[Interview] Kayo talks “The Escape Movement,” touring with Snoop Dogg, and following his heart

Interview by: Martin Bauman

Kayo has been steadily climbing the ranks in the Canadian hip-hop scene, ever since arriving from St. Lucia four years ago. After networking in Halifax upon his arrival, he eventually met Classified, who would later sign him to Half Life and get him a deal with EMI. The two worked on Kayo’s One: The Prequel EP, and Classified brought Kayo on tour with him, joining Hedley across Canada. In addition to his work with Classified, Kayo made a name for himself by partnering with Quake for their well-received album The Search. This past year, Kayo has seen his hard work pay off in the release of his mixtape The Escape Movement, and his recently-completed string of tour dates with Snoop Dogg in Western Canada. The Come Up Show caught up with Kayo following the tour, and we talked about The Escape Movement, touring with Snoop Dogg, and how he got to where he is now. Check out the interview below.

TCUS: Welcome back to The Come Up Show, it’s great to have you again.

Kayo: Thanks for having me, man. It’s always a pleasure. You guys have held me down from the beginning, so I appreciate that.

TCUS: For sure. The last time you caught up with The Come Up Show, you were on tour with Classified. How much has changed for you in the past twelve months?

Kayo: I guess a few more people know who I am… I mean, with the Class[ified] thing, it really just opened up a lot of doors and opportunities. Through the Class situation, we got my first five album record deal with EMI. I’m signed to Black Box for management, and my booking agency is through Feldman & Associates. That tour opened up opportunities for me to really solidify the infrastructure around me. Things are a lot more cohesive now.

TCUS: You just got back from doing several tour dates with Snoop Dogg. What was your initial reaction when you first learned you’d be joining him on tour in Western Canada?

Kayo: What sucked about it is I couldn’t tell anyone! Like, I knew about the tour since we got off the Hedley tour, but I had to keep quiet about it for a minute. But when my manager called me and told me, man, I was so psyched. Actually, Class called me first and he was like, “yo, did Jason tell you?” And I was like, “tell me what?” And he was like, “okay, never mind, wait until Jason [calls].”

TCUS: [Laughs].

Kayo: It was crazy. And not just that, it was [also] my first tour solo. It was the first time that I went on the road without Class, you know? All the other tour opportunities I’ve had, the Hedley situation, the Frosh week and everything, was opening for Class. This time, it was my first solo situation. So it was a big look, especially being that first initial process, that was crazy. So I was really grateful for that.

TCUS: What will you remember most about the tour?

Kayo: Chilling with [Snoop]. We got to chill with him for a minute at the very last show, and that experience I think is gonna really resonate with me forever. Snoop Dogg is a cultural icon, you know what I mean? He was just so down to earth, and so real. The two of us just kinda connected, on a real level. Not even about music or anything, just real life. We just sat there and talked about life, man. It was crazy. That was definitely one of those moments I’ll treasure forever.

TCUS: Being that it’s Snoop Dogg we’re talking about, I have to ask you this question. How much marijuana was on that tour?

Kayo: [Laughs] Man, you don’t even wanna know! You’d wake up and you’d just smell it in the hotel hallways. When he comes into the building, you know he’s there, because you just instantly smell it everywhere. I don’t know how those guys function, for real [laughs]. It’s crazy.

TCUS: Along with going on tour, you also just released a brand new mixtape titled The Escape Movement. What’s the concept behind this project?

Kayo: On The Escape Movement, I kinda wanted to look at it like it’s your opportunity to escape, essentially – for lack of a better word – from everything. Just you allowing yourself to be you. Just do whatever it is you want to do, regardless of what society or anyone else may have to say. Just you being honest with yourself. So this project was essentially my escape. I wanted it to represent that it was the first full-length project that I was able to put together since being signed with EMI, and the mere fact that they all gave me the freedom to do it was like, you know, I really want this to be therapeutic. I want it to mean something to me, and then by extension, mean something to the fans and the listeners. I’m really happy with it, we put a lot of work into it, and I’m just glad we got to get it out to the people, man.

TCUS: You’ve mentioned how much this project means to you, coming as you first body of work since signing with Half Life and EMI. How would you describe your progression from Apologies For The Wait, to One: The Prequel, to The Escape Movement?

Kayo: I mean, with each project I’ve definitely had more eyes on me. With Apologies For The Wait, it was a lot more freelance; I didn’t have a lot of the resources that I have [now] at my disposal at that time. And then with One: The Prequel, it was kinda [about] me and Class really solidifying our working relationship and our sound together. And then through One: The Prequel, I think I evolved and really just, you know, found myself. [I] found the space that I wanted to be in sonically… I feel like I know what I’m doing a little better. Back then, I felt like I knew what I was doing, but it’s just that I was still experimenting with a lot of things. So even with the singing, the harmonies, the reggae, the rock, all those types of elements that I tried to incorporate… with The Escape Movement, it really does show that growth, that I’ve finally kind of figured it out. And it’s gonna be a great precursor for the album.

TCUS: One of the guest features on The Escape Movement is your friend and past collaborator Quake. What do you enjoy most about working with him?

Kayo: The creativity and the comfort. We’re not just music friends, you know, we’re friend friends. So when we get together, it’s just a great vibe. It’s great to be able to collaborate with people that you’re close and comfortable with. And not just that, like, [Quake’s] amazing at what he does! The friendly competition is really inspiring, especially when we’re in the studio together, because Quake can rap his ass off. And I don’t necessarily consider myself, like, a rapper rapper, you know what I mean? But he definitely gets me to push those boundaries.

TCUS: Earlier this year I asked Quake the same question, now I have to put you on the spot. Have you thought about doing a followup album to The Search?

Kayo: Man, you know what? We talked about it, and we’re gonna be working together for a minute, we already have a bunch of songs stockpiled together… so I don’t know if a sequel to The Search is gonna be coming up, but you know, we might just surprise you guys one day and drop a five-track EP or something for the fans. Because I know people really like the work that we do together, so I mean, if we have it, we can do it. We’ll see what happens.

TCUS: Can you explain the connection between the Escape Movement cover art and your home of St. Lucia?

Kayo: When I thought about the artwork for The Escape Movement… actually it was Courtney from Toronto that inspired the idea of using the imagery of birds, because birds are one of the freest animals in the world, because yo, they fly [laughs]. The particular bird that I used on the artwork was the Amazona versicolor, or the jacquot. And that’s the national bird of St. Lucia. I felt like it would tie pretty well with the concept we were trying to use, and I always want to pay homage to where I’m from – because essentially, I wouldn’t be who I am or where I’m at right now, if it wasn’t for the foundation that I got from [St. Lucia]. Shouts to Matt Seamz Mackay for doing the artwork, he did an amazing job on it. That’s actually a hand painting that he did, and then… I don’t know what, he f***ed with it, and just… it was amazing. I was super happy with it.

TCUS: Yeah, it looks crazy!

Kayo: Yeah, man. Actually, that was one of the conversation pieces with me and Snoop. We sat there just talking about the artwork. I showed him the artwork, and he’s going through this whole Rastafarian thing right now.

TCUS: Snoop Lion, yeah.

Kayo: Snoop Lion! Yeah! [Laughs] So we sat there and just talked about it, because he liked the concept of the mixtape, and he liked the imagery that we were portraying. What was interesting, too, is that I start my sets with a Bob Marley song every time, and [Snoop] ends his set with a Bob Marley song every time now. So I don’t know if the booking agency knew he was going through that phase or whatever, but it just made so much sense.

TCUS: What do you miss most about back home?

Kayo: The food, man. Straight up, the food! On a superficial level [I miss] the food, but [also] family and friends. I’ve only been in Canada for four years, and I have a lifetime of memories back home – my friends, my family, I went to school there… just the normal shit I do on a daily basis, and I completely left that. I miss the little things, like the food, just the everyday life, being able to go to the beach when I want… but above all, family.

TCUS: What kind of food in particular?

Kayo: My favourite thing is boullion. Boullion is like a one-pot kind of thing, so it has like dumplings, red beans, salted pig tail and stuff, all just cooked in one big broth. That’s my shit, man. Every time I go home for Christmas, I make sure my mom has that for me. Gotta have that.

TCUS: Going way back, you have a special connection to the R. Kelly song “The World’s Greatest”. What’s the full story?

Kayo: [Laughs] Man, I love you guys, because you always do your research. That’s crazy [laughs]. “The World’s Greatest” was the first song that I ever performed, at my high school talent festival. I was part of the high school choir, and they were gonna do a rendition of “The World’s Greatest”, and I went up to them and I was like, “yo, can I do a rap verse in it or something?” So I wrote my verse and everything – actually, one of the teachers that was coordinating the choir wrote the verse, and I wasn’t really feeling it that much, so I kinda rewrote and restructured what he had – and that was my performance ever, man. I was like fourteen or fifteen, and it was crazy, man. Good memories.

TCUS: Back when you were originally getting ready to leave St. Lucia, you were thinking of going to Orlando for school instead of ending up in Halifax. Do you ever think about how different your life might have been?

Kayo: I’m a firm believer in everything happens for a reason, you know? Who knows what would have happened if I went to Orlando? I think being in Canada, even moving to Halifax, it was a smaller market, it was a very creative city, [and] being here really made me who I am, like all the right moves were made when I came here. Who’s to say what would have happened if I went to the States? There’s so much more competition, there’s so much more like… bullshit, for lack of a better word. I find that Canada really allowed me to just be myself and express myself, and really fine-tune my art and find that independent sound. Whereas I could have been just part of the bullshit that’s happening right now, you know what I mean? So I’m glad. Like I said, everything happens for a reason.

TCUS: Do you think it helps at all being in Halifax, still being in that island environment, living by the water?

Kayo: [Laughs] I never thought about it that way. It could be. What helps me, personally, is that a lot of Caribbean people come here for school. When I came up, I came up with maybe twenty other St. Lucians. So if I needed to be home, I had that sense of home with me. I don’t know what it is here, though. I just find that [Halifax] is really artistic. It really just allows you, like I said, to just be yourself and really find yourself. That’s why I find that a lot of music, the sounds that come out of Halifax or the East Coast in general, are so authentic and genuine. Even as opposed to like, Toronto. I mean, I love Toronto artists and everything, but a lot of them kind of sound like the current sound, whereas I find here, you’re allowed the opportunity to just be you. In any genre, really.

TCUS: You recently co-produced your first beat, what’s the full story behind that?

Kayo: [Laughs] Nah man, we were just f***ing around. We were at rehearsals, and Yogi – Yogi is the guy that pretty much, if it wasn’t for Yogi, I wouldn’t have been able to get that cohesive sound with the mixtape. I work really closely with him right now, and he also plays [keyboard] when we perform. So we were just f***ing around on the keyboard, and I had this little pattern going, and it was dope. So he was like, “yo, keep doing that,” and he recorded it, and built a beat around it. I’m probably gonna use that shit sometime.

TCUS: Do you see yourself getting into producing as well as rapping?

Kayo: Nah, I don’t have the technical skills for that. I would like to get into songwriting a little bit more. I want to start writing more R&B songs for artists, and what I’m doing right now too is – the album is pretty much done, we’re just tying up a couple loose ends, and a couple sessions with some special producers – but right now, I’m just trying to do hooks. I’m in the studio, constantly writing and recording hooks, stockpiling choruses and stuff like that, and trying to get those out as far as the features are concerned. But songwriting is something that I want to get into. Not necessarily the production side of things, I’ll leave that to Class and Yogi.

TCUS: Well, those are pretty talented guys right there, so you’re in a good spot.

Kayo: Yeah, man. And that’s cool too, I find that’s another thing that has really evolved since my tour with Class, is that we have such a great team and creative [group of] people around me. My DJ Plaeboi, Yogi… Yogi’s from St. Lucia as well, he came up here in like January, and he’s really made a world of a difference being here. Class is just a great mentor to have, I just go to him with a bunch of songs that we’ve been working on and get his feedback. He’s one of those dudes that’s unaffected by everything that’s going on around him, so his sound is still very much him. You get that unbiased opinion from him, and I like that. And then with the booking agency and the entire infrastructure, I feel like I’m in a real good space right now.

TCUS: On the subject of Classified, one of my favourite verses from last year was your verse on “The Hangover”. One line of yours in particular that stuck out to me was “life’s like the best nights and the worst days.” Can you talk a little more about this?

Kayo: Dope, man. Thank you. Around that time, a lot of my inspiration came from sort of experiencing that life you had really dreamed of, performing and going on the road, and doing all this kind of stuff. And that’s pretty much what it was, “life’s like the best nights and the worst days,” because you kind of push yourself and try to experience everything at once, and then that hangover hits you like a motherf***er [laughs]. So yeah, that’s kinda what it was. What I tried to do with that verse was really compare life – or our life [as] performers, I suppose – to that hangover. Because you just want to keep going and enjoy that moment, regardless of the shit that’s gonna happen in the future. Like, you lose touch with your family, you lose touch with your friends, you kind of get caught up in a lot of bullshit, and that’s the hangover aspect of you enjoying that life that you’re living right now. It’s a f***ed up world out there, man. Especially touring – I’m still pretty new to it – but touring and the late nights of performing, the different lifestyle… if you’re not grounded, [and] you don’t have the right people around you, it can really twist you. For real.

TCUS: Aside from your music, you’re a big fan of Air Jordan sneakers. How did you get into Jordans?

Kayo: You know what? I’ve always been into sneakers, but when I was in St. Lucia, I couldn’t really afford Jordans. Not only were they expensive, but they were marked way up because they had to ship them into the island. So when I came [to Canada], I kinda really got into them, and my first pair of Jordans that I bought here were these Air Jordan Retro 1’s, but they were a different colourway. And someone stole them off the tour bus on the first night of the tour, man. It was in Sherbrooke or something. And I was so bummed out. We ended up in Victoria, and I found the Jordan VIII’s, [which] were like my favourite ones. When I got these, I was so in love with them that I just kept going, man. I don’t like to call myself a sneakerhead, because everyone’s a sneakerhead now, but I like shoes.

TCUS: How big is your shoe collection?

Kayo: Man, right now I’m at like 35.

TCUS: That’s a good collection right there.

Kayo: Not bad, I wanna cop a couple more, maybe two or three for the year, then I should be good. I always say that, and then I always end up getting more, but we’ll see. And the good thing about it, too, is that I get free clothes and shit most of the time, so shoes are pretty much the only thing that I spend money on. My only guilty pleasure, you know?

TCUS: How does your shoe collection stack up with Ambition’s?

Kayo: Can’t f*** with Ambition, man. [Laughs] Can’t f*** with [him]. I’m new to the game, so those guys are like OGs, you know what I mean? But I have to say, as far as music goes out here, myself, Cam [Smith] and Ambition, we hold the sneakerheads down out here.

TCUS: What’s your most prized pair?

Kayo: Ooh! Good one! [Heads over to sneaker collection] It’s between these two [Olympic VI’s and CDP Bred XI’s]. I go through these phases where I have maybe four or five that I keep in heavy rotation, so I brought the [Olympic VI’s], these are my favourite right now. And the [CDP Bred XI’s] are my favourite as well, especially because these are getting re-released in December, so right now, I’m pretty much the only dude rockin’ em. Yeah, man. Those are my two prized possessions right now, the XI’s and the VI’s. And the VIII’s, man. The VIII’s are like my all-time favourite.

TCUS: How did you first get linked up with Appleton Rum?

Kayo: [Laughs] Man, you’re asking all the right questions! I was part of the event society at Saint Mary’s [University], and the Appleton rep came up to us. He wanted to do some events for the school, so we had a meeting with him, and he actually came up to me after one of the meetings, and was like, “I’d like to do some business with you as well.” Mee being Caribbean, that kind of helped, because it’s a Caribbean brand. And they’re trying to target a younger demographic, basically the same demographic that I’m trying to target, like 19-24. So it was a partnership that just really made sense, and [the rep and I] have been good ever since. I spoke to him yesterday, actually, and we’re looking to do some things in the beginning of September for Frosh Week. It’s a good situation to be in.

TCUS: When’s the last time you had to pay for rum?

Kayo: [Laughs] You know, sometimes I like to switch it up. So last night, actually, I bought some Coconut Bacardi. But apart from that, I’m pretty much good. If it’s not on the road, our rider’s pretty much covered, but apart from that, they hold me down. They hold me all the way down. For real.

TCUS: This quote comes from your tumblr page: “Remembering you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” What can you tell me about this, how has it applied to you?

Kayo: Yeah, straight up. I think it’s the whole – I keep telling people this in my interviews, too – the only reason I’m at where I’m at right now is because I kept going. Not necessarily because I was any more talented than anyone, but just because I really kept going at it. And that’s because I felt like, you know, there’s nothing else to lose. You might as well do what you want to do. You might as well do what you love, because you only have one life. Why live with fear? You don’t want to have to live with that regret in the future. So just keep going, man. Whatever it is you want to do in life, you’ve just got to keep going.

TCUS: Looking ahead to the future, what’s in store for you in the next year?

Kayo: Definitely the album. We’re gearing up for that. I don’t know man, we’ll see. Pretty much the album, that’s really what I’m psyched for because we also put a lot of work into that. We’ve been working on the album even before I went on the tour with Class the very first time. So we have a lot of work. For instance, [with the] mixtape, I really wanted to make it sort of current in terms of the sounds that we used, but with the album, I really want it to be timeless. I don’t want to say a classic, because that’s cliche, but I really want the music, the body of work, to be timeless. Like a Lauryn Hill, like a Nas, like a Bob Marley. Music that can resonate across the board. And I definitely think that we’ve achieved this with this album. That’s what I’m pretty much gearing up for as far as the next year’s concerned.

TCUS: How much can you say about the album at this point? Any projected release dates?

Kayo: We’re hoping for the first quarter of next year. That’s pretty much all I can say right now. We’ve got a title for it and everything, but I’m not gonna give out the title yet. But like I said man, it’s gonna be timeless, hopefully. It’s a culmination of everything that’s made me who I am, from being in St. Lucia to being here. I want it to be that kind of thing where if it’s the last project I ever put out, if it’s the only project people ever hear from me, if it’s the only thing that my kids ever hear from me, that they would know who I am. They would get a complete picture of who I am and what I represented, [and] where I came from. That’s what I want the album to represent.

TCUS: That’s all from me, is there anything else you wanted to say to the people out there?

Kayo: Get that mixtape! The Escape Movement at KayoMusic.com. [Laughs] You already know. We just put out the video with Quake, we’re gonna be putting out another video very shortly… and as always, man, thank you so much for the support, because I can’t do this without you guys. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. For real.

TCUS: Thanks very much for your time, best of luck to you in the future!

Photos of Kayo courtesy of Chris Brown – Overexposer