An Interview and Concert Review of Kota the Friend
by Noah Adaikkalam
Recently, I was lucky enough to interview Kota the Friend over the phone, and then go to his concert at the Middle East. Both in the interview and during the concert, Kota has a very strong, yet relaxed energy. He is confident in his sound, and it translates into really clean and intimate performances. I ran into him before the show, just walking around outside, and he was relaxed, all smiles, happy to see us, and happy to put on a show.
Songs were broken up intermittently by spoken word performances, slowing the already intimate concert space down for a second and making us all feel a little closer, and pay a bit more attention. It drew us all in for a second, contrasting the music's loud magnetism with a quiet unity.
He brought people up three times, and I was lucky enough to go up twice. While performing songs, if the audience was especially into it, Kota would let the people in the front finish his bars. He glanced over the entire audience, locking eyes with people who could sing the whole bars. During “Colorado,” him and I shared one of those moments.
Kota the Friend is an extremely talented Brooklyn based artists on the brink of hitting it big. Beyond just a musician, Kota is a level headed man who wants to influence the world through his art, regardless of its medium. I wanted to interview him and hopefully get a chance to share what he has to say. I asked him about his music, music videos, his brand, his journey and Brooklyn.
Below you can read our interview:
Would you mind saying a little bit about the process from highschool to now in your career, and what that was like?
When I was in highschool I was just trying something different. I didn’t like school, you know? I didn’t like the system, I didn’t like how everything was run, I was just like “I didn’t wanna be part of the same system everyone is part of” where they go to school, they go to college, they get a degree... So I was thinkin’ that way in like the 10th grade… I’ve been working since I was 13, so I was using that money to create shirts, and I was giving them out to my friends. I was putting together showcases and little venus, it was like a big deal. There’s an article where Joey BadA$$ is talking about rapping outside the venu where I was doing my show... And now, it’s like present day, where I have a lot of fans, and internationally, and I figured it was the perfect time to bring that back, and now it’s way easier for me to merch, it’s way easier for me to, you know, everything is very organized, it makes sense cause I’m older, everyone around me is older, and I have people helpin’ me.
I like your music videos a lot. It’s a really good vibe you have as a videographer and the way you are able to visualize your sound is something really awesome. What got you started on that? How do you feel as a director?
When I’m making the music I can already imagine the video. What I do in my videos is I kinda just create a theme. I started doing my one shot videos because I didn’t have the money to get a real video shot, with drones or multiple camera angles, and this, and the moving camera. I have equipment, but I can’t pay somebody the right amount to actually get it done the right way. So I found a way to get it done really clean. I can do it by myself, I can edit it the way I wanted too, and it’ll come out dope. So I just pushed the envelope of creativity, I was like “You know what, I’ll do one shot videos and I’ll just make the shot look hella dope.” So that’s what I focus on, I just focus on making that one shot look hella good, and then I put it through the editing, color grade it. I just got really good at this specific thing and that has gotten better over time.
Are you worried about our sound kind of Shifting or changing like too much as you get bigger as you grow more as an artist like why or why not?
I’m not really scared about that because I know whatever it is I make is going to be true to who I am and it’s going to be real and untampered with. Nobody is going to touch the sound except for me. Whatever I make, the fact that it is going to come from me, it’s going to resonate with people and people are going to connect. No matter what it’s going to be a direct representation of what I am going through, or what's on my mind, the people I’m meetin’, the place I’m goin. I look at it as art. I don’t look at it as “because public opinion was this my project isn’t good.” So yea, I’m not really afraid about that.
How do you feel about the gentrification taking place in Brooklyn and what do you hope to either keep afloat or bring back to the community with your music?
Um, gentrification is definitely a problem, ya know. Culturally it really messes with things because certain people are targeted and certain people benefit. That’s really what’s messed up about it. It’s happened before it even happened in my community. I guess what I try to do is like, I’m from a neighborhood that was really gentrified, but I don’t shy away from saying that I’m from where I’m from because there are still people just like me left over in the neighborhood that represent a deeper sense of community because we’re still here. Honestly, I just wanna represent my neighborhood the best I can, and at the same time I’m the last remnants of it. I’m here to remind people of what it used to be and the ideas that come out of it.
I noticed a lot of your stuff is under your own label right, FLTBYS? How have you managed to make that work, and do you hope to continue producing stuff under your name?
Honestly the longer that I do music and the more fans that I get, the less appealing anything else looks. The less appealing a record label or a record deal, the fact that in 2019, it’s not 2018 anymore, the fact that in 2019 we have all these opportunities as artists to do what we want the way we want with our own resources. You’re literally paying 50 or 20 dollars a month per album, and less for singles, to get em published and put em on all streaming services, so that's a crazy opportunity for us to do our own marketing and get ourselves out there. We don’t have to be discovered anymore. That's the beauty of it, it’s freedom, you can’t put a price on freedom.
At this point in your career, what would you say has been the your biggest achievement, the moment you look back on and you feel the best about, professionally speaking?
Its honestly to pinpoint one thing. Cause, the way I felt when I step foot in South Africa was unmatched, and then at the same time, the way that I felt when I stepped foot in Europe was crazy. The build-up. I don’t think that I had a real moment, it was such the steady build up, it was grind, and sweat, and blood and tears and all that. It wasn’t like I got picked up by somebody or got signed and then I was popping. But I do remember a moment where it was just like “wow, I made it from a certain place to another place” and that was when I did my first show in LA... But literally, we start walking up to the venu and all I hear is “Yo Kota, Kota” and everybody is on the line for me. I’m signin peoples shirts, I’m signin peoples arms, I taking picture with everybody, I have to borrow somebody's phone so I can take a picture with somebody. It was just crazy. The love that they showed me. It was the first time that anything like that had ever happened. That's when I realized, “yo, we really did this, and we really doing it.”
Who do you think are the people around you that supported you through rough times?
I owe that to a few people. My parents, some beautiful people, they’re there for me. Obviously they had some doubts about my life style but now they understand. My dad, he’s always ready to help me, and after awhile he definitely believed in everything I say and do. My homegirl, she’s been with me on tour, to africa, to europe, around the country. Her name is Lizzy and she’s a singer herself, she’s dope. The mother of my child, she’s helped me, a lot of times, with her opinion, and just being there. Honestly, there's more people, but I’ve always been able to choose good friends, everybody in my life is kinda this great person that I’m tryna learn from.
Your music kinda cycles back, there will be a whole project, and then kinda three or four singles, and then another project, and then however many singles. Do you kinda wanna speak to that process or your creative process as a whole?
Honestly, the way I look at music is this really unconventional way. Like I drop music when I wanna drop music. A lot of people, they’ll create a plan, but there’s so many things I wanna do other than music in the future, and right now, I wanna put out music, so I’m gonna put out music. I’m not afraid of getting a response from blogs, or the “response I want.” I feel like anything will blow up when it’s supposed to. An so, I kinda just release music and keep on doing my thing. If I wanna release something, I’ll release it, if I don’t then I don’t release it. I don’t uh, go by any rules that people create. I don’t drop stuff Monday when everybody is by they computer and gets to work. When you think, people say “I don’t care,” but then they go by every rule in the book. I started thinking like, “I really don’t care.” So I don’t really have a process. I’m droppin singles, I’m droppin music, people love it, I’m droppin videos, bein’ creative, keepin it goin and when I’m ready to do an album, people will know that I’m doin’ an album.
I am extremely thankful that I got the opportunity to interview, meet, and go up on stage with him. KOTA the Friend brings a unique, grounded, jazz and rap, sound that speaks to his Brooklyn roots. He should have some new merch dropping soon and just released his new single, with his trademark one shot video, “Off White.” Keep your eye on his Twitter and his website for new music and new merch.