I first discovered Kelechi on Instagram. I received a notification he liked one of our Instagram posts so I was inclined to check out his profile. After looking through a couple of posts, I found a 15-second performance clip of his (at the time) yet to be released track “It’s Alright”. From the first listen, I was hooked on his infectious sound and couldn’t wait for the full track to be released. “It’s Alright” was released this past May as a part of Kelechi’s latest project Before the Quarter and it did not disappoint.
I recently had a conversation with Kelechi to get a deeper insight into the evolution of his sound, his journey as an artist, and how he’s navigating the ever-changing streaming landscape. We also discuss the impact of Common’s Be, Drake’s So Far Gone, and Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy on his sound.
Enjoy the interview and sounds!
Sonic Selects (SS): What was the first moment you developed a passion for music?
Kelechi (K): I was in middle school and Be by Common had come out. My older sister bought the album, I didn’t even buy it. Be was the first album I thought was mine because it was the first time I listened to music and had it connect with me in a way that is important to who I am. I heard songs before that resonated but this was the first time I listened to an album front to back.
My sister would listen to the album in her room and I’d overhear it outside thinking ‘this is the best sh** ever!’.
Be is what made me want to start rapping. I felt a way listening to that music and I want to make people feel how I felt listening to that album.
SS: The production from Kanye West and J Dilla on Be is incredible. You not only rap but produce as well. Have you always produced your own beats?
K: Yea, I always produce about half of my projects and then I’ll do co-production on the records. Even if I don’t start the beat I usually end up finishing it. I started producing because I’m really bad at asking for help and I didn’t want to hit up strangers. I was also tired of rapping on beats that were already out. So I started making beats around 9th grade.
SS: In addition to rapping and producing you as engineer your own records. Did you engineer the tracks on your Before the Quarter?
K: For the most part on all of Before the Quarter except on “The Glo”, I ended up doing the mixes on. It goes back to the same thing, not having the money to pay for studio time and not wanting to ask somebody. I was bad at the whole “networking” thing. I just figured out how to do it on my own.
SS: Did you start rapping or producing first?
K: I was rapping first. I was in a rap group and wasn’t the one doing the beats. One of my other homies did the beats. I watched him and understood the process of how to make beats. Then I started making my own after that.
Once we stopped doing the group thing, I was the one who kept on rapping. So I needed to learn how to record. It was totally out of necessity.
Even now people ask me for beats and I’m not a traditional producer in the sense that I make beats and I want people to rap on them. I make beats so I have beats to rap on.
It’s the same thing with recording, people want to come in the studio just to work. If you’re not a STNDRD artist, if you’re not one of my crew I’m not really trying to record you because I don’t have a passion for recording other people. I do it so my squad can have unlimited studio time.
SS: That’s a very interesting approach. You must really get to know your sound well and develop it on your own.
K: 100%. I have a deep relationship with our sound. Of course, there are actual beats and raps. But the way the song is mixed and the sound being a little bit warmer than how most people have their songs feeling right now is something I take great pride in.
SS: The first time I experienced you as an artist was a 15-second preview of your track “It’s Alright” on your Instagram account. The song wasn’t out in full yet but those 15-seconds really had me hooked.
K: “It’s Alright” is my favorite song that I’ve made so far. There were so many man hours put into that song. I think there are 20 people involved with that track that I directed and produced.
Every once in awhile, I’ll just make another piece of content that involves “It’s Alright” whether it’s the choir or “making of” videos. I always try to bring people’s attention back to that song because I worked really hard on it.
SS: Was the “It’s Alright (Interlude)” always intended to be a part of the project or was that something that came out of the creative process?
K: That wasn’t the original plan. I was in North Carolina, we just did a show with Chance the Rapper. I had all the songs for the album done. We were listening to Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
“All of the Lights” has that interlude that comes on before the full track and it totally makes that song so much more important because of the piano, the strings, even before that song comes on.
“All of the Lights” is one of my favorite Kanye songs ever. Even though he has two 8-bar verses, you can tell how much effort went into the production, all the people he has on it, he wanted to be a really important moment on the album. So he prefaced it with a 1-minute interlude and was like ‘You’re going to listen to this and care about this song’.
I felt the same way about “It’s Alright”. There was so much piano and production put into the song that wasn’t necessarily used. I was like ‘I can take some of this and arrange it to produce something to make the song feel more important.’
SS: I can definitely hear the influence of “All of the Lights” on “It’s Alright”. Both are very big songs where you live in that moment for the entire song.
K: I’m glad you worded it that way because I want to take over someone’s senses while the song is playing.
SS: Can you take me through your career journey? How did your career progress from your early beginnings to winning the Green Label Open Call Contest?
K: I had put out 8 mixtapes under a different rap name and I’ve been rapping since the end of middle school. So I was always rapping but I wasn’t making any headway. Absolutely, no progress.
At the time, I was in school, halfway doing it. I was doing other things in hopes that music would pop off and I could quit doing those other things. I had a talk with my brother and he told me, “If you really want to do this you need to put 100% into it. Claim who you are and what you’re doing. I’ll help you.”
For the longest time he didn’t want to say he was my manager but he would do everything that a manager would do. When he started managing me and I changed my rap name to my first name, Kelechi.
The Loose Change(s) EP was the first piece of content under my real name. I put that out late 2014 and “Want” was the most popular song on there.
K: I want verses to get stuck in people’s heads the way that hooks do. Even when I am rapping, just getting bars off I want to put some melody on it so it can stick a little bit.
SS: Are you going to release more singles like this?
K: Honestly, I’m going to be dropping a lot more singles like that. Maybe every week and a half to two weeks. This is coming with us understanding how people consume music especially from a new artist who doesn’t have a major record label and PR push.
Very few people are going to listen to an artist they’ve never heard before for 45-minutes. What I realized is to use that mindset and drop a record every week or so to introduce a lot of new people to what I can do. Then they will go back and listen to what I’ve done if they like what I can do.
We will keep this going as long as necessary until I feel like I get a large enough base for what I want to do next. I can make dope songs every week. I know I can. While I’m doing that, I’ll be working on my next album Quarter Life Crisis.
SS: What influence did So Far Gone have on you as an artist and how did it influence your track “So Far Gone”?
K: So Far Gone is the sound of when you are 18, 19, early 20s, contemplating life. That’s what So Far Gone sounds like. That time period is what I’m at the end of right now but when it came out I was right at the beginning. I wanted to pay homage to how that album made me feel. So I sampled Drake and made the beat.
K: If you think that Drake is one of your top five artists than 40 has to be in your top five producers. There is absolutely no Drake without 40. And Drake will tell you that and I’m not saying that to reduce Drake as an artist.
Drake is as much his sound and production as he is with his lyrics. That moody feel you get when you hear a Drake record, even when it’s a hard Drake record, even when it’s a happy Drake record, you still have that moodiness behind. That’s 100% 40. He’s a genius in minimalism.
SS: That ties in perfectly with the approach that you are taking with having your hand not only in the lyrical content but the sound as well.
K: Exactly. I care about the sound. The sound of what’s coming out between these two projects is kind of a “limbo-land” between how much darker Quarter Life Crisis will be than Before the Quarter.
Before the Quarter had some minor key moments. But for the most part, it was a bright album with touches of thought and introspection. Quarter Life Crisis is a lot darker and the songs that I’ll release between these two projects will bridge the gap.
SS: For someone who is listening to you for the first time, what should they expect to hear?
K: Expect to experience warmth. If there’s any one common thread in my music that I care about, it’s hope. I think having hope is the most important quality to have about yourself and what you do. If you can think things are going to get better, tomorrow, even if they don’t get better there will be another tomorrow after that. That’s why “It’s Alright” is my favorite song because it makes you feel like things are going to be okay. That warmth of hope is what I want people to take away from my music.