Montreal, QC – October 28th, 2008 marked a significant day for French Canadian rapper, songwriter and producer, K.Maro; he released his first English album, Perfect Stranger. However, no stranger to the urban European market, this is his fourth album release since his solo debut, I Am à L’ancienne, in 2002. He released La Good Life, in 2004 selling over 300,000 albums worldwide. He then went on to release his third album, Million Dollar Boy, following up with a staggering 200,000 copies sold internationally. He has since been named Canada’s biggest selling hip-hop artist.
Having dominated airwaves in Europe, K.Maro is ready to take over the Canadian scene with his much more than music. He’s come a long way considering he began his career at the age of 15 with his group, LMDS. After achieving heightened success within the group he moved on to pursue his solo career. He is now the CEO of his entertainment company, K.Pone Inc., managing top selling French R&B singer, Shy’m, and French rapper, Vai. The company is currently adding English acts to its roster, hoping to build the same success they’ve built overseas. In addition to the success of his music career, K.Maro is preparing for the launch of his clothing line, Balbec, which is aimed at being the new luxury brand for casual street wear.
A man of many talents, K.Maro is about to take the world by storm for the umpteenth time in his career. After millions sold and many influenced, K.Maro is on top of his game; Canadian artists, take notes.
HipHopCanada: Hey, K.Maro, how are you – busy with interviews I assume?
K.Maro: [Jokingly] Yes, what do you want, we’re back at this now. Back at it.
HipHopCanada: You released your fourth album, Perfect Stranger, on October 28th, how does that feel?
K.Maro: It feels good. It’s been like two years and a half or three years [that] I didn’t release new material. My last album was a platinum remix album so it was a remix of my past songs. So it’s been three years [since] I [have] put out new material so it feels good. I feel like I’m back in the game now.
HipHopCanada: And how long had you been working on this album?
K.Maro: I would say for about 15 months; a year and a half, let’s say.
HipHopCanada: Having three previous successful albums, how does Perfect Stranger differ?
K.Maro: Well, the English people are finally going to understand what I’m talking about [Laughing]. I think that’s the main difference because my first records were in French. It’s a jump that I wanted to do for a little while now but . . . everything was so fast with my French career that I couldn’t really stop the process and just be selfish and make an English album right away. I wanted to pursue what I started and I think it was a time for me just to take a break and be able to do that English record. I wouldn’t say that it’s totally different fro what I do in French . . . phonetics are different and sounds [are] a little bit different but I feel that my French record gave me the opportunity to get more maturity, understand the game a little bit more, look at my mistakes and try to see how we can be better from album to album. I think it’s a little bit more mature, I’ve taken a little bit more responsibility toward kids that are watching and that my success story can be inspiring to them. I’m talking a lot more about hat on this record then I did on the past ones.
HipHopCanada: Taking it back to when you were 15 and you were a part of the group LMDS, how and why did you decide to go solo?
K.Maro: When you start so young in a group, and it lasted for almost five years, you’re so young, you’re in a band, and you don’t really know a lot about the business. [Our] first record came out, we sold 40,000 of them in Quebec, so at that time for French hip-hop it was just huge. You go on tour, you’re 16, and you have teachers follow you on the road. Everything goes so fast that you wake up suddenly after 5 years and you just feel like you want to talk about different [things] than everybody in the group, you want to talk about your own things. If you just had an inspiration at night or with a girl or whatever and you want to talk about it, you don’t necessarily want to share it with everybody . . . That’s the first thing that made me want to go solo; I wanted to talk about my own things, I wanted to try to be creative [in] my own way.
HipHopCanada: Definitely. You’ve experienced both the industry and the Canadian industry – how would you compare the two?
K.Maro: It’s difficult to compare because they’re so different. In North America, hip-hop and urban music are much more developed than it could be in Europe, except for a couple of markets like France, for example, or Germany, they’re a little bit more aware. You have a lot of educating to do hip-hop wise in Europe. When you tour, when you go out there, most of the people that come see you at the venue listen to a lot of different kinds of music, not only hip-hop; they’re not heads. From time to time you’re going to do a little concert in front of three or four hundred people that are only hip-hop heads and they’re going to understand and know all about the gimmicks and the swagger but the rest of the people are just regular European people that listen to pop [or] rock & roll. They can listen to anything from Nickelback to Jay-Z to Chris Brown and to you also. So it’s technically a different approach when you’re over there. You have to push the mainstream side of your music a lot more than you have to do in North America. I’ll give an example: the same radio hits you do here in Canada, you would have to add about 10 to 12 more music tracks on this record to push it on radio in Europe. Because they’re not used to drums, bass and a hook or a musical hook; they’re a little bit more Europeanized so they’re more oriented to dance music. Definitely music that is richer with live instruments. [That is] the first big difference. The second difference is that they [Europeans] don’t have that culture about hip-hop as a lifestyle, a way of life; for them it’s more of the new trend, the new music that you have to like. They’ve got 50, they’ve got Kanye, they’ve got T.I., the Top 10 Billboard are definitely known over there but, for example, when you talk about Wayne or his Carter 3, or Jeezy or people like The Clipse, all those kinds of right hand acts that are definitely so important for hip-hop, they don’t have that side of the culture. On an album of 12 songs they’re going to appreciate maybe four or five more mainstream songs and the more street songs.
HipHopCanada: So will Perfect Stranger be released worldwide or just in Canada?
K.Maro: There will be a release of that album in every single country that released my French record, so we’re talking about 20 countries. They’re not going to happen all at the same time; we have a couple of countries that are going to release it next month, some of them are going to release it in January, but let’s say by March 15th everybody will have released the record.
HipHopCanada: And how do you think the European industry, since you’ve done so well over there in the past, will take to your full English album?
K.Maro: It’s difficult to say because it’s definitely a market where I’ve been, done some promo, done concerts and everything – that’s the good part of it. The other part of it can be a little bit trickier. It’s definitely more Americanized than what I did before. I don’t know if it’s as Europeanized as my first two or three French records that I’ve released. I did this record because it was really a challenge for me, I wanted to do it. I just created it the way I had it in mind. A lot of Canadians are telling me, “wow, we like it because it’s very Europeanized.” A lot of European people are telling me that it’s very U.S. So it’s a difficult call. It’s really the album I wanted to make and when I listen to it now, after a year and a half that I’ve been working on it, I’m totally happy; it was what I had in mind and the picture I had of the album. So that for me is already a win-win, the rest I’ll just let the people decide.
HipHopCanada: Was Perfect Stranger completely composed by Louis Côté?
K.Maro: We always work the same way. All the melodies you hear I’ve come up with. I always work with Louis for everything that has to do with the range, mix and direction basically so we co-compose everything.
HipHopCanada: So it was just you and him that worked on the whole album?
K.Maro: We worked with a couple of beat makers from Montreal . . . but since it was my first English record I wanted to keep it as much in aspect as possible just to preserve that sound.
HipHopcanada: As the CEO of your entertainment company, how do you decide what other artists you bring onto the team?
K.Maro: Up to now I was definitely focusing on French music, so that was the first thing. We got a lot of very talented English rappers, R&B singers, Pop singers that came to us and ’til the beginning of last year we didn’t do any English acts. So that was the first thing we were looking for. We do urban, we do pop-rock, we do a little bit more of a street vibe, a little bit more mainstream so it doesn’t really matter as long as we get the artist whatever he wants to do. We don’t try to force anything here at the company. If we are able to get in the artist’s world and we can understand it, then we’re going to be able to sell it to a lot of people. For example, the female soul artist that we signed two years ago called Shy’m that sold 450,000 records in France off her first [record]. When I saw that girl I saw the French Aaliyah . . . and that’s what she wanted to do, that’s how she presented herself to us. So we took a year to build her album, to build her whole strategy around this and the next day she’s one of the biggest, if not the biggest, sellers in soul music in France. Same thing for Vai, our French rapper, that is a number one selling artist in France also. It’s always that we need to understand what this artist wants to do, where he wants to be, what makes him different from the rest and what we can do for him to push him to the next level. If we understand all this then it’s not that hard for us to get in the studio and do music. Music should always be just a celebration; we shouldn’t be doing music because we have something in mind marketing wise or strategic wise. We try to understand if we can be the team for this artist, if this artist knows exactly where he wants to go and if everything is clear then we hit the studio and do music. That’s how we work. It’s been four months now that we’ve started developing the English catalogue so we are looking for English acts.
HipHopCanada: Moving onto another one of your many talents, your clothing line will be released soon. How did that idea come about?
K.Maro: I was spending too much money in stores [Laughing]. It’s weird because I’ve always liked fashion, I’ve always made sure that I was dressed properly; the way I looked was always important to me. I’ve always liked fashion but maybe not to the point that I was so sick about it that I wanted to draw my own things; I came to a point where I couldn’t walk into an urban store and find anything I liked. Everything was just getting too baggy, everything was getting so over [priced]. It’s as if what I wanted in street wear was nowhere in stores, with no disrespect to any hip-hop brands. You could wear Roc-A-Wear, you could wear Sean Jean, you could wear Phat Farm, almost any brand – you would have a different T-shirt but you have the same cut, the same fit. And I spent so much time in Europe with the success of my French career [and] over there they’re way more advanced fashion wise than us. They have different kinds of trends, they have the Italian market that is so close and this is where the idea came from; I wanted to do an urban brand that I could wear and I could feel comfortable with . . . not taking a grey, white or black T-shirt and just putting a tag on it. [That] is how the idea started.
HipHopCanada: So the name, Balbec, what exactly does that mean?
K.Maro: It comes from Lebanon, the mountains in Lebanon; it’s a region that always was associated [with] success, even during the war . . . people were escaping the war and going there. They had theatres, restaurants, nightclubs, a ski station. Basically it’s an upscale, really trendy spot where, unfortunately, we didn’t have the money to go but we were living on the road to go there. So I was seeing all those luxury cars and buses of rich people going [to] Balbec. It was a symbol that one day I would go [to]; one day I would go there, I would go skiing and, fuck it, I’m going to enjoy that life. The first time I even thought about a name for the collection it just popped up.
HipHopCanada: And had you been thinking about creating the collection for a long time?
K.Maro: The name was right away, I just to [do some] research for the copyright because I had to get the “okay” from the city. And then I had to make sure that nobody had it but the idea came right away. The collection, it’s been almost two years [in the works] because a lot of hip-hop brands, what they do, is go get a major company in the back and they just endorse it. We didn’t do that. We built it up from scratch so I had to go to India, I had to go to Turkey, I had to go to Indonesia and find all the right people for the kind of style that I had for the collection. That took me a good two years plus hiring the good designers, the good drawers, it’s a very big process when you want to do it properly, by yourself without just selling it to any major company. I would say it’s been about two full years and we’ll be ready to be in stores next summer.
HipHopCanada: Where will we be able to find Balbec?
K.Maro: We’re just finishing our round of sales so I think by mid-January we’re going to be able to post on the internet all the points of sales [where] you can find it in Canada and in Europe. You’re going to be able to find it in Canada, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany and Russia.
HipHopCanada: That’s great; it makes the line seem so universal. Will the prices be affordable?
K.Maro: Yeah, anywhere from 30 bucks to 80 bucks. For all kinds of different products, you can find whatever you need.
HipHopCanada: Well, we’ve touched on all of your talents so what can look forward in the future of K.Maro?
K.Maro: For me it’s as if I were starting from scratch . . . this album is going to be a development album. I think people, even if I had the digits I had in French, will take the time to discover my album. So I’m probably going to spend the next year promoting this album and take the time to push it as much as I can, get ready for the launch of the collection and start coming out with my little surprises on my English catalogue.
HipHopCanada: Okay, well thank you so much for your time and good luck with your future endeavours.
K.Maro: No problem.
Editor’s note: For more information on K.Maro check out http://www.kponeinc.com.
Written by Chantle Beeso for HipHopCanada