Q&A with Kero One

TMF grabs a word with the new golden son of Hip Hop.

Back in 2003, Kero One was a self-financed producer/rapper just desperately trying to get his work heard. Some six years later, his new album ‘Early Believers’ is set to cement his position as a true Hip Hop contender and purveyor of fine beats. Along the way he has conquered Japan, founded his own record label and won an army of admiring fans around the world.

TMF managed to catch up with the San Francisco based rapper to discuss his new album and the resurgence of bravado free Hip Hop.

Early Believers is out April 20th, are we right in thinking that the title is a thank you to people who championed your debut Windmills of the Soul?
Yes, in many ways it does but it’s also a reference to new found listeners. To me, early believers are those who whole heartedly believe in something before it becomes pop or mainstream. For example, I am an early believer because I believe in the music of Ben Westbeech – who is an amazing artist but not yet mainstream. Many Kero One fans are early believers because they listen to my music, not because it’s mainstream but because they really can appreciate the music.

To me, the album is reminiscent of artists like De La Soul, Q-Tip and Common. Is this a comparison that you see with your work?
I think so because I leave the club anthems, drugs and gun talk to a minimum. Haha. To be likened with those artists – who are pioneers in Hip Hop – is definitely an honor.

What with your album and N.A.S.A’s Spirit Of Apollo, I’m feeling like the old school vibe of Hip Hop is back; gangsta rap is yesterdays news. It’s time to party, not shoot each other, right?
I talk about what I live, some live that life (mostly in iraq and not in the music industry), but for me I talk about different struggles and moments of pain and pleasure. And yes, we all gotta have a good time to keep our minds off these crazy economic times.

Can we expect Kero One to be visiting the UK this year?
Yes, it will happen sooner or later.

Early Believers is released on your own imprint, Plug Label. How liberating is it to be in your position rather than working with a major label?
I think it has its pluses and minuses. I’ve have heard of many artists getting bullied and jerked around, even having their albums shelved on major labels. That would be a nightmare for me: to work so hard on an album and never be able to release it or have it be changed artistically.

What can we expect from Plug Label in the future?
We’ve got albums coming up from Green Tea, DJ King Most, Othello, and many more.

You’re like a God in Japan, how did that happen?
Literally overnight! It was back in 2003 and I just wanted to make my own 12” record. I didn’t understand how to make vinyl or about music distribution so I learned on my own. 50 copies were eventually distributed around the world and one landed in a tiny record store in Tokyo. A few weeks later, it was found by a Japanese DJ who played it at a club that night and received dozens of inquires, including a label representative named Yusuke at Reverve records who immediately contacted me and asked for 3,000 copies of the record.

In Japan, they love their action figures, have they made a Kero One doll yet? If so, can I get one for my fireplace?
Haha! Not yet but they have crafted a frog for me out of glass to signify Kero. In Japanese, Kero often refers to a frog.

How did you hook up with Ben Westbeech?
He’s one of my fav singers. I’ve followed his music and in fact he’s followed my beats, so we had some relationship there. He’s a busy guy but we made it happen.

Other than your own, what, if any, albums are you looking forward to hearing this year?
I’m looking forward to hearing the new Othello and DJ King Most album of course, but otherwise, I’m looking forward to a new Justice album and DJ Mitsu for the beats.

During some particularly frantic beat mixing you accidentally release the Hip Hop genie of the lamp. You are granted the wish of making THE best tune of all time, you can pick one producer and two rappers to guest alongside you, who do you choose?
Hmm. Blu, Niamaj, and Quantic Soul Orchestra.

Early Believers is available now.

Colin French

Updated: Apr 22, 2009

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