A somewhat innocuous meeting in recording studio between Kansas City rappers Tech N9ne and Krizz Kaliko started an artistic relationship that is now a model for what can be done when two artists achieve synchronicity not just when performing but when building a grassroots movement. This is a movement that makes taking musical risks and fan involvement its chief priorities.
Joining Tech N9ne’s startup label Strange Music, Krizz Kaliko found a homebase that gave him free reign to shape what would become his signature sound; a combination of musical genres fused together to shock a response out of its listener. In Kaliko, Tech N9ne and the other artists at Strange found a unique talent that did more than articulate what makes a first rate hook. He’d lay it to tape himself and then rather than lounge with whatever time was left over, he’d rhyme for you, compose new music for you and stand alongside of you on stage whipping crowds into a frenzy.
With his third solo outing, Shock Treatment, Kaliko wants to reach as many people as possible with a formula that has unfortunately become somewhat sparse in todays musical landscape; blending styles with a cross section of lyrical content and an emphasis on the ‘killer minus the filler’. Krizz Kaliko is an artist who embraces the grey area of songwriting. Each sound becomes an organic event rather than dead weight lifted out of box. This place where everything seems to converge mirrors both his background growing up and a disposition that is free of cynicism but sincere about the respect which should be shown to him, his friends and his family.
Talking to Krizz about his process and take on music in general is so natural because it doesn’t feel like you’re asking someone questions about their alter-ego or stage persona. What you see is what you get. These days that really does seem shocking.
HipHopDX: So Shock Treatment just released. First off, is there anything that inspired the title.
Krizz Kaliko: Yeah, you know everything we do I consider it me giving everybody the shock treatment, from our stage show to the music, everything’s gotta have shock value. If you look at my artwork on the album cover, it’s not the regular rapper look, you know, whatever that may be. If you look at the cover, you can’t even tell what kind of music that is. Then how I run the gamut on all the genres of music that I put into the music; all of the Rock, Pop regular Hip Hop, R&B, Reggae. I didn’t really touch on as much of it as I normally do you know, but it still has several elements of different genres of music in it – from that to our stage show. Our stage show is like none other. You come you feel like you just went to a Tae Bo class and you’re not even the one on stage. From that to the artwork everything has to have the shock value. That’s the shock treatment, that’s what I feel we give to the world.
DX: Sure, if Hip Hop ever had an equivalent of like a Kiss stage show where you go and its an all out multi-media in your face experience it definitely would be your shows with Tech N9ne.
Krizz Kaliko: Absolutely man
DX: Staying on the subject of multiple genres, I know you produced “Hum Drum” on the last album and also..
Krizz Kaliko: I co-produced stuff with my dude Michael “Seven” Somers, a producer out of Wichita. Together we produced “Misunderstood” on the last album, we produced “Hum Drum” together on the last album
DX: Right, “Misunderstood” has almost a Surf-Rock vibe and “Hum Drum” the Reggae thing. And then and there’s “Alive” and “Hardcore” on Shock Treatment which both have real heavy guitar riffs. Plus there’s R&B influences throughout all of your music. Do you feel a lot of Hip Hop artists these days are resistant to incorporating other styles into their music?
Krizz Kaliko: I wouldn’t say resistant. I’d say if you’re talking about Hip Hop artists, it would take five people to do what I generally can do by myself. You’re talking about the producer, the rapper himself – if he’s writing everything himself- and you’re talking about bringing in a singer to do the hook. I mean so thats just three people right there and I generally do all that myself. The production is always gonna be done with my producer because I don’t play anything, I just come up with the music. I wouldn’t say resistant, I would say its generally impossible for one person to do what I do. I know that sounds really arrogant, but I don’t mean for it to come off that way, but I’ve really honed in on my craft and figured out how to do it and make it elite.
DX: Yeah, fans of other music really appreciate your work because you incorporate all of your influences. Do you think you would have been able to do these things musically… rather, do you think the majors would pressure an artist to stay inside the box musically? As opposed to Strange….
Krizz Kaliko: I think so. You hit the nail right on the head. I think Strange Music is just that, we’re allowed total autonomy over the creative control of our music. When I got with Tech [N9ne], you know, he was the flagship artist for Strange Music and he was a little bit left of center which was the perfect vehicle for me to test out all these other genres of music once I figured out we couldn’t fail. I knew I could keep on trying different things and keep on experimenting with music. That’s basically what my music is. It’s experimental. We’re allowed to do that at Strange Music, where I feel at a major label it might be like, “Hey, don’t do that.” Because it does make it harder to market because you don’t know who to target because everyone can enjoy it. So the answer to that is you get it to everyone and there’s something there you’ll enjoy no matter what kind of music you like.
DX: Without being micromanaged by some label who wants you to fit in some niche…
Krizz Kaliko: Yeah because I don’t. It’s my own thing. You have to know how to market that. You have to be able to say, let me get this everywhere, especially everywhere in Hip Hop where you use big vehicles like DX and things like that to get it to the world.
DX: Kansas City has a rich musical history, Charlie Parker, Count Basie, Burt Bacharach, Oleta Adams. You tell someone that and they’re often surprised like its a piece of trivia. But if you read that roster off and told someone New York, they wouldn’t bat an eye. Do feel there’s a distinction in hip hop when you tell people “Midwest?” Is there a misconception people have about the Midwest, about the music or about success in Hip Hop coming from the mIdwest?
Krizz Kaliko: Well, I don’t think there’s a misconception, well maybe Kansas City because there hasn’t been anybody in Hip Hop that’s been big out of Kansas City besides Tech N9ne and myself and the rest of Strange Music. But not from the Midwest, because you’ve got a lot of successful rappers that come out of here, Eminem’s from Detroit. Twista, Ludacris and Da Brat are from Chicago. So you have several successful artists that have come out of the Midwest. Kansas City isn’t generally one of the places…
DX: Right I was getting more at Kansas City
Krizz Kaliko: Yeah, It’s a difficult place. It’s not synonymous with entertainment that travels abroad or internationally, but fortunately we were able to catch the attention of fans by passing that word around, passing it through the Internet. That’s how everybody found out about us. We would actually go to every town and perform shows and that was the only way people knew about us. So it was really a form of grassroots and now we have hundreds of thousands of kids around the world who are core fans of Strange Music, myself, and Tech N9ne.
DX: I was going to ask about the Internet. If tomorrow you could put an end to all pirating, illegal downloading, etc. and actually recoup the money from selling all of your albums but the tradeoff would be losing the viral elements of the Internet; the blogs, message boards, etc. Would the costs outweigh the benefits? Is that worth the trade ?
Krizz Kaliko: I don’t know if I’d trade it because we’re still able to sell records despite the pirating of the music and the Internet is a very vital promotional tool. You know without the blogs, without people like you guys, there’s no way we would be as successful as we are now. We need the Internet. It’s kind of like a necessary evil because you wish that people would just be able to buy it and that would be the end of the story. But that’s not the way it was designed to be. Computers were supposed to advance to where you could get to anything you want in the world by computer not excluding music. So it’s a very vital piece of promotion. It’s the reason why we were able to tour in Europe because kids in Europe may not have known about us. We may not have been able to go to Paris and do shows if it wasn’t for the internet.
DX: That’s the way of spreading it…
Krizz Kaliko: Yeah it’s the way of the world, man, and you know you gotta be able to adjust and find a way to use it to your advantage.
DX: I know you and Tech both do this where you have one song where you delve into the darker subjects or you’re more poignant and then you have other songs like on your new album “Scallywags,” where you press play and instantly you’re at the club and it’s just straight up fun. There’s that duality there. Why do you think there’s not as much of that in hip hop now or music in general, where artists can have the ability to just have fun and make songs for the club but also feel comfortable in going to that darker place?
Krizz Kaliko: Well there are a couple reasons, one is that maybe they didn’t go through what I went through. You know one thing I learned from Tech was to live life and just write about it and so I’m not sure that anyone ever told them [other artists] to do that. That’s one of the reasons why I do it. He writes his life and I learned that from him. He’s like, “Man, write what you see, write what you feel and you won’t ever a problem explaining it and people will feel that music.” Maybe this other artist didn’t go through necessarily what I went through in my lifetime and also if I just talked about that people who only want to hear that type of music would listen to it. I want to get it out to the world and the world likes to have a good time. That’s why there’s so many clubs around the world. Every city has several nightclubs and they’re not gonna wanna hear stuff that’s necessarily depressing and people don’t want to think when they’re partying. So I gotta know how to make ‘em party, I gotta know how to make them feel some of my pain too. That’s a part of my life also and sometimes I gotta make ‘em party to my pain. [Laughs]
DX: It runs the gamut…
Krizz Kaliko: Yeah I always use that phrase, “running the gamut” because I do it so much with every aspect of my life and of my musical career too.
DX: Because its reflected both lyrically and like you said with all the styles you incorporate. It’s never boring, they all feel like singles.
Krizz Kaliko: Right, every song feels like a single on my album and with mixing it up like that it makes it where you can pop my CD in and you can rock it from Track 1 to the end. [However] if I was doing all street anthems… I feel dudes that do all street anthems but I feel it’s not as entertaining as putting it in and being able to hear all these different types of songs all on one CD. Like a lot of times, I think and especially in hip hop, and not necessarily just in hip hop, they don’t concentrate on making an entire album good, an entire CD rather, I guess you could say. This industry is very single driven so that’s what they concentrate on where I feel like, okay if I’m gonna be single driven my whole album is gonna all be singles. You can put any of those songs on the radio or wherever depending on the kind of station it is. You can put any of my songs on there. I just want people to enjoy the entire record.
DX: Definitely you go back and albums were almost like movies. The order mattered. They were meant for start to finish. Now everything’s done piecemeal where they say, three for the radio and the rest dump a bunch of bullshit on it.
Krizz Kaliko: Yeah, all killer no filler, man. [Laughs] That’s how we do it. Every song’s gotta be all killer no filler. Period.
DX: You have your own albums, but in the interim, you’re working so much with Tech that you could almost put an album together of all your features in between your own solo stuff. When its time to write the next solo album, is there a sense of pressure there because you really don’t have that down time that other artists have? Or is that helpful?
Krizz Kaliko: It’s helpful. It keeps me busy. I’ll tell you what, I stay tired all the time because I’m always working. If I’m not working on music, I’m working out so I can be in shape for the shows. As far as the music goes, I put myself in that space. I’m kinda like the “Strange Music glue.” It’s like it’s almost not a Strange Music project till you got Kali on it. Cause when you her that voice come on that hook, it’s like there’s that Strange Music sound. So I absolutely make myself the stamp of Strange Music and I love it cause I don’t feel any more at home than I do making music. When I’m on stage or in the studio I feel like i’m in my element. That’s by design, so I make myself available to work on all of those where it’s almost expected now. Where any time anybody’s on our label they expect me to be all over the CD. That’s a beautiful thing. Plus you don’t work you don’t eat.
DX: One of my favorite lines off Shock Treatment is “Never been a gangster, but you can still get it / Never been a Rock star, but I still live it.” [Laughs]
Krizz Kaliko: [Laughs]
DX: I know everyone has their own interpretation, but what does that mean coming from you.
Krizz Kaliko: What I mean is that I’m really a nice dude, I’m a pretty nice guy and that comes from my mom and how she raised me, ’cause she’s a super nice lady. But don’t take my kindness for weakness, I’ve never been a gangster, but you can still get it if you’re pushing the line. If you threaten my family, if I feel like you’re crossing the line, you could get it just like anybody else. It just basically means anybody can get it. I come from several different environments. I come from the suburbs and also lived in the inner city of Kansas City. It gave me a view like, I’m gonna be kind to people, I’m very sympathetic to people. My crew, they call me “Gandhi” all the time. [Laughs] They’re like, “Quit being [Mohandas] Gandhi all the time, you’re so passive and peaceful.” But at the same time, if somebody gets super out of line, you can still get it. Now I’ve never been a Rock star but I still live like a Rock star. Even though I’m a husband and father. Home and the road are two different things. And I’ve had my times with the women, sex, drugs, Rock & Roll. It’s funny because even though the whole entire world doesn’t know about us, we’ve been traveling, having that on the road successful Rock star lifestyle. Maybe not millions of dollars yet, but we’ve definitely lived our portion…I’ve talked to several Rock stars and we all as entertainers, athletes and all, we all have lived the same career. Once we start talking to each other we’ve figured that out. “I’ve never been a gangster, but I still get it / Never been a Rock star, but I still live it.” And it rhymes. [Laughs]
DX: With the first part going back to the, “don’t take my kindness for weakness thing.”
Krizz Kaliko: Yeah, and the funny thing is like I said, I mean everything I’m talking about so it’s generally not to hard to explain it. I know what I mean when I say it. So as soon as you said it. I was laughing like, yeah I can remember writing that line and thinking like damn…[Laughs]
DX: [Laughs] Finally, hands down, I think your albums are some of the best for the car. They’re catchy and heavy, two of the essentials you need for that windows down driving. So if we pulled up alongside Krizz Kaliko at a red light in downtown KC circa 1994 what would we hear in the deck most likely?
Krizz Kaliko: Damn, what was playing? I can’t even think what was cracking in ’94… [Pauses] Too Short…wait, Notorious B.I.G. In ’94 you’d hear me playing Biggy, Too Short, you’d hear me bumping Outkast and you’d hear me bumping some R&B like Silk