Our first 5E interview of 2019 is one that I was very excited to have.
It's rare that I'm a fan of an entire record label roster. Most of the time a label has one or two stars and then the rest are half decent but nothing to fawn over. When it comes to NC based Jamla Records? Oh yea. I'm a fan of them. From top to bottom, their roster of artists and producers are, in my opinion, the deepest squad in Hip-Hop right now. The quality is high and the individual skills are so diverse. There's something for everyone.
For this interview, I talk to the latest addition to Jamla. An Oakland, CA native, Ian Kelly has hit the ground running as soon as he signed. Dropping his debut EP "CHAMPIAN" late last year. An EP that I enjoyed so much, I put it in my Top 10 EP's of 2018. And shortly after that, I asked if he was down to tell his story. He accepted. And here we are.
We talk about his origins, what makes Oakland so special, his first love, what his previous alias K.E.L.L.S stands for and of course we talk about Hip-Hop & his place in it. So, without further ado. Mr Ian Kelly. Enjoy.
C: I like to start always at the beginning, so where we're you born? What was life like for you as a kid and what was the world around you like?
IK: I was technically born in Hayward, Ca, but my parents live in Oakland so whenever my mom left the hospital, they brought me over to Oakland. My life as a kid was a good one. Spent a lot of time with family. Remember having a cool amount of friends. I was always right in the middle. I’d get along with the kids I went to school with who were considered “the good kids” but then in the evening was playing pop warner football with the quote on quote “hood kids”. So I got to learn a lot on both ends. The world around me always kept me on my toes. My Dad used to live in Maxwell Park so everybody knows ain’t no funk happening over there. It’s a cool area but my mom used to live right on High St. for a year or two during a time in my life where I was taking everything in. And we also lived in a bunch of other places in Oakland and other cities. So I guess you can say my life was forever changing. I was always seeing something from both ends of the spectrum.
C: A lot to chew on there! I feel like I'm going to learn a lot here but we'll put a pin in some of those, I want to dig into your family dynamic first if you don't mind. What's your family makeup (siblings, extended family etc.) and more specifically, how important were your parents in your personal development?
IK: I have a mom, my dad past away five years ago, a sister, and a brother. Man, my parents in my personal development as a person taught me a lot. My Dad and I used to always talk about life and my moms is a real OG. Tougher than most people I know.
C: That's what's up. Sound like good people. For those that don't know Oakland, which includes me admittedly. We'll get into the historic Hip-Hop scene soon. But what is it about Oakland as a city and your defacto home town that makes it special in your view?
IK: Just the mentality of where I’m from I feel like it’s real different than most. It’s very diverse in Oakland CA which I feel makes it more unique than a lot of places. The culture of the Bay Area is different than the other parts of CA too. But The Town specifically is the grandfather of dope and the hustle. I feel like that in general just changes the mentality of most people. With Oakland being the home of the Black Panthers you’ll find many people don’t have a problem speaking their mind in Oakland CA.
C: It's so interesting you say all that because I watched "Hip-Hop Evolution" last year and they did an episode on Oakland. That's exactly the kinda stuff that was told on the episode. You said that you bounced around Oakland & other cities throughout your childhood and was kept on your toes. What were the kind of things that went on in Oakland that warranted you needing to be "on your toes"?
IK: Hearing things such as gun shots randomly at different times of the day. Seeing side shows randomly. Seeing kids get outta school and set up fight locations. Getting off the bus at night with my loved ones and just making sure the person behind us isn’t creeping up too close. Just knowing your surroundings and embracing it to the point your home becomes comfortable to you. I love the The Town, good bad and ugly.
C: Well said. So as a kid, we could say that you had the ability to absorb many elements of the world around you. With that said, let's dip into some music! First off, what was the music you were hearing at home? What was your family blasting on the regular?
IK: There’s a radio station back called 102.9 KBLX and every Sunday pops would turn on that station and all the old school cuts would start playing. Like Earth Wind &Fire and The Isley Brothers. I found hip hop on my own and through my cousins.
C: So how old were you at the time when you found Hip-Hop? And what's your earliest memory of it?
IK: I was 6 years old when I discovered Hip Hop. My cousin played Too Short "Short but Funky" and that's when I fell in love with Hip Hop.
C: Oh right so very early! That was $hort's first proper record if I'm correct. So with that said, you grew up as Oakland Hip-Hop was growing up and becoming a hotbed for great music. Was music your first love so to speak?
IK: My first love actually was football. That’s all I ever wanted to do was be a football player, but music use to keep me focused while playing.
C: I see, let's talk about that then for a bit. You mentioned playing Pop Warner as a kid, how far did you go from a playing aspect?
IK: I stopped right after high school. Good time, good experiences, a lot of life lessons.
C: No injuries?
IK: Broke my arm twice. One time at 10 and then the next year at 11.
C: Damn okay then! So what was it about Football that caught you as a kid?
IK: I just used to love the competitive and gladiator mindset that came with it. Met A lot of friends that became like brothers after football. Wanted to go pro but never really grew too much. I was cool though.
C: Fair enough. So you're done with football. What happens next for you after that? Focus on school? Find a new passion?
IK: After football I was really focused on school but music was a hobby. My senior year of high school was the first time I rapped on the mic. But my hobby would soon turn into a passion.
C: And you opened that perfect door to the next chapter. Tell me about that first time you hopped on the mic? Where was it? Why did you do it at that moment and most importantly... How were the bars?!
IK: First time was when I was 18 at my friend Julian’s crib, who’s like a brother to me. I just wanted to try it out. It looked fun and I knew I had a little bit of rhythm so putting something together shouldn’t be too hard. Man my first bars were struggles! Of course I liked them at the time but yea definitely growing pains.
C: So it started from there, how long was it before you said to yourself "I should explore this more"?
IK: My Freshman year going into my sophomore year of college is when I started picking it up a lil' more. Really didn’t take rap too serious til my Senior year of college. Always loved rap and the culture but I didn’t find confidence with rapping til later on.
C: I asked what your family blasted, once you had the ability to explore your own tastes, what we're you into at that time?
IK: A lot of Hip Hop and R&B. I would spend days sneaking and watching music videos and I would always go into my dads car before I got a CD player and would play cassettes in his car. A lot of Jay Z and Brandy.
C: So when you start to take things seriously, what was it that you wanted from it? A sense of purpose? Because you felt that you had a talent for it? A good feeling inside that you didn't have since playing football as a kid?
IK: I mean once I felt myself getting better I just wanted to be heard. Felt like if people would listen then they could catch something in the music that helps them out. But it became something I love to do. Something I think about everyday. That’s when I realized this is what I need to be doing.
C: So I've looked around and if I'm correct, you have two projects on SoundCloud under the name K.E.L.L.S?
IK: Yup K.E.L.L.S. was my name before Jamla signed me. Stands for "Killing Every Last Line Soulfully! as well as is my nickname.
C: Oh good, you answered my next question! Liking the message behind the name there. So you have a couple projects there and many songs/freestyles. (and I'll link them here) As an artist, d'you look back at the projects fondly?
IK: I looked back at "Good $hit Vol. 2" last year one time in 2018 around September for nostalgia purposes but man I rarely listen at my old stuff these days. Every now and then someone may shoot me text like “Bruh, you remember this?” and send me an old song I made back in the day.
C: Alright so now we get to more recent events... And we have to start with your call up to Jamla. When did they show interest in you and how long was it after that moment when you would eventually join the squad?
IK: I had been around Jamla for two years. Truth be told, I had no idea I’d be getting signed. GQ on Jamla Records started a creative collective called ODS (One Day Soon). Initially I was just working on my project and preparing to drop it with ODS, while Jamla was guiding us and showing us the ropes. They first let me know they wanted to sign me in July of 2018. That same day I said yes.
C: Not the worst surprise in the world! That's fire, congratulations on that end. So I assume the project you were working on was your debut EP on the label?
IK: Nope, I have another project I already had been working on so stay tuned for that. Many people think "CHAMPIAN" was an album but it’s actually an EP. I’m gearing up for my album now.
C: Oh right! Well, looking forward to that for sure! So let's talk about "CHAMPIAN". As you know I had it in my Top 10 EP's of 2018. I enjoyed it a lot. Got "Deja Vu" on the Regular Rotation. But what was your overall aim for that project?
IK: Man thank you for that. That means a lot. My overall aim for that project honestly was just to showcase versatility. Each one of the songs that me and 9th picked I felt provided a different mood. Certain songs he told me we had to put on and I trust his perspective and guidance.
C: Ah good, perfect segue to the next question. And feel free to cut through my blatant subjectivity on this one... What's it like working with my favourite Producer of All-Time (9th) and one of the greatest beat collectives (Soul Council) in Hip-Hop History?
IK: Feels special to be around 9th and The Soul Council. All down to earth people and all are monsters at what they do.
C: Perfect. Penultimate question: So what is next for you? What are you seeking next?
IK: Working on creating more content, finding a way to get on the road and tour, and working on my album. I see no ceilings and only room for more growth.
C: That's what's up. I'll be sure to peep you if you come across the pond. Final question: What's your Top 5?
IK: That’s always a sticky question but i'm going to say Jay Z, Andre 3000, Tupac, Eminem, and Lil Wayne. No exact order.
C: Top 5 Rappers All-Time, kept it simple! I respect that. Mr Kelly, that's concludes our interview!
Thank you for reading, hope you enjoyed it I have embedded Mr Kelly's EP "CHAMPIAN" below, please give it a listen, you won't be disappointed. Thanks again to Ian Kelly. See y'all next time.