Welcome back to Local Spotlight, where we profile great local talent from across Alberta. If you’re reading this, it means one of two things: 1) you tolerate my writing, and/or 2) you appreciate good music by good people. This week I spoke with Edmonton based rapper K-Riz, whose latest album and unstoppable drive will make him a household name sooner than we expect.
This is Local Spotlight.
Local Spotlight: K-Riz
Throughout the hour long interview, there were many things that K-Riz said that peaked my interest; but there is one thing in particular that stood out more than the rest. Earlier in his musical journey, K-Riz felt like he had taken his abilities, his opportunities for granted, and didn’t live up to what was given to him – that he let us down. There are times in an artist’s career where they are given an opportunity and let it flounder. But seldom does it happen when an artist is given an opportunity, uses it, and doesn’t see the recognition they deserve. It’s gut-wrenching that K-Riz felt like he didn’t live up to his potential at one point in his life – that he didn’t prove his worth to us. It’s even more gut-wrenching that we allowed a talent like this to flounder, to battle its own way back to the top, without giving them an honest chance. But, timing is everything, and right now K-Riz is finally getting that opportunity again, and this time it’s up to us to prove our worth to him.
Originally from Toronto, Ontario, K-Riz – born Jerome Henry – relocated to Edmonton for
the first time when he was 17, moving back and forth until he was finally able to settle in Alberta at the age of 19. Music was a major factor in the rapper’s life in Toronto, but he didn’t find his stride personally in the scene until settling in Edmonton. “My mom was always listening to Tupac and Biggie and people like that in Toronto. My dad was DJing here in Edmonton in the early 80s, so he always had an ear for music. And my uncle has always been rapping since I was little.” he says, “I came up here one summer and snuck up on him rapping in the studio, and kind of fell in love with it.” But his uncle did more than just introduce him to the intricate, stylish world of rap; he became a mentor, teaching him the ins and outs of the game. “He was the type of person who would catch me free-styling at a young age saying gibberish, and say ‘if you want to learn to rap, study Illmatic back to front. Know the whole album word for word’.” he says, “It really helped me pattern my flow.” With the teachings of his uncle, and the coaching from his father – who taught him to pick out different sounds and instruments from songs – K-Riz had the base and the talent to start creating his own voice.
Coming from a well established music scene in Toronto, K-Riz noticed the distinct differences compared to the scene in Edmonton. “Edmonton has so much potential for growth; they are growing the scene from the ground up.” he says, “There are a ton of little kids who come out [to our events] and see us do our thing and are inspired by that, then maybe take it home and start doing the same thing. There is a lot more room to teach and grow here.” There is one scene in particular that gets the artist beaming, and that’s Calgary’s Ten at Ten showcase, where a series of artists are allotted ten minutes to wow the crowd – but, it’s more than just that. It’s a packed house on a Wednesday night full of people who just want to hear honest hip-hop. “It was a life-changing experience,” says K-Riz, “Edmonton hasn’t really caught on to the hip-hop scene yet. When I was coming up, the scene was a little more together, but now it’s kind of separate. Everyone’s kind of cliqued up. But going to Calgary and seeing a packed house on a Wednesday…” The memory alone leaves the rapper speechless.
Believing in the power of music, K-Riz and other local artists established a group called the Honour Roll Music Collective, a band of artists, dancers and producers with the sole intention of changing the music scene in Edmonton – pushing the boundaries and keeping the sound interesting. “We want to do something out here,” he says, “It’s a movement. We want to bring something different to the city. We’re talented, but we feel like nobody really supports us, so we support each other. Build each other up instead of relying on other people to do that for us.” With a strong community base and a growing number of names to the Collective, the movement is something that K-Riz feels strongly about. “When you give back to these kids and they look up to you and you’re the reason that they are inspired, that’s power to me. It’s a legacy.” he says, believing they are creating a cycle that can only strengthen the opportunities for future musicians.
In terms of his own personal work, the 30 year old rapper recently released a video for his latest single, “Levitate”, one of which garnered more attention than he expected. “People hit me up out of nowhere, people I don’t even talk to.” he says, shaking his head in almost disbelief. The director of the video, Nicholas Yee, had a strong vision that took the video in a direction beyond the rapper’s expectations, with a hands on approach that was familiar to K-Riz after working with Ye on one of his earlier projects, The High. “It’s cool to see the collective effort, it’s really what makes things move forward and together.” he says. What I personally liked about the video was the camera work, something that wasn’t originally in the plan for the video. “Yannick got the drone shots. I watched a video of his earlier that morning for a guy named Logan, and I thought it was a dope video.” he says, “So then we are in the parkade shooting the video [later that day], and this guy comes down the spiral parkade and stops and asks ‘Are you guys shooting a video?’ And I’m like, ya, and he goes ‘Cool man, I shoot videos too’. So I asked him his name and he says ‘Yannick. I just put out a video today, my first video with a guy named Logan. I got my camera stuff with me right now. If you want some drone stuff I could help.'” And, through timing and chance, the project took on a life of its own. The video itself doesn’t even have the rapper in it – it doesn’t have to. “The music isn’t even about me. K-Riz doesn’t belong to me. It’s something that we all worked to build.” he says, “What you guys see – there are so many people behind it. None of this would be possible without them.”
“You apply for grants you get denied, you apply for awards you get denied, you spend your money on applying and they tell you ‘No you’re music isn’t good enough’, ‘We found somebody else’…it’s discouraging.” the rapper says, remembering the journey to where he is now and the roadblocks he had to face, “I think last year was probably the most discouraging year. Before that it was on me because I was taking the talent for granted, I didn’t realize how talented I actually was. […] I still don’t feel that way, I still feel like I got so much work to do.” But all the positive response from his latest project has nullified the past, the hard work that didn’t get recognized, because his moment has finally arrived. “It shows that people are listening,” he says, “I don’t need to call myself great. It’s for the listeners to decide. I know I have something now, I just got to keep working on it.” Feeling like the recognition is finally deserved, it only stokes the fire and pushes the rapper to work harder. There is no time to sit back and enjoy, it’s all about what is going to happen next.
“I read somewhere that Illmatic was the birth of having multiple producers in one album” K-Riz says about taking that influence from Nas and applying it to his latest project. “I had maybe four or five producers on [mine], and some had their hands in some songs, and others had their hands in other songs, and it all came together. And you can tell, it’s very cohesive.” Though he doesn’t produce himself, he relies on his strong team in Edmonton and Calgary to fit the pieces together and create an album that sounds whole. With two singles from the album released, “Cool Chick” and “Levitate”, you can already hear the symmetry that both brings the songs together and makes them stand alone as individual pieces. Not convinced yet? Check out this sneak peak of another new track from Fresh Air, exclusively leaked for RLGT.
With his album debut coming up on August 4th at the Needle Vinyl Tavern, K-Riz is in the works of getting a band together for his tracks. “I just want to do things that have never been done here before.” he says, “Hip-Hop in clubs here is very tough because as soon as they hear “hip-hop” they automatically judge you and what crowd you’re going to bring. They think they know what your music is going to sound like when in reality it’s nothing like that.” Currently, K-Riz works with the band GRAY, but he is hesitant in bringing them on for his debut, but not because of some doubt in their abilities. “They deserve their own time and their own spotlight. It can’t be GRAY and K-Riz all the time […] they have their own sound that deserves recognition.” he says. But this isn’t the only thing K-Riz is preparing for; he’s also gearing up for performing at the One Up Stage at One Love in Calgary this September. “We are going in [to these shows] to prove a point. We aren’t some hip-hop act. You gotta give us an opportunity.” he says, “It’s not fair to judge us off past artists or groups that have destroyed the genre.”
When asked what advice he would give his younger self on the future, K-Riz was quick with his answers. “Stay in school, because you could get here a lot faster than if you didn’t.” he laughs, “And disregard distractions. I’ve dated girls that kept me away from my music because of their insecurities. Stay focused, and don’t let nobody tell you that you can’t do it.” With producers knocking at his door at the early age of 16, it’s easy as a youngster to not understand the gift that is being given, to push it away and think that something else will come along later. His confidence and unrelenting drive to always be better will get K-Riz out of the shadows and into the spotlight, along with the community that he has built with a group of people that want to change and challenge the status quo of music in the city.
“Thank you for supporting us,” K-Riz says, “It’s been a long journey. Anybody who’s been walking with me since 2009, who’s believed in me since the minute they heard me […] just, thank you. I do it for them. I haven’t stopped because these people have never allowed me to stop.”
You can grab tickets to K-Riz’s Fresh Air album release party at The Needle here. And, since I already know it’s going to be great, you can also grab tickets to Calgary’s One Love festival to see him again, here. It’s time to show K-Riz that we are finally ready for him.