Kero One is not your run-of-the-mill hip-hop artist. With Korean roots, Japanese influence and a blend of every element of American hip-hop, you get a man that does more than just make beats and rhymes. Kero got his start with his interest in art as a graffiti artist and graphic designer and later found his love in constructing beats and rocking the mic. Getting his first big break in Japan, he began touring Asian and continued to produce more and more music. Now several years deep into his career and at the dawn of his sophomore LP, Kero One joins Potholes In My Blog on Open Mic Presents… It was a great pleasure to chat with the man behind so many smooth hip-hop classics and get to know him a little bit more. Please join me as I get the inside scoop on Early Believers, Plug Label, future collaborations and much more!
Be sure to cop Early Believers, in stores April 7th!
Here is a preview, hit the skip for the full interview…
Reyn: Hey Kero, been playing the album a lot lately, it’s dope! Are you happy with the outcome?
Kero: Yeah, It’s one of the projects that I am most proud of. It just went the way that I wanted it to.
Reyn: Yeah, it has a very fresh, polished sound, a little more then your first release. How have you developed from your first release?
Kero: Well, I dumped a lot of money into my studio that’s for one. Definitely just been studying up and learning as much as I can about engineering and sound. Also experimenting with sounds that I wasn’t able to do on the first one with more like up-tempo stuff, bringing in some Latin influences and also collaborating with some soul singers.
Reyn: The album has a very positive sound, yet you keep most of the topics very serious. You have a track like “When the Sunshine Comes” where you have that very uplifting beat and hook, but then you get some more dark, serious rhymes. Where do you find that balance in your lyrics on this album?
Kero: A lot of my inspiration always comes from just experiences I’ve had in my life, although this story is fiction, it’s inspired by events that I know of and people that I know about. But with this song in particular, first Ben did the hook on it. When I heard it there was pretty much two ways this song can go. It can either go like generic, happy party track, or I can have some sort of storytelling or a message. That is kind of what I wanted to do with this one, kind of tell a story like a situation where things go rock bottom but that there is always light at the end of the tunnel. A lot of my album, Early Believers, is about optimism and even thought there are a lot of pitfalls and darkness, there’s always light.
Reyn: Then on the next track, you used an auto-tune plugin, which I thought was very interesting coming from you. But it wasn’t like on a standard radio joint, it was done very tastefully. How did you decide to have that become an element in your music?
Kero: Yeah I definitely wanted to use it subtly, I didn’t want to over do it and get too “Love Lockdown” on people (laughs). I just wanted to experiment with it and like I said with this album, just explore new avenues and just show that I’m interested in all kinds of styles. I’ve always wanted to sing too you know, and with that it helps a lot in some parts. It was just fun to use you know.
Reyn: You produced most of the album but you also worked with DJ King Most. Talk about working with him.
Kero: Yeah King Most is a dope producer, he is form the Bay. We are actually going to be releasing his new album in the Spring time. It’s pretty cool, it features cats like Blu and Black Spade.
Reyn: Now you also feature some great artists on the album that I have been following on the underground for some time like Ben Westbech and Ohmega Watts. Talk about working with people like that.
Kero: First off, Ohmega is just a good friend of mine, and real genuine dude, so it’s really easy to connect with that guy. But because we are friends, that was just kind of a natural thing that happened. He was actually just hanging out in my place in the city and we decided to work on the track. We recorded it at my studio here, and were together while we wrote most of it as well, so that was really fun. And then Ben is in the UK and Tuomo in Finland and because of the distance we had to do the Internet thing, but it worked out really well. With Ben, I kind of knew him before because he DJ’d out and he used to ask me for some of my beats and tracks so that he could play out. And of course I loved some of his 12” that he put out. I DJ as well and I played it a lot and so. When he recorded it we went back and forth but he really nailed it. Same thing with Tuomo. I was pretty thankful for that because you just never known sometimes. Especially when people are busy, what kind of thing are they going to do on the track, but luckily those two put out some of my favorite albums, and are like my favorite singers and so there was a high rate of return on the quality so I was happy with it.
Reyn: Now you are working all over the world on your music, and you have Asian roots; will you be going on tour overseas with this album?
Kero: Yeah actually I am going to be touring a lot in Asia. I am going to be touring with this Korean pop/hip-hop group, it’s more hip-hop then pop but they are a dope group called Epic High. I will also be touring in Japan and Europe. I was there about two years ago so I am going to go back there, and of course the States. We are still in the process of lining up all the dates but we are going to hit up most of the big cities.
Reyn: What can one expect at a live Kero One show?
Kero: For this time around, I am definitely bringing in a lot more of the live element. You will probably see me playing some live instruments on stage. I also have a guy coming along that plays the electric guitar. I am also going to have a female vocalist come along with us. We are just going to try and make it really live and engaging and not so much just having a DJ and a rapper. I want to bring in that live element, yeah.
Reyn: Now you do just about everything from the business side to the music of course. How does that benefit, being in control of all elements?
Kero: The creative control of it all is just overwhelming because I can do anything in any way I want for the most part. Along with that comes a lot of important decision making. It can be a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing, but I have definitely learned a lot. And through that process I learned like how everything kind of intermingles with each other from production to rhyming to just DJing the song out. I can see how people respond to certain things. Certain formats of vinyl or certain sound quality on mp3, what works, what doesn’t work and little things like that. I think in some ways it’s cool but it’s also been a lot of hardwork and I am starting to see it pay off. And it hasn’t been easy, I’m still grinding at it, I just don’t want to wait around for someone to say, “I’m gonna do it” if their not gonna be there, like right here right now because I am not getting any younger.
Reyn: Plug Label is the label, what artists are you working with on there?
Kero: Well a lot of the artists have been up and coming talent, but talent that I firmly believe in. We have release a compilation for the label, which had artists like The Sound Providers, Aloe Blacc, Talik, DJ Mitsu just to name a few. And we also have an album just released by The Tones. I knew their album was good, but I was pretty surprised with the response that it got, so I was happy about that. Oh yeah and we are working with of course King Most, another cat Green Tea, and there are a few other artists that have already released albums out and are a little more well known but I can’t really confirm that yet, but that will be a little bit in the future.
Reyn: How does being a part of the business side help you make better music, and how does being a musician help you be a better businessman?
Kero: Yeah that’s a good question. I think the business side again, in relation to the quality of the sound I would want to have, let’s say to go to vinyl or to be performed on stage or even purchased on a CD. I think those understandings go all the way back to the production process. You can solve a lot of problems fixing it in the early stages then having to fix it later on after the song or albums been mixed and mastered and things like that. It is really hard to quantify, I just think that in terms of like certain styles of the music will do better with the crowd, but I never want to compromise the content and the overall sound just so that we can make it do better in business. If that was the case, there is definitely a whole different sound and style, and it would be pretty easy for some of the artists we work with to do that I think. For me it’s just about doing what I like to do, making the music that I like to make and pushing and promoting it as hard as possible. It’s more kind of the other way round, you know start with the product. For me that is what I have learned the most. If you have a good product, chances are it will be a lot easier to market it and push it as a business. Not everyone is going to agree that it is their type of product, but as long as I agree I am happy with it then I feel like it makes the job easier on the business side.
Reyn: Yeah I feel like a lot of your music from the art to the music to the website is just very clean and it just looks nice.
Kero: Right on, yeah a lot of it is just because I started off as a graffiti writer and just interested in art, dance, and every aspect of hip-hop. That all comes together when you talk about like artwork, and the visual. I am always working on that and trying to make that as fresh as possible. That’s what I enjoy doing, but that’s cool that you think that.
Reyn: Yeah, I really liked the album art as well, who did that?
Kero: This is done by a Japanese designer, he actually does work with Apple. His name is Kento Tanaka, yeah he is actually a friend of mine as well and just a really good designer. He does a lot of cool stuff, everything from posters for a J Dilla tour and little things here and there that you may have seen. He doesn’t really brand himself or put his name in big bold letters so not many people know I don’t think. He did this last album and my first album, Windmills of the Soul.
Reyn: You are from San Francisco; let’s talk about that a little bit. There is a lot of creativity coming out of the Bay, how does that help you be a better artist?
Kero: Well I think for one the music scene here is pretty strong in terms of people just being into things other than what’s on the radio and because of that you got a lot of diversity, which makes it interesting. You have parties that do just like afro-beat, house, funk and then you’ve got places that do like underground hip-hop, and then you’ve got like the elctro scene, and then you’ve got like the hyphy stuff. Because of so many different aspects you can find yourself something to be inspired by. That definitely is cool to be amidst all that, and just living in the city too, it’s a destination spot. Everyone wants to come to the city at some point and so you’ve got a lot of cool artists and dope acts that come through here all the time and I can just go down the street and check them out all the time. It’s definitely a convenient city.
Reyn: Definitely, and there are tons of record stores; talk about hitting up the stores in San Fran.
Kero: Oh yeah definitely, the record stores here are plentiful. I’ve spent plenty of time here, and I even take some of the Japanese guys here after they flew in and they pretty much come back with boxes of records. Yeah it’s definitely a gold mine around here.
Reyn: Anything other than the new album we can be checking out for in 2009?
Kero: As far as collaborations, I am looking to work with a bunch of international artists as I have been on this album and I just want to keep that going because there is just so much talent out there and I don’t want to just limit myself to the states. Oh, and there might be a little collaboration on the hush hush with Will.I.Am!
Make sure to go out and buy Early Believers April 7th!