During last months Pan-African Film Festival, the staff of SHEmovement caught up with Los Angeles rapper Kandi Cole. Our conversation covered a variety of topics, from her work with the legendary all female Hip Hop crew The (SIS)TEM to her forth coming solo project, which will be released at the end of this year. Check out the full interview below:
Shemovement: How long have you been performing?
Kandi Cole: I had my first time ever on stage at 16 at my senior high school talent show and I was nervous as a wreck. Everything just went out in like thirty seconds. But that was the first time I was on stage. From there, I just kind of caught the bug, with people on stage looking at you. So, its been a little over ten years.
SHE: Do you remember what the first rap you wrote was about?
KC: My very first rap I wrote at nine. And it was about...I'm not even going to recite that rhyme for you right now (laughs). It was like "Jumpingjack flash..." it was about whatever. Just words put together that rhyme. And, I don't know, it was just exciting to put something together from nothing, you know? So, my first rap was at nine and I had been writing almost ten years before I let anyone else know that I rap. Which is why I was so nervous at my high schoo; talent show, because no one knew that I rapped. It was like a coming out party, but it was fun.
SHE: Was Hip Hop the first choice or do you do other forms of music?
KC: Hip Hop is the first choice. My dad was a Hip Hop head; my mom and dad were Hip Hop heads in the early 80's. So, I kind of grew up with it from them, you know. Melly Mel and "Rapper's Delight" and all of that. It was just a natural progression into being a lyricist. Its always been the music.
SHE: Who are some of your other influences? You just mentioned Melly Mel.
KC: To throw out a couple I had growing up...Queen Latifah, Monie Love, A Tribe Called Quest, Special Ed and Big Daddy Kane, Lauryn (Hill). These are just a few of the artist that have touched me and that I was just kind of stuck on listening to. Like, you just have to hear what were the next words to come out of their mouth and you just follow all along, sing along. I remember with Ice Cube writing down every lyric from the "Predator" album or the "Death Certificate" album like literally rewind, stop, write it down. I mean, I studied these guys. They have molded me into who I am today.
SHE: How have you grown as an artist of the past ten years? How do you feel that your style has changed?
KC: I've slowed down quite a bit. I used to rap really fast. I had so many words that I wanted to put in. I guess over time, I have just gotten comfortable with my own gift, my own skill. Just continually writing and performing. When your performing you can take a song into another realm and let it become a whole other animal. It teaches you to get in the pocket. It was mostly finding myself on the mic and learning my own voice over the last ten years from when I just wanted to rap.
SHE: Can you tell us a little bit about your first album? How do you feel it describes you as an artist?
KC: My first album is called "Happy Birthday Kandi Cole!". It was initially a mixtape and I had about six songs on it. Then I was telling my peers around me like "I'm putting out a project" and as they listened, they were like "You're not putting that on there?" or "That song isn't going on there?". All of the different songs just kept coming and by the time I was done, there were like 10 songs that I left off the album. So, with "Happy Birthday Kandi Cole!", if you look at the album cover there are five mics on a birthday cake and I'm spitting fire into the mics. It's like a celebration, a collection of all of the different songs that I wanted to put out there. I still won't even call it my official first album because its just like a party, a celebration. It's like I've finally come to a point where I can put out full project so happy birthday. Let's celebrate. It was just to get the kinks out and see how to do it and what to do behind the scenes.
SHE: Who are some other artists that you have collaborated with?
KC: I work a lot with Miki Vale out of San Diego. I work a lot with the SIS(TEM), that's my crew out of Project Blowed. I've collaborated with Invincible, Fiona Simone, Veteran I. I just enjoy working with other artists because it pulls a different level of creativity out of you as an artist so can you pull that energy and that vibe from another person. It takes you outside of your comfort zone.
SHE: Can you speak a bit on current representations of women in Hip Hop. I know that you are a part of the (SIS)TEM, so you are obviously dedicated to building female community in Hip Hop. Can you talk about why that is necessary or important?
KC: Well with women in Hip Hop, the representation sucks...the end. I think that's because as women, we leave it up to someone else to portray us. It's up to us to say what we want to be a part of and what we don't. We cant really blame Hip Hop for doing it; we have to take responsibility and look at ourselves. So with my crew, the (SIS)TEM, we basically came together to form a strength in numbers approach to building up women as a whole in Hip Hop because we are all very talented sisters and we came together to show that we as black women can support each other whereas in the mainstream media, they show us wanting to cut each others heads off. And Hip Hop too, they kind of pit the emcees against one another; whoever is on top, they're going to pit them against each other so they can kill themselves off. Yet, there are thousands of male emcees that are doing the exact same thing, but as soon as two women do the same thing, its like "well, whose better?". So you end up with nothing. That's how its been over the last ten years. Now, every female that is going to look into rapping is getting compared to the same person. We're like "bump that. Let's come together, let's rock. If they aren't going to hear one of us, they are going to hear all of us".
SHE: I agree with you, but do you think that sometimes we as women is Hip Hop value male privilege too much? For example, I am sick of hearing rappers say that they are the only female that men are willing to listen to; its like a valuing of male voices that trumps our own.
KC: Yeah, but we have been conditioned that way in the industry. This is a male dominated industry; its like if you cant get their ear, isnt not going to happen, which doesn't make any sense since women are the buying power in Hip Hop.
SHE: Yes, we are the ones who still buy records.
KC: We still buy records, we're the ones going to the club and if the girls aren't dancing, then nobody is dancing. You know, I used to think that way maybe 5 or 6 years ago. I was like "Oh, I'm the best", but then I ran into the sisters and I ran into a bunch of female emcees. Like, once you open your eyes, you can see so much. There are so many women out here rocking still, because if you don't hear it on the radio and you are a rapper, you think you are the only one. But then I found a whole underground scene of just amazing, talented women and was like "what are we doing? Let's do something" because we cant wait on them (the industry) to say "oh, she sounds good" or "she's alright". You have to do it on your own. And if the women aren't building it up, we cant wait for somebody else to do it.
SHE: What is some advice that you would give to young artists or artists who are trying to do this work independently?
KC: Stay true to yourself. Just make music that you are happy with. Don't make music to make someone else happy. Make music that feels good to you so that if you succeed or fail, it's because it's from you. If you succeed, you will see that there is an audience that accepts you and your music and your creativity. If you fail, at least you failed and its not like something you're trying to do to please others. Then you won't find yourself stuck like "Wait, that wasn't even me!". Do it from your heart. Just continue to do that because this game is very grimy and if you lose yourself in it, you're left with nothing. Just stay true to yourself and male music that sounds good to you.
SHE: You're from Los Angeles, born and raised, right?
SHE: How do you feel that your city has influenced your style? You mentioned being influenced by Ice Cube earlier.
KC: When you say west coast to anyone who is not from here, they say "oh, its all gangsta rap" and whatever. But when I was growing up, we used to listen to NWA and Ice Cube and the Wu Tang Clan. I, as well as my peers, have had more of an eclectic variety of music thrown at us. So, the west coast isn't just gangsta music. There are a ton of lyricists here. You're going to get a little west coast swagger in my music, ya know. We've got trees, we've got sunshine, we're always "happy". But then you get a lot of rappers that are just out of the box; the Luniz came from the west coast and the Hieroglyphics and Xzibit and all of these people. That's the west coast music I grew up listening to as well. So, the west coast has given me such a variety. People come to the west coast to get famous. They come to Hollywood to get famous and that's in my backyard. So, I'm exposed to people from Georgia, Missouri, all over who come here to get famous. So, you kind of pick up different vibes from all of these different people and at the same time holding on to your native roots. It's like a gumbo mixture of Hip Hop from a true artist that is coming from the heart.
SHE: You mentioned Project Blowed earlier, which has a lineage of really amazing emcees from Medusa to Aceyalone and many others. How did you get involved with Project Blowed?
KC: I had been coming for years, but I was always kind of afraid; I just came there to watch like "Oh my God. This is amazing". I was doing my own thing then Devious One had reached out to me to do an all female emcee showcase at Project Blowed with about 20 female emcees. It was the first time my name was on a flyer and everything; it was a big deal for me. From then on is when the (SIS)TEM was created in 2006. From that point, I was there even more but I was more involved, meeting different people with freestyle fellowship. It's been probably about 5 or 6 years that I have spent involved in the Project Blowed scene like major. But before that, I was just a fan, a spectator jumping into some of the freestyles outside, maybe. After that, it was a wrap. Its become like a family. It's just so many emcees and you'll never hear about them in the mainstream because the mainstream is somewhere else right now. But I think that with the talent that's bubbling right now, you actually might because the talent is ridiculous.
SHE: So, you said that the album is coming out at the end of the year. Is there anything else that you are working on or that we can expect from you within the next year?
KC: I have a collaborative EP that I've been working on with Miki Vale called "50/50". It's actually done, we're just putting the calendar together to release that. Also, the first official full length (SIS)TEM album, finally. We've been in the studio on that for probably the last two month, so that's coming very soon.