CITIZEN KAY EXPLAINS TO RIP NICHOLSON THAT MAKING HIS DEBUT ALBUM WAS AN EXERCISE OF BALANCING HIS INNER THOUGHTS WITH HIS EXTROVERTED CHARACTER BUILT FOR LIVE HIP HOP.
CITIZEN KAY interviewed @ 18:00 AEST Thursday, October 1, 2015
For Street Press Australia [READ HERE]
“The music represents my outside personality while the lyrics represents what goes on in my head,” explains Kojo Ansah, otherwise known as Citizen Kay, as to how he goes about drawing in his fans to the more serious tone behind his lyrics. “The game plan is to wrap music up into this fun atmosphere and trick people into liking it and hopefully they will eventually delve into it more.”
Born in Ghana, the Canberran rapper has grown up in Australia’s capital from the age of six and through his music has battled with topics of racism as seen through his own eyes. Putting his frustrations into hip hop has only made him stronger, albeit guised in beautifully packaged hip hop production.
“The best example is a song called Life Gives You Lemons — when most people listen to that they are going to think it’s a party song but if you look into the lyrics it’s actually about me as a young’un when I first moved to Australia and dealing with racism. It’s a really heavy topic but it’s been wrapped up in this uptempo celebratory vibe. Growing up in the Australian culture, you adopt this carefree attitude so if someone would say something offensive to me I wouldn’t blow up about it, I would just kinda brush it off, but really it made me self-conscious inside. So the approach I took with that song was the lyrics were more my inside-head while the music was how I would play it off.”
Following on from Demokracy, the mini-album released last November, Ansah’s debutWith The People is primed for a jump-off later this month and features triple j fav Wax On Wax Off. Although he’s confident of being well known across his hometown, this album marks the first body of work the MC will deliver to the Australian public representing everything that sums up Citizen Kay. This comes in response to his so-called haters who thought he just dropped that dope-ass party shit. “I can be like, “Yo! Listen to the music, braaah!’ This was the first one I wanted to put a lot of personal things into. For me this is also a chance to see how far my name has travelled.”
Ansah is gearing up for a sizeable run of tour dates, travelling the nation over the next few months, providing a chance to go live and direct with his fanbase. “It’s exciting just to get out there again. I’m someone who just loves performing and loves being on stage,” he admits. “Performing is something I’ve always done naturally.”
In preparation for his album tour, Ansah launched an exciting set at Cronulla’s Sounds Of The Suburbs event, late September, holding it down as the evening’s only rap act. “I didn’t know what I was in for, really. I realised most of the line-up was heavy rock and I was the only other genre. But playing in that environment and having that response really hyped me for the tour and reminded me how much I love being up on stage. I saw this as a ‘get back in your element’ [opportunity] before I went back out on tour. It was a good time and really reminded me of what it was about.”
Conversation with Citizen Kay
The release of your debut studio full-length With The People comes out next week, you nervous or excited?
A combination of both. I think it’s more it’s a very personal, you put a lot of work into it and you wonder if people are gonna like it, connect with it. And I think it’s exciting for the same reasons; that it is personal, I put a lot of hard work into it and I’m excited to have that out in the public eye after, you know, hearing and working on it non-stop for the past 8 months so it’s nice for it to drop and for people to hear it, finally.
When you go out and perform is that where you really get that appreciation back, or do you read reviews?
For me man, it’s mostly live. i think live is where I can really showcase everything. You can only really put so much on a record. It’s just like if you talk to someone on the internet they can show you their best selves but you don’t really know get to know a person unless you’re face to face. For me, I think I bring out my best when I am actually in the flesh and I can really portray the lyrics in my actions as well. Live is incredible. I read reviews and I take on any constructive criticism, but it’s when you read something negative with no rhyme or reason to it, is when I kinda think it’s pointless.
I guess, at least when you perform you know that’s your crew, that’s your fan-base who are showing love and that’s important feedback.
How did it shape up as the end product? Was it as you had envisioned from the start?
From the start we didn’t really know what I was getting into. The only thing i went into it with was that I wanted it be content-heavy. But in terms of the overall sound I had a completely different idea of how sonically it would be. But it wasn’t until I got in with Bed Garden who produced (the album) and saw how he works and what his strengths are is when the sonic access of the album really started coming together and it changed my whole idea and perception of what it was going to be. But once we found the middle ground between the both of us it was smooth-sailing from then on.
Sarsha Simone – gotta say she outshone you on ‘No Respect’. What a voice!! Nice pickup, man.
You ain’t gotta tell me, bro. Yep! Yep! There is another Canberran band called Brass Knuckle Brass Band and they provided most of the horns on the album and last year they were working on an album and they had Sarsha in one of their tracks and I was doing a verse on the same track and when she opened her mouth, man I was in the control room and she was in the booth and she started singing, I lost my shit dude! I was weak at the knees and I was like ‘I gotta get this chick in a song’ so once we started making the beat and instrumental on (‘No Respect’) I felt, ‘yep, I gotta have her on this!’
Lead album single ‘Wax On Wax Off’ has had great reception. That’s a dope ass Lincoln you guys were playing with in the video. You never left the garage, did you blow the budget on the sweet ride?
(laughs). It was all our director man. He does all our videos. When he first told me the idea I was a bit iffy on it but we didn’t blow the budget on the car. But when he came to me he said I want it to look really shit but to make it look good at the same time. But I honestly didn’t know what I was going in for until we actually started shooting and I got a scope of what was going on in his head. But Nick is one of those guys who has an idea and he can usually execute it in a way that no-one else would think of doing it. But, yeah he killed it on that video for sure.
You rep Canberra but originally you are from Ghana?
Born in Ghana man. Yeeeah!
How much of that culture permeates through your creativity? And how important is it for you to stay connected to your roots?
Super important now. The funny thing is I was so young when we came over here so for a long time I knew next to nothing about my background and where I was from. It wasn’t until just before this album last year that I went back to Ghana with my family for the first time in like, 15-16 years since I was 6 years old going back as a 22 year-old and it was a massive eye-opening experience dude. Just seeing how people live and meeting all this family that I never knew I had. I never thought we had much family but going back and meeting all these people that knew me so well when I was young and just the lifestyle over there was a massive eye-opening experience. The culture is so different there. What took my breath away the most was there is no middle-class there. Either you’re dirt-poor or filthy rich and what boggled me the most was half my family was really poor and the other half was really rich. And I thought, ‘you guys are family why aren’t you helping each other out,’ but that’s just the culture over there – everyone for themselves. Definitely came back with a whole new perspective and a whole new appreciation for where I am from. So, I have been looking into my roots since then and learning more about my culture and my history and hopefully I will be going back for more visits in the next couple of years and I plan to help out to start some projects back in Ghana.
Do you see yourself visiting the traditional musical instruments and fusing it with your Australian hip-hop? Did you get that bug when you were over there?
Definitely! One of the cool things my dad actually did before we went up was set up a couple of meet-ups with a few big artists over there and that was such a cool thing to do to see how they work. They are really organic with their music. They don’t spend ages editing and making it sound perfect. It’s more about the feel of it and the vibe and capturing that moment. So, yeah I’ve definitely got plans to go back and work on another project musically back in Ghana with a few of those artists. So I have kept in contact with a few of them and hopefully as another future project, pretty much exactly as you said, combine what I have learned here in Australia and what I am learning in Ghana and combine the elements to see what comes out. So you’re on the ball with that, you’re kinda telling my future here.
Guys like Diafrix do a great job of that, also.
Over your new album, apart from the musical and instrumental collaborations, it lacks in rap collabs. Was that the point to keep it pretty solo dolo?
Yeah, definitely. This was really my first body of work. Everything else I have released has been kinda like ‘here’s a track I’ve done, here’s another track I’ve done’ I never really did them as one body of work. This was the first one I wanted to put a lot of personal things into. I don’t know how many people are going to pick it up but the main aspect of all the songs was the music represents my outside personality, my socialness while the lyrics represents what goes on in my head. The best example is a song called ’Life Gives You Lemons’ when most people listen to that they are going to think it’s a party song or just a song about nothing but if you look into the lyrics it’s actually about me as a youngun when I first moved to Australia and dealing with racism. It’s a really heavy topic but it’s been wrapped up in this uptempo celebratory vibe and that’s honestly because growing up in the Australian culture you adopt this carefree attitude so if someone would say something offensive to me I wouldn’t blow up about it I would just kinda brush it off but really it made me self-conscious inside. So the approach I took with that song was the lyrics were more my inside-head while the music was how I would play it off.
Does it bother you when you’ve got a cool white-Australian crowd and you’re trying to say some shit that but they are vibing off the party music and they miss the point of your message?
I think that’s why I like to do things live. If I feel I need to I will break it down. For me the music on record and live and meeting people you get different aspects of who I am. And I think the game plan is to wrap music up into this fun atmosphere and trick people into liking it and hopefully they will eventually delve into it more. At the same time there are haters out there, ‘Oh, he’s just talking about nothing on some bullshit party album’ and I can be like, ‘Yo! listen to the music braaah!’ So that’s always the mentality I’ve always had and like I said, it reflects how I have dealt with life also. And I wanted to reflect that in the music and I think it did naturally as well. I’ve always tried to be the centre of attention, always wanting to have fun and making everyone have a good time. At the same time if you come and talk to me about something deep I’m more than happy to, you know, get into real issues and problems with the world or whatever. So yeah, I just wanted to reflect the music to who I am. For me, it can get lost. I had a single called ‘Raise A Glass’ about a year or so ago and a lot of people saw that as just a party song but it was actually about my come-up as a guitarist to rapper and about my journey so far. it was the first time I thought, ‘OK don’t always try to bring them in with the music, have a balance sometimes.’ And I balanced that off with my song ‘Freedoom’. But for this album I took that sneaky way of drawing people in with the uptempo stuff and then later in the album it gets deeper and hopefully people will go back and listen again. And one thing that was really important for me on the physical copy of the album a lyric booklet. I demanded that straight away, a lyric booklet is absolutely essential. I’m someone like that, if I listen to an album I am trying to get as much out of it as I can. The best way to do that i’d to read the lyrics and this way you get into the head of the artist.
God bless sites like Rap Genius, right? Hip-hop should always have a message, it’s a powerful weapon and that should always be harnessed in this game. Anyone can grab a dope producer and get a phat beat, that’s easy. For a rapper to under utilise this weapon is a waste, really.
Rapping is about lyricism and if you’re not trying to showcase your lyrics and content behind the lyrics you’re missing the point of being a rapper. That’s how hip-hop started and has evolved.
It also stops real hip-hop from becoming pop music. Getting some old guy to jam up the lyrics with bullshit over a dope beat.
Dude! Don’t even get me started on that. Does my head in, man.
You’re gearing up for a sizeable run of tour dates all over the country over the next few months. Is that exciting or daunting for you?
It’s exciting just to get out there again. I’m someone who just loves performing and loves being on stage. I definitely get that from my Mum who has always been the centre of attention-type person. performing is something I’ve always done naturally.
Rappers are always the class-clowns.
Yeah, exactly! So, I think I’m excited for that reason, daunting because, obviously being from Canberra I dunno how many people outside of Canberra know who I am. Daunting to see if anyone actually shows up in the other states or what-not. I guess it’s also a test to see where I’m at at this point. If I get a show with just two people I am not going to just stop because that’s just something to build on. The next time I go back I might get five people.
I’ve been to a gig with five people. Dude just kept going, he was good.
I have 100 per cent respect for that and for me this is also a chance to see how far my name has travelled.
I’ve seen you open for Seth Sentry last year. You held it down, you’ll do fine, bro.
Nah, you were good, man.
You will be riding with fellow Canberrans rappers Coda Conduct in support – what is your connection with these young ladies?
Coda! Just Canberra homies man. I have too much love for Canberra. There is so many musicians and artists. I’m actually really fresh to hip-hop and they were one of the first acts I had seen in Canberra. The energy they had was just unbelievable. They didn’t have a care in the world and I had seen them grow as artists and when I had the chance to get someone as a main support it was a no-brainer for me. Hopefully this will get them a new following through people who know who I am and they can jump onto Coda as well.
I’ve always had a thing for female rappers. You know girls they can be so quick off the lip anyway. It’s natural for them to be great MCs.
That’s another thing, I don’t think female MCs get enough of the light as well. It’s like it’s just a man’s sport and they struggle to get theirs, you know?
Last Sunday you played a set at Cronulla’s Sounds Of The Suburbs event, how was that?
It was like, I didn’t know what I was in for, really. I realised most of the line-up was heavy rock and I was the only other genre. But playing on that environment and having that response really hyped me for the tour and reminded me how much I love being up on stage. I saw this as a get-back-in your-element before I went back out on tour. It was a good time and really reminded me of what it was about.
CK, thanks for your time bro.
Thank you brother!