Being a Struggle Rapper isn’t necessarily a bad thing: KIV’s new mixtape explores the come up
London, ON – At the beginning of April, London artist KIV dropped a brand new 10-track mixtape titled Struggle Rapper.
We got to see the roll-out for this one when KIV released the video for “Sudden Moves” at the beginning of the year. But I wasn’t really sure what to expect with the mixtape. “Struggle Rapper” is a term that has a very negative connotation.
When you think about struggle rappers, you think about the guys yelling “I’M BRINGING REAL HIP-HOP BACK!” who steal beats and still don’t understand what mixing and mastering is, and stuff. Struggle rappers are the butt of industry jokes, and often blamed for all of the stigmatization of hip-hop.
But KIV decided to show us a different side of the Struggle Rapper struggle. Inspired by an article he read on HipHopDX, KIV decided to make a mixtape about the come up.
Struggle Rapper is a balanced commentary on the realities of coming up as an artist. KIV drew sonic inspiration from boom bap and mixed it with some new wave influence to create an updated 2017 spin on the old school. He takes us through his journey, and tells us his story. He is – after all – just another Struggle Rapper on the come up. Take in the mixtape below, and check our Q&A with KIV after the jump.
HipHopCanada: Start off by telling me about the significance of this project to you. I feel like this is both your A) best and B) most genuine release to date.
KIV: I’m really happy with how this mixtape came together. In comparison to the past two mix tapes I released, this one took some more time to wrap up. We recorded a lot of songs for this one, trimmed the track list down and re-worked a lot of the tracks as well. After listening to the whole thing from front to back I feel that the end result was worth it. I’m really proud of my last two mix tapes, but they were more so a collection of songs. I wanted to focus on a theme for this one and have it present throughout the whole project. I always try to make the tracks relate to where I’m at, and I think this time around I wasn’t as apprehensive with getting too personal and just went with it.
HipHopCanada: You’re very particular with the people you choose to collaborate with. And I feel like because you’ve been collaborating with so many of the same people for so long, I almost expect your sound to have certain flavour to it, depending on who you’re collaborating with. What elements do each of your collaborators bring to the KIV sound. And what collaborations on this project are you most excited about?
KIV: I feel that when you’re collaborating with any artist the relationship is key. I’ve got a solid relationship with all of these guys and always look forward to working with them. I’ve known Kurke White and Duane Thomas since I was in high school. And they’re always holding me down with any project I put out. Ipkiss and I are always working on tracks together and I think we have a good idea of what complements both of our styles when it comes to beat selection and all that. Working with Casper The Ghost has been a lot of fun. He’s got an amazing work ethic and goes off on every track. We’re plotting a few ideas out that I’m excited to start working on. Working with A-fos on “Home” was a really cool experience too. He definitely got me to go outside of my comfort zone with that track and I’m really happy with how it came out. Audie always brings the harmonies and it was good to connect with him on “Just Friends.” I was really looking forward to working with all of these artist on the mixtape. So I can’t say which one I’m most excited about. Everyone killed it. I think the most interesting story is how Ali Good and I got on the mic for “Trouble.” Ali Good is an amazing emcee out of Detroit. He submitted music to The Come Up Show radio and as soon as I heard the tracks he sent in I hit him up on Twitter. We sent a couple tracks back and forth, built up a good foundation and finally got to connect on trouble. I think we have similar styles and I really dig the content he raps about.
HipHopCanada: Which song is most significant to you on here and why?
KIV: The most significant track to me on this project is “Show Me the Money.” The James Brown intro talks about how when he was younger he was a shoe shine boy in front of a radio station making 10 cents a day. At the end of the clip we find out that he went on to become the owner of the station after he made it. “Show Me the Money” is essentially the “Started from the Bottom” mentality. The whole song represents that move.
HipHopCanada: I think Struggle Rapper is a term that has a really negative connotation. But what you’ve done with this body of work is shown the realities – both good and bad – of what it means to be a Struggle Rapper.
KIV: I read an article a while back called “In Defense of the Struggle Rapper” and that’s what kind of sparked the whole theme for this mixtape. The article talked about the different stages rappers (any artist really) go through. The article didn’t shine a negative light on emcees; it described how the game is different than most artists think it is when they get started. It talked about rappers spilling out their early attempts at music, finding their sound, so on and so on. I thought the whole premise of the article was an interesting look at the come up and I haven’t heard too many artist talk about it. The article also talked about prominent artist come ups. Like Jay-Z’s first awkward music video, the kind of music K. Dot put out before he became Kendrick Lamar. Those two examples are obviously big shoes to fill, but it was really inspiring to me. I don’t necessarily want to be associated with “Struggle Raps” but when you listen to the whole project I think the point I was trying to make comes through.
HipHopCanada: On the production side of things, talk to me about your influence and your process for creating the beats. I know you used a lot of throwback samples. And the overall project definitely has more of an updated boom-bap vibe to it.
KIV: I love looking for samples. I remember when I was in high school finding a video of Kanye West chopping up samples on FL stuido before The College Drop Out was released. And I became obsessed with it. So I always like to have a few sampled beats on any project. We also got our hands on some sample-free beats for this project. They still had that boom bap feel to them but with all original instrumentation. “Vultures” is a good example of that vibe. I have a video for that on the way with the OMG 519. I got to link up with A – Fos for the track “Home” which is a song I’m really excited about. It was a lot of fun getting into the studio with him and Jason to put that track together. It’s a different vibe from the rest of the project and I’m happy with how it turned out. There’s also some 90’s-2000’s nostalgia on the mixtape too. I went over Lupe Fiasco’s “Day Dream”, EMPD’s “The Joint” and Musiq Soulchild’s “Just Friends” because those are some of my earliest hip-hop favorites, and tracks that I’ll never get tired of hearing.
HipHopCanada: I feel like this project has a very cinematic progression. Because it starts off with “Vultures” – which is this ultimate struggle rapper anthem about trying to navigate through the industry vultures. And then it goes through a slew of songs about industry before switching up pace and finishing with “Home” and “Just Friends” – which are more personal life, relational-focused records.
KIV: I feel that each song is pretty emotionally driven. Any independent artist out there would agree that there’s a lot of highs and lows when you’re trying to get your music out there. And this whole project is just a celebration of that. The beat selection kind of drives the mixtape. It’s pretty light-hearted at the start, gets a little moody in the middle and has a nice resolve at the end. As far as personal life, I feel like it all fits together. Hip-hop is a big part of my life and I try to put as much of myself into each track.
HipHopCanada: Talk to me about some of the most “struggle rapper” experiences you’ve encountered lately – both good and bad.
KIV: It’s hard to say, really. I’ve done sets that have gone over really well and others that could have gone better but that’s how it goes. I just try to take something away from each experience and grow from it. I’m really appreciative of the support that friends and family have given me so I’d have to say that’s the best experience.
Interview conducted by Sarah Jay for HipHopCanada