Fresh on the heels of releasing his debut project, “Late Bloomers,” the burgeoning rapper sat down with me last week in a Kingsbridge Road studio to talk about a variety of topics, for which included discussions about his upbringing in the Bronx, musical influences, how his nomadic lifestyle has inspired his music, how the death of his father helped shape the man he is today, the back-story behind his single “100 Grand,” his support team (in-house producers) and much more.
Everyone has a perspective and mindset to their material as a whole. Explain to me what’s yours in particular, and what best defines K. Mekonen’s style of music as an artist?
K. Mekonen: Well, what best describes my music is relentlessness and having the will to succeed no matter what the circumstances are. I use everything in life as a influence. Life is a never ending story in a sense, and so are my lyrics. I can take the most simple or complicated subject and turn it into a song. Me being an artist who makes unconventional music – I’m not being in a box. That's why I love jazz. Jazz can be off key at times, but you’ll understand the message of the music.
Growing up in the Bronx must’ve been quite hard. You state that you were a nomad to an extent since you moved to various places, like, down in Atlanta. How, if any, did your different surroundings help you develop your music and, also, how did being of Jamaican heritage push you as a musician?
K. Mekonen: I traveled a lot growing up and never got used to one spot. My mom was always looking for a better way to show us that there's more to life. So, living in the Bronx makes you grow up fast and not being reliant on other people. I remember walking to school at the age of five by myself or with my cousins. My cousin was opening up my mother’s beauty salon at the age of eight. We grow up rough but we made the best out of everything. From playing ball on the block, to playing man hunt, fighting, getting in trouble, and trying to bag girls. This is all at a young age. It's funny when you look back at it, uh, moving out the Bronx opened up my eyes to different lifestyles and cultures.
My first major move was to Greenburgh in Westchester County. It was the suburbs and different from where I come from. I had lots of friends and we were adventurous and inquisitive. We did lots of crazy stuff [laughs]. It was like being in a Tom Sawyer novel. We used our imagination and brought it to life. My second major move was to Trenton, NJ. Over here, I went to live with my brother and his mom. My mother and his mom became best friends after our father died -- which was weird – but all of us became close. This was the hood. It was probably the best time I ever had in my life. My brother taught me how to be a winner and be competitive. When you’re in the hood, you make the best out of the situations, even if it’s the least. I was making good grades and I was pretty advanced, but the concept of school always bored me. Being taught in a controlled setting it's like programming a robot. It’s not my cup of tea. You can't put me in box, um, I'm too smart [laughs].
My third major move was back to the Bronx. By this time I was in Trenton for a while, and my accent had slightly changed, and I was a competitive beast. All I wanted to do was play basketball and be great at it. I used to practice every day. Like, for real, I wanted to go to the NBA. People didn't see my vision, so I made it my business to show them. I played throughout high school and rarely lost. I developed a passion for progressive change in whatever I did. I was excelling and during this time my mom was ready to leave again, and at that point, I just couldn't understand. But I guess it was stemming from her previous life and past. You see, my mom was poor and so were her sisters. She always made it her business to be the leader of the family, and to get things done effectively, so I guess that's where I picked up the relentlessness. She had to be my father since he passed away when I was only three. He was gunned down in a club. I don't know the specific details but that's what I know. I have little bits of memories of him even though I was young. He was a cool dude, and from what I know and remember, he was a ladies man [laughs]. I guess that's where I get it from. Now, my next transition came when I headed down to Atlanta with my sister and mom. Coming to the ATL was a culture shock.
It was slow and people weren't really familiar with what was current at the time. The food was different and the accent was off the chain, and even the music had its own twist. It was the ending of the Crunk era and going into the Trap era. People went from throwing bows at parties, to wanting to be a trap star, and looking clean and flossy, and getting money and getting girls. I was still playing ball with aspirations of going to the NBA. But somewhere down the line I lost the passion, and after my injury, well, that was it for me. It wasn’t the same as NY. I just wasn't happy. When I got to college at Fort Valley University, I stayed there for a few semesters and I ended up dropping out. During this, I had met Jabbar Cash, who's an up-and-coming party promoter who I’d been friends with since high school. He was like my brother and so was RO Akin, who was also an artist from ATL. Being around these people made me open up, and as a person, I was always reserved and observant of what was going down.
They made want to try new things, which eventually led to music. This is where it started. I put the basketball dreams aside and decided to pursue something different. Music always came natural to me and so did the art of writing. I started to practice writing and rapping on karaoke machines and investing time into small studios. It was like being in the gym shooting jumps shots. I started to develop a love and niche for it, but something was missing. Finally, the next and last move was back to NY. I felt like my music was missing substance, like, something the world needed to hear. Like a story that was different. I came back to the Mecca which was a challenge for me, and I was going through some personal things, but I didn't lose faith. This is where the 'LATE BLOOMERS' story came about. I used everything to influence me, such as my experiences, and this is what I spoke about and made sure it was real as possible.
You lost your father at a fairly young age. Can you tell me how you were able to cope with that, what he meant to you, and how the tragic loss shaped you as a person today?
K. Mekonen: Losing my dad at young age had me confused. It made me cold-like and lack compassion. But, his death at the time had no profound effect on me, mainly because I was so young. I was just worried about other people close to me dying or passing away. I was never blessed with a genuine father-son relationship. I had a mentor and his name was Mr. Fernandez. He was someone I looked up to a lot. He would take me fishing all the time, and talked to me about life when I was getting out of hand. I was grateful for that. Having no dad made me harsh to the world. Just because there wasn’t a pops present, I didn't use it as an excuse to fail in life. I just used it as fuel. I have a big family and a lot of cousins and aunts, who also lived without dads, so we just helped each other and learned from each other mistakes along the way. It takes a village to raise a child, so my family and friends definitely came in handy.
The song “100 Grand” is a rather deep and introspective record. How did that song come about and what was the inspiration or backstory to that record?
K. Mekonen: I wrote “100 Grand” on the way to see my grandfather in the hospital, and he was suffering from cancer. While I was walking to Jacobi Hospital, I was playing Trav Is Music beats and the concept just came to me. A lot of people idolize a hundred grand as the key to unlock happiness and progression, and will do anything to get it, but it really isn't a lot of money. My goal is to be a billionaire, like, people say that's too much and it's selfish. Dr. Dre just became the first billionaire in Hip-Hop and that just shows you it's real and attainable, so why settle for less, you dig. I am going to be one myself. I already have it set in my mind. But in the meantime, y’all can bump that “100 Grand” [laughs].
In this game, there must always be a strong support system behind your craft. Can you speak or touch upon your team of people, say, Maeja and Korda Beats, or Trav Is Music? How have they been there for you and discuss how your union with these group of guys came to fruition musically?
K. Mekonen: My support team is strong. I got love for my family and friends. I couldn’t do it without them. Maeja and Korda know me the best musically and they know my sound. Sometimes I get angry and frustrated with the decisions they make, but no team is perfect these days, and I try to show them a better light and together we get it done. I met Trav Is Music through Maeja. I heard his work and was blown away. I told Maeja that homie is nice. The crazy part about it, it’s that he’s so young, and he’s killing it right now. The chemistry was there and everything flowed. It was easy for me to manifest the vision once I broke it down. Of course, there was resistance in the beginning, but with we did it collectively and came out champions. I love those guys.
So, you currently have an album set to release next week? What songs from the upcoming project are your favorites, and which of them best express K. Mekonen, such as tell your story, and what does the overall mixtape embody conceptually?
K. Mekonen: Each song on the mixtape tells a story but I think my personal favorite is “Never 2 Late.” It best describes the grind and the come up. I love the whole project, well, because it's a song there for everybody. I know the world will love it. It's a motivational story that everybody can relate to, nothing fabricated, or exaggerated. It’s a breath of fresh air.
On the record, did you incorporate any of those influences you mentioned earlier? Like, in regards to your Jamaican background and cultural mixtures?
K. Mekonen: Mostly everyone that was included on the tape’s cover artwork was an influence in some way, whether it was from a book, album, or a song. Being Jamaican gave me a vibe culture and rhythm. The father of Hip-Hop, Kool Herc, is from the Bronx. He was also a Jamaican, so that should explain it. The album is dynamic. It makes you sad, happy, and makes you laugh. I tried to tap into different feelings and emotions with my stories.
Last but not least. What in fact is your overall goal for this new record? What do you want to accomplish when it hits the web after everyone gets an opportunity to finally hear it?
K. Mekonen: I want to the world to hear my story and respect it for being the truth. My goal with the overall record is touch someone who is down and needs to be uplifted. The riches will come for sure and fame will come when it’s time, but it's not always about that. I'm a new age artist unlike no one out there. I’m creating my own lane and switching the paradigm. Things aren't easy but it isn’t hard. Once you get it – you got it – and it’s done. And that's story of the ‘LATE BLOOMERS’. Just sit back and listen and you will see the vision. I promise you that.
Editor's note: "Perfect Convo" is actually a song on the above-mentioned set, which you can listen to in full over here.