Whereas with purpose, you know that this is something that you have to do, you will do, and it’s a must.”
So I was like, “Oh my goodness”. Like, if anything, this has actually answered what I’ve been the past few years, and even like venturing into music, that is just something that I had to do. Of course I had the passion, but I just knew I had to do it. So I guess I owe it all to the purpose of me knowing that music and being a creative was what I always wanted to be.
Your last EP was out in 2018, and since then, there’s been a bunch of singles and touring, but when was it that you decided it was time for a new EP? I know the first single was released over a year ago, but was the EP something that had been in the works for a while, or did
I guess how I kind of work is, I just don’t create, and I just try new stuff out and I just make music. And essentially, I just want to get to a certain amount of… maybe if it’s like three songs or whatever that all start to sound cohesive in terms of topics. Then I’m like, “Oh okay, I think I’m onto something”.
It feels very much like a project is brewing of some sort and so with this project here in particular, I just started to make songs that I was like, “Damn, woah, like this is wild”. The main thing for me, especially with this project is that I just wanted it to be, from a production stand, something that even today when you listen, you’re like, “Oh my goodness like, this is ahead of its time”. So in ten years you’ll look back and go, “This kid was literally onto something”.
And whilst I know that this project may not be the current trend, I have no interest in wanting to be a rap star or a pop star, I just want to be an artist. That’s a line that I say a lot where, say when I get like labelled as a rapper or whatever, for me I’m like, “Ah, but it’s bigger than rap though”. I don’t just want to be a rapper.
Like, I feel like an artist is someone who paints a certain picture, A rapper is just someone who just puts words over a beat and that’s not to throw shade or belittle anyone that labels themselves that term. But for me, it’s just bigger than that and like because I write, I produce, I direct, and I dabble into all aspects of the creative arts and so that was pretty much the whole process of that. It was just trying to just create a way from sonic boundaries and just make something so unique.
“I have no interest in wanting to be a rap star or a pop star, I just want to be an artist.”
Like, I know that people will listen to it and sit down and just have opinions first, and just go, “Woah, I don’t know how to feel about this,”, but that’s what it is because for me, I came to the realisation a while ago that the project and the brand Kwame is a creative experience. It’s something that, when presented to you, there is just so much that you can work with, it just can just go left-field with things, but it is so unique and amazing that you’re just like, “Woah, this kid can literally do anything. Like, there’s no boundaries to all that he can do”. So that’s what I wanted to show case with this project here.
Like it’s almost like it shadows an album. Like, if you listen to the three projects, there’s growth in them from Lesson Learned, Endless [Conversation], and Please, Get Home Safe., and now it’s like I’m obviously thinking album and like you just don’t know what you’re going to get.
That’s what I like, I like being a surprise, every time I come out with something, I like when people are like, “Oh, what’s it going to be? I don’t know!”. It’s like, every year at Christmas when you run down and you see your presents, and you’re like, “Oh, what’s in there? I don’t know!”. That’s the kind of energy that I want to give off to people when they come across my art.
You also mentioned the feeling of growth as well, and when you things like “STOP KNOCKIN’ @ MY DOOR!”, there’s an almost instantly timeless quality to it as well. Add that to the Anne Peebles sample, and everything feels much more expansive too. When that came out, what was the feeling from people? Did they notice that sense of growth?
Yeah, definitely, I feel like a lot of people just didn’t really expect a song like that to come out. But then some people were just like, “Oh yeah”, and they’re like, “I can see that, it makes sense”. And for me personally, I guess I wasn’t really taking too much of what people thought about it because first and foremost, in all honesty, I feel like what every artist either does, or I want to encourage that they should do, is create for themselves. Because the only benefit you get from conformity is everyone loving you, but yourself. So whenever I go out on stage or anywhere that I’m representing myself, I want to go out knowing that this is 110% me, I love this and I don’t have any regrets.
So when I first came across that sample, deep down as a lover and a student of the game being hip-hop, I was like, “Oh my goodness. This will be well respected within the hip-hop community, but also like the producer community”. Because every producer they always to have that like, that one sample joint they find that they’re able to chop because essentially that’s where hip-hop first came from. It was sampling records, it was taking drum breaks and putting it onto soulful records and chopping it up.
So it just reminded me of going back to that time, and it’s so good that you said timeless, because I felt the same as well. I was like, “This is where hip-hop came from and it’s still like this to this day, where people are sampling in different ways”. So I was just paying homage to the influences and inspiration that I gained from the genre. And I just was like, Oh my goodness, this just says it all. This is it, this is going to be my moment to have that”. Like, “Oh my God, I just found a sample and I’m about to go in and chop it”.
You’ve also got some collaborations on the EP as well, including E^ST on “NOBODY”, there’s CLYPSO, Phil Fresh, and Arno Faraji. When you were collaborating with them, were they artists you already had a relationship with, or were they names you reached out to?
Funnily enough, E^ST is actually the very first artist that I’ve ever reached out to outside of my immediate circle for collaborating. And that was kind of scary because, if you look at my last two projects, it’s all just been friends or my immediate circle. I mean I just love making music with my friends and I was never too caught up in the idea of “I need to get this feature or that feature,” or whatever.
But even with “NOBODY”. for example, that was never the case. I just came across E^ST’s music and I love it so much, and her voice and her tone, it’s just so unique. It’s amazing, it’s unique, it just has character and I was just infatuated by her music. And then I just reached out and I was like, “Look, like I have this song, I love your voice to much that like it would be dope if you could just… Like, here’s a section here, if you can somewhat come up with almost like a post-chorus or something that is in a similar vein of the song”.
And I explained it to her and then she reached back and she was like, “Oh my God, like you’re one my favourite like rappers in the country”. And I was like, “Woah, this is crazy!”. And then a couple of days later, she sent back her part and as I was listening I was like, “Oh my goodness..”. E^ST just put the battery in my back to just come back fully recharged and just really be that 110% that I needed to be.
The lyric that really moved me was, “All my big dreams, make all my fears smaller“. And that there, that just gave me the energy to just really cruise through this project and just give it everything it deserved. And we got in the studio, we talked, we just got to know each other more. We finished the song and recorded the vocal and everything, and I just thanked her, because of that lyric and just how it just inspired me and pushed me, and motivated me to just want to go even harder than I guess what I felt I was before.
So that’s the first artist that I’ve essentially ever reached out to and like she actually sings backing vocals in “WE CAN BE”, on the last song. She’s the distorted vocal that’s just singing through verse one and verse two, and the chorus as well. That was really cool because it was like she opens the project, on the first song, and then is also on the last.
So, just that continuity of hers is kind of being like that angel through the project; just being there in support was really cool to have her there.
You also worked with the likes of CLYPSO and Phil Fresh on “TOMMY’S IN TROUBLE”, and that song is one that mentions adversity and bigotry. Since it was released, has it been rewarding to see people rallying around a track with such a strong message?
Yeah definitely, it’s amazing. Personally, it’s a really big song in a sense of just like, yeah, the fact that it’s like four minutes, 19, but then, it’s literally two songs in one and there are just so many tunes happening. And there’s me at the start with my pitch vocals, but then like in the chorus like I’m still singing a counter melody and then like it comes to the radio segment, and then Phil and I go back to back. And then even just like the outspoken message of it all, I was just honestly honoured for people to resonate with it through their own personal experiences and I just wanted to be universal themed.
Whilst I might be speaking from my own personal experiences, as I said it acts as a voice to everyone that is under that conglomerate of being a minority or whether, irrespective of like your race, your gender, if you have a disability or not. What you identify as, your religious beliefs. everything, I just wanted it to be something that was universal for people to relate with.
With the video as well, that’s what I wanted to portray, and it was really cool to see that [people] could take it in because even with “NOBODY” and stuff, I guess its kind of a scary sort of feeling nowadays putting out content within the entertainment [industry] that is quite extensive. Because I feel like as humans we have very short attention spans, where nowadays people can literally just take 30 seconds to listen to a song and if it doesn’t catch them in that moment, then nope, it’s not it.
For me, I have no interest in that. I’m someone who loves extensive projects, I’m someone who loves concepts, I love performative art. I’m here to just do all that I want to do and not be sort of acclimatised to the trend and the change in which the industry’s trying to bring with having people compromise their artistic integrity and vision. So yeah, it was really heart warming.
You mentioned the radio segment in “TOMMY’S IN TROUBLE”, and I wanted to know what the thought behind those were? In the first one at the end of “STOP KNOCKIN’ @ MY DOOR”, you made reference to how people only know you for “WOW” or how some didn’t enjoy your Like a Version cover.
Funnily enough the Like a Version actually gained really positive feedback, which was really cool, but I also just wanted to not flip the narrative, but just be able to poke fun at people who go on radio. Because like sometimes you’ll hear, or sometimes, a lot of the time when you hear people call in on radio or whatever, it’s all just like funny and whack, and just like, “Man, who’s this guy or person saying all of this? Like, shut up. Like, you don’t know what you’re talking about”. And it’s just fun banter, so for “STOP KNOCKIN'”, that’s what I wanted to do. I just wanted to poke fun and it’s meant to be just like a comedic sort of skit for radio.
Then with “TOMMY’S IN TROUBLE”, that there was actually the point of which it’s me flipping the narrative this time and actually reclaiming that power there. And you hear where Phil and I, it’s just a no holds barred situation where we’re just like, we’re going bar for bar just saying anything and everything that we want to say to just get it off our chests.
So it was like, “You’re listening to That Boy Radio. No, you’re listening to us now, the power’s in our hands so you need to listen to what we’ve got to say. Because it’s now our time”. So, yeah, pretty much where the inspiration came from with those two skits.
When you close up the EP, the listener is left feeling as though your next step will be an even bigger one. Do you feel like an album is the next step?
You’re honestly so right in saying that, because how I envisaged “WE CAN BE”, especially in the second half where it’s just me, my distorted vocal just just going for gold and just soloing for that long, like, two minutes. I envisage it to be our moment where, and I say this a lot, I’m playing in like Major League Baseball, it’s the finals. I need to hit this home run to win the game, and I’ve done it and it’s just in slow motion, I’m running across each base and the fireworks go off, the teams running out, everyone’s going crazy. That’s what I envisage it to be and for you to say “Is an album on the horizon?”, I mean, definitely. That’s definitely the next step.
If anything this project was somewhat a kind of precursor to an album, because I wanted to come and showcase that I’m ready to do that and I’ve always been. And this here was just showing you that like I can literally do anything, so like you just never know what you’re going to expect with an album. Like it could be this way, it could be that way, but just know that like I can literally do everything and even when I get to it, you won’t expect it because I’ll just flip it on its head every single time. And that’s what I love.
Kwame, the whole brand, is a creative experience and so, each time you get something you just never know what it’s going to be. And you have no expectation because you just don’t know. You’re just like, “Whatever it’s going to be, it’s going to be dope”. That’s just what you know.
Kwame’s Please, Get Home Safe. EP is out now via Def Jam ANZ.