PRODUCED BY KILIHIPPIE
A YOUNG HEISENBERG IN BLOOM
The stress of producing content in an insatiable internet age can be overwhelming because the music industry's pace nowadays demands near-constant output, especially if you're starting out. But what they don’t tell you about success in a creative industry is that once you’re on the hamster wheel, you have to stay on it. It’s exhausting. However, while the internet can be an insatable animal, Kilihippie isn't falling for it. He’s taking his time and so far, from the outside looking in you can tell how meticulous he is, in the choosing what projects to be a part of, who to work with, what should & shouldn’t be on his albums and when the perfect time to release his projects is. Over the course of 2019, he kicked off a collaboration EP “FLANTA” with Stephane Stalon in February, dropped his "Beloved B-Sides" EP in June and now finally about to drop his full length project “Hii Si Demo” in November. This is a pretty intricately spread plethora of work over the course of one year, so what makes him tick? As with every creative, the question remains the same...
What story are they telling?
With Kilihippie, what goes beyond just a pop culture t-shirt is a reflection into the man himself. He may as well be channelling Heisenberg himself just based off of how he seems to go about his craft. In conversation, he has the same steely & unshakeable confidence in himself as a man who has nothing to lose and everything to gain. And while the commitment to the narrative pace of his music can seem somewhat reserved and laid back, when he speaks about himself the meaning behind it all is as loud and unavoidable as when Walter White once said...
I AM NOT IN DANGER SKYLAR
I AM THE DANGER!
So, Geoffrey, how've you been feeling?
I've been feeling good lately. It's a feeling of combined dread and excitement in equal measure. Planning out my own release party is something so new to me. It's a challenge that is underpinned by a bigger challenge on its own which is getting Hii Si Demo the recognition and love it deserves. Exciting because it'll probably turn out better than I imagined, but I'm still human. Fear is always around the corner. So much so, I can almost feel my old self die away gradually everyday.
Yeah, I can only imagine. How have you been calming the nerves as we get closer to the release date? Distractions? Are you thinking about it or do you just try to push it out of your mind?
Staying on top of my shit really is the biggest contributor to calming my nerves. This is not the kind of thing I can be able to push to the back of my mind. That's just how my brain tends to be set up I guess. I'm also currently in the beginning phases of setting up my own team which is something new I'm learning. Getting help, I've always been very insular with the way I move. So I'm unlearning that.
Before we dive in to the album, i’m curious, what kind of music were you into when you were younger?
I've always had phases where I'm fully into a genre. That means I only listen exclusively to one genre of music. My first was in late primary school through to high school where I only listened to Rock - All American Rejects was everything to me! Then came my EDM phase that lasted about two years after I was done with high school. Then I fell in love with Hip-hop just before I joined Uni and that's been my daily serving since. I always found it weird when I heard people say that they listen to 'a bit of everything'. I have a one track mind. I focus on one thing till I can do it well then move on the next. This not only applies to how I work but also how I listen to music. I have to do it in a way that allows me to go as deep as I can.
Fully immersive, I can absolutely relate to that.
Fully immersive. Exactly!
So, when did the whole music thing start to evolve? I ask this because i want to know, how or where did you find the confidence to be true to yourself and decide I’m going to take this shit seriously, i’m gonna make music?
I always grew up with a feeling that my life is not supposed to take the regular path - following the system society prescribes for me. I didn't know what that was for 22 years of my life. At no point before this did I ever think I could make music. I'd never played an instrument all my life. The divine awakening came. From where? I don't really know. But I know that it did and it gave me the conviction that I should do what I'm currently doing. I've failed a lot and picked myself up so many times - more than I can count. That included me dropping out of Uni twice. See I just didn't belong.
The confidence to do what I do came on the same day I woke up to my purpose and ever since then I've just been plugging away daily. I may not be rich materially, far from it! [Laughs] But, everyday when I do my thing I get more confidence to keep going till the day I am. Added advantage is I happen to stay true to me, and only me.
Let's address that internal struggle. You said in a recent interview that your new album is all about finding happiness and optimism. Is it a project that you felt you needed to make for yourself or is it more of like, shit is real out here, we need more of this out in the world?
I'd say it's a combination of both of these things. It felt like a natural progression to what I was doing. The world definitely needs to hear what I have to say through my music - if I'm not mistaken I believe it's an internal belief every musician musician carries. Guys would come over and record but the music had a danger of remaining unappreciated. The shelf life of SoundCloud releases was only getting shorter and I felt as a producer, the responsibility to come up with a package that's more well thought out and since I believe in reciprocation of energy (ultimately) it would be received as a body of work and not just a compilation of good songs... but yeah, the main motivation came from my disbelief at how good the guys I make music with are! Hii Si Demo initially started out as my own platform to get these guys heard! It's grown into something I can't recognise that easily and that gives me joy.
Let's take a second to talk about Soundcloud. How important do you think the platform is to upcoming musicians, at least compared to other platforms? Was it helpful in helping you reach those places you couldn’t access when you first started out?
Best thing about Soundcloud is, it feels like as genuine a democracy as it can get... as far as musical releases on the internet go. It's a good testing ground for the minors while offering a lot of features of the big leagues. It was important in teaching me to let go of my music once I gave it to the world. Something every musician needs to get very accustomed to.
You just spoke about the shelf life of music nowadays. Lately, i don’t know if you feel this way, but it’s like with more and more artists starting to pop up, it’s like there’s pressure, to just constantly create, to produce. How do you feel about that?
Oh yeah! The pressure is definitely there... in the short term. This journey is a drawn out thing so I believe eventually time and the trials of doing what we do will weed out the rest cause those who win are those who won't quit. I will be one of the few.
Complete self-belief, I respect that.
Personally I feel like technology has just completely messed with our life cycle in general. Like, it can be hard to focus on yourself with social media constantly broadcasting everyone else’s business. Do you ever worry about the impact of social media on your creativity? Do you feel at full capacity to be yourself?
I agree, it is hard... and for the longest time I've tried to see how possible it is to exist as a musician in this digital age without social media. That's nigh on impossible and I've focused on using just Instagram to promote my brand. Anything more than this is too much for me. I still suck at social media and it's not something I'm really looking to get good at. I'd rather do without it, but for now I must swallow the pill. Luckily though I've never really been the type to use it much. So for now, I'm comfortable where I'm at.
Ok, back to the album, it's called Hii Si Demo. What story are you telling with this project?
This is me and all the artists involved saying that we don't need the approval of industry tastemakers to deem what we've made a quality piece of art for society to ingest. We speak from what's true, deep within and that's all we need to be here, where we are, doing what we do.
The album has so many collaborations tho. Nowadays, that can sometimes seem to be a bit of a loose concept. What does the word collaboration mean to you?
Platinum with no features! [Laughs] Maybe I'd care about that kind of stuff if i rapped. Collaborations for me represent an opportunity to get into rooms with people who are better than me at some aspect of what I do. These situations challenge me to level up and no doubt that's why I've been able to get as good as I have as fast as I have. I also think as a producer it's allowed my sound to grow in many directions since everyone I make music with comes with their own sauce.
So, how selective are you in picking out the people you want to work with? Like on this project for example, what is it about these features that just well, fit. According to you that is?
I would say I'm fairly selective when it comes to choosing who I work with. Though it's pretty simple my criterion: I have to be a fan of your music! In this city finding people I'm a fan of isn't exactly a mean feat. What fits about every feature on the album is the fact that everyone's style is as unique as they come and whatever flavour they add can't be done by anyone else.
I'd like to know, what’s your production process like? Do you put in scheduled hours in the studio, or do you just like live your life and wait for inspiration to hit?
I treat my daily studio time like I would a regular 9 to 5, give or take a few hours. I'm up early every morning, check out my socials then get to working on my laptop till evening time, taking short breaks every now and then. Breaks and rest are really important! I'm a structured person, so my creativity has to follow a routine. I noticed it helps me chase inspiration as opposed to waiting for it to come to me.
You produced one of 2019’s most underrated projects, FLANTA. Tell me what was it like working with Stephane and what do you think makes that album special?
Underrated maybe. I try not to take these things to heart. I believe in making timeless music, and if it is then people will go back to my catalog and vibe with it. I think a lot of it was and still is very different to what's being done in music and that's what made it special. Working with Stephane is so easy! He was the first artist I've worked with who really believed in me to take things so far, so fast. The project developed fully in about two months, something I'm realising is quite the rarity in this music thing we do! Thanks for taking me back bro. I hope one day FLANTA will get the shine it deserves. It's a pretty project [smiles]
Yo, it's definitely hella pretty! [Laughs] On that note actually, that album experimented with a lot of different sounds, it's mad diverse not even mentioning Stephane's French all mixed in so well. Lately, it does seem like a good time to be an experimental artist; very few people are confined to one genre or sound...
Oh yeah it was definitely a melting pot of creativity and thank God the experimentation paid off. That's heavily down to the brilliance of Baraka, Ekumbo and Kiwango as well. I think music speaks heavily about the culture of a society and with the internet the whole world is slowly but surely becoming a society. It's evidence of the fact that music like any other form of art is heavily influenced by the environment it's born in. All the new perspectives constantly bring about the evolution that keeps music alive. Doesn't mean it's all beautiful though. But that's it's source of life.
Speaking on your environment... how do you feel the culture in Nairobi contributes to your creativity? In other words, how does that factor into the way you make and approach your music?
I've always been pretty competitive, so seeing how damn good people are keeps me on my toes. Still my insular nature takes over so the vast majority of the time I only focus on what I do. Feels great to be in such great company though. If I'm part of such a dope cohort and people are down to work with me then I must be doing something right.
What kind of footprint do you hope to leave, especially with this album?
I'd like the world to know that as far as music goes, Kenya can go toe to toe with any and everyone you put us up against!
If you could give somebody who’s just starting to make music a piece of advice, what would it be?
Nothing and I mean, NOTHING beats consistency. Whether you're 'in the mood' or not it's up to you to cultivate your love for it.
Any last words?
Nah, let the music speak from here on.