Kembe X [Interview]

A few days ago, the Metrojolt crew hooked up an interview with aspiring Chicago rapper, Kembe X. Among other topics, he discusses future projects, Chicago hip-hop, and his relationship with his partner in crime, Alex Wiley. Check it out below:

How have other Chi Town rappers, like Lupe Fiasco, Kanye, and Common influenced your music? 

“Kanye and Lupe had the first 2 secular albums I was allowed to buy, because of the positive content on F&L [Food & Liquor] and College Dropout. From there I think it had a huge effect on the way I saw what good rap music was, the bar was set really high for me so by 6th and 7th grade, I was really done listening to shit on the radio. Older Kanye shit with all the passion he put into his lyrics and delivery had, and still do have, a huge impact on the way I try to do things. I also admire Kanye as a performer. I think it’s a Chicago thing to love Ye… although I don’t really like who he is now.”

What’s the next step? Is there anything that you’re currently working on that you’d like to talk about?

“Right now I’m working on a project called Soundtrack II Armageddon. Don’t know if it’ll be a tape, album series of EP’s or what… 777”

As you know, Chicago’s seen a rough summer with all the murders and violence. When you see that level of violence reflected in Chicago rap, how does it affect your music and the way you present yourself as an artist?

“It doesn’t really affect my music directly at all, just kind of knowing that some of my niggas are over in areas that are prone to fucked up shit like that happening is the only thing that really bothers me. Obviously dudes like Louie [King Louie], Keef [Chief Keef] and the rest of the GBE dudes [Chief Keef’s label Glory Boyz Entertainment], as well as other rappers that represent the more violent areas of the city portray what they deal with on a day-to-day basis. I don’t knock it. Sometimes it’s too much when paired with the reality of shit like niggas actually losing their lives over small shit but at the same time it’s their life. Personally I stay true to myself, and that’s not something I deal with.”

Recently you’ve worked a lot with friend and partner, Alex Wiley, in a group known as The Village. How did you two come together, and where do you see it going after dropping Can I Borrow a Dollar? 

“Me and Alex have been tight for a minute. Long story short, we were both dropouts at the same time so we would kick it during the week all the time. Neither of us rapped, we were just cool with each other. Eventually we got over that, I started rapping and he went back to school but when shit started to take off and he began to rap, we became more than just homies. Don’t really wanna speak on what we got going on. Just know it’s super hot and coming super soon.”

Chicago has one of the most vibrant underground hip-hop scenes and has become a sort of Mecca for up-and-coming artists. What do you think has cultivated such a vibrant hip-hop culture in your city? And what has it been like to come from that environment? 

“I think the dope thing about our hip-hop scene is that a lot of us were friends before we started rapping. Chicago is a big city, but our social circle is rather small when I think about how all of the dudes around my age coming up have known each other for 4 or 5 years, although the scene really started to spark earlier this year. It’s really cool to me.”

What’s your relationship like with some of the other known acts coming up in Chicago? Can we look forward to more future collaborations between you and people like 2008ies, Chance the Rapper, or others?

“I’ve known these dudes for years, like I said. Went to school with everyone from 2008ighties, known Chance from open mics that we used to go to like 2 years back, etc…. but I have a joint with Julian Malone from 2008ighties and Isaiah Rashad from The Village, and me and Chance haven’t really talked about doing anything, especially not a small project. Never know though.”

One thing I noticed about Self Rule is that it only has two features, one from Wiley and the other from Chance on one of the hooks. Was that a conscious decision on your part from the beginning, or just how it turned out?

“Nah it wasn’t really a conscious decision, we were friends and I liked how he [Chance] had been singing on more of his stuff at the time (way before 10 day dropped). I just hit him up and he was there, none of us were famous or known like that. It’s cool looking back.”

 You’ve been quoted saying you’re one of the best rappers to do it. How has that perspective helped you in the music industry? Who else do you think deserves a spot on that list?

While rapping and wrapping are the same exact thing, they are also completely different things. I am the best wrapper to ever do it, and forever will be. But obviously Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper ever. Haven’t you heard his stuff? It’s fucking wild. [Laughs] I be fucking around in interviews, it’s fun, but I’m never serious about anything I ever say ever.

As you know, Self Rule got a pretty dope shout out in Forbes as one of their “Best Free Albums of 2011”. Were you surprised when you found out about that? How does that motivate you going forward?

“My mom lost her mind about it. It wasn’t really a huge deal for me until I saw how OTHER people were reacting to it. It really shows me how my work is enjoyed enough to get shown love like that, which is really all that matters to me.”


Kembe’s producer, Daniel Martinez, who made the beats for “Everything to Me”, “Cold Summer”, “The Wager”, “Quarter and a Nightmare” and, my personal favorite, “Sawbuck (New Smoker’s Anthem)” also answered a few questions about his creative process and sources of inspiration. Daniel, who has a mutual friend with Kembe, mostly communicated with the rapper via email and sent him a beat tape that he had been working on. Ostensibly, five of these tracks wowed the young Kembe enough to find a feature on Self Rule. What people may or may not know is that before Daniel was making beats, he was writing lyrics. Maybe we will see a personal project of his own let loose in a few years. His musical inspirations as a child included Lauryn Hill, The Beatles, Jay-Z, and Nas. He says his production sound is heavily influenced by big production names like Dilla, Kanye, NO ID, Pete Rock, and DJ Premier. I must say, the man knows his stuff.

-Larry Mac