Interview by: Martin Bauman
It’s just a matter of time for Kayo right now. Having built a strong following from last year’s The Escape Movement, and having learned from the likes of Snoop Dogg and Xzibit on tour, the St. Lucian emcee is all set to release his debut album with EMI/Halflife. All he has to do now is wait, which, as Kayo acknowledges, has been a challenge. In the meantime, he’s been busy with other ventures. After graduating from St. Mary’s University earlier this year, Kayo has been working closely with The Escape Movement clothing label and trying his hand at clothing design. The Come Up Show caught up with Kayo on tour to discuss his early career, working with The Escape Movement, and the status of his album, among other things. Read the full interview below.
TCUS: What significance does Ciara have to you in your career?
Kayo: I love the fact that you always do your motherf—ing research, man. When I did the first [St. Lucia] Jazz Festival on the main stage, we opened for Ciara with Sisterhood. That was huge, that was a big part of my career, man.
TCUS: Was that your first big break?
Kayo: That would be my first landmark performance, you know what I mean? It was like a coming of age kind of thing, if you will. My song was on the radio; I was 16 [or] 17 in St. Lucia, the youngest performer, the first local rapper to be on the main stage… It was definitely a momentous part of my career.
TCUS: Speaking of another memorable performance, what can you tell me about the night you opened for Mickey Factz?
Kayo: [Laughs] How do you get these things, man? That’s real early in my career. I was booked to open for Mickey Factz at The Palace in Halifax, and dude never showed up. I don’t know what happened, if it was a promoter issue, if it had something to do with his management, or his label, or whatever the case may be. But he didn’t show up, and they still had the show. No one knew that until I was about to go on. So I had to go from being the opener to performing like a 40-minute set to compensate for the fact that the headliner wasn’t there.
TCUS: But you got some extra time, so it can’t be too bad.
Kayo: Nah, it was cool. It was cool, but it was still really early in my career, and in hindsight, I don’t think I was really ready for that kind of thing yet. Like, to be able to do a set that long and make it dynamic and interactive. Those are things that you learn with experience and performing a little bit more, and I don’t think I was really quite there yet. But at the moment, we thought we were the shit, [we thought] we were killing it.
TCUS: Before you were in hip-hop, you had another talent. What can you tell me about the Helen Folk Dance group?
Kayo: [Laughs] The Helen Folk Dancers, yeah, I was a part of the Helen Folk Dancers, which was a local, traditional folk dance group. I was like 11, 12 maybe. [I] did it for two or three years, and that was a huge part of my life at the time, too. I had to go to practice every Saturday afternoon, and do all these kind of things. We’d have these recitals, and we’d dance and perform when they had different events and shit for government officials and stuff like that. So it was cool, it’s just, as a kid, it wasn’t the coolest thing to do. So I wasn’t too proud of it. But now, you look back on those kind of things, and you’re glad you did them.
TCUS: What can you tell the people about Coco Cabana?
Kayo: [Laughs] How do you do this? Wow. The Coco Cabana was actually one of my favourite clubs in St. Lucia. And it was only up for like a year, a year and a half. But it was one of my favourite clubs ever in St. Lucia.
TCUS: Aside from your music, you’ve been trying your hand at a little bit of clothing design. How did you connect with The Escape Movement?
Kayo: Hell yeah. What happened was we were on the Frosh Week tour in 2011, and we were in North Bay. We stopped in the mall, just looking around and stuff, and then all the guys left me in the mall by accident. They forgot me. So I was just walking around, and then I came across this store, The Escape Movement. So I went in and checked out their stuff, and they gave me a couple shirts, a couple hoodies to wear onstage – because that kinda [stuff] happens, like, independent labels will give you stuff to wear onstage to help their brand – so I did that, [and] I really fell in love with the brand.
I emailed the owner, Andrew Morrison, [and] we started to do a sponsorship situation, where he’d send me a bunch of clothes and I’d wear them in my videos and onstage, just to sort of help his brand and help my brand as well. When I started to tour a lot more on my own, we started to do these collaborative efforts together. So then we’d have our own separate section for The Escape Movement brand. And as we continued to work together, we had different innovative ideas, and now that I’m done school and I graduated with a marketing degree, I’m now his regional marketing rep for the East Coast. So that’s where we’re at right now.
TCUS: Let’s talk about that big milestone, you mentioned you graduated school this year. How important was that to you?
Kayo: That was key, man. That was real key. In fact, the very last day of my last class was the day that I signed my deal. So that was a big day for me, in general. I had this five-year plan, where I wanted to graduate school and have a record deal, and be able to be a full-time artist, and to be able to achieve that was huge.
TCUS: Last time we did an interview, you had just returned from several tour dates with Snoop Dogg. This past December, you joined another West Coast legend, Xzibit. What was it like being on the road with him?
Kayo: It was cool, man. Touring with these guys that you see in the light of stardom or superstardom, and to be able to just sit down and relate to them like we are, it really kinda humanizes this whole thing that we’re doing. You realize that these people are really just artists and expressing themselves in a certain way. It’s just cool to be able to have that connection with people, regardless of their status. You learn a lot from them, too. I like to really study these dudes when they’re onstage, and try and take in as much of their craft as I can to put into mine.
TCUS: What did you pick up from Xzibit, then?
Kayo: Stage presence. Super stage presence. That dude can hold a crowd down. Even with his more mellow songs, it’s still so edgy. It’s crazy.
TCUS: I want to talk about your creative process. You say that the last song you do on a project is always the intro. How come?
The Intro is always the last song we do on a project..
— Kayo Guevarra(@KayoGuevarra) November 12, 2012
Kayo: It started to just kinda happen that way, but now I actually strive to do it, because it completes the whole thing. It’s like putting that final full stop on a book. It kinda closes that chapter for me.
TCUS: What can you tell me about “The Rules” by Bob Lefsetz?
Kayo: That was just something that I stumbled on, but it’s so key. It’s something that I think a lot of artists should take away with their craft, and really try to focus on that kind of thing. It’s cool being an artist, it’s cool being talented and everything, but unless you really know how to package that and promote that, and expose the people to that effectively, there’s really no point. There are a million artists in the world, but the ones that stand out are the guys that have the full package – and social media and marketing and all that stuff is really key to that.
TCUS: You just recently released “6PM in Hali”. What inspired this?
Kayo: Man, just frustrations that I was going through. I hadn’t been putting out much music. Imagine, it was East Coast Music Week, we had just finished soundcheck, and I was like “you know what? F— it, I’mma just go in the booth and put this out real quick before I go onstage in the next couple hours.” It was just a little freestyle I wanted to get off my chest and let the people know that I was still out here, killing shit.
TCUS: What’s the significance of this quote: “Every young king is bound to be crucified.”
They’ll try to bring you down, but words can never die. Every Young King is bound to be crucified.
— Kayo Guevarra(@KayoGuevarra) March 19, 2013
Kayo: That is a line from a song called “Don’t Bring Me Down” that I haven’t even put out yet. It’s the last song that I perform in my set on this tour. I like to think of myself and my peers, and those people working towards these goals that we’re working towards, as young kings in the making. Royalty and rebellion, so to speak, where it’s like you’re really taking it upon yourself, and doing exactly what it is you want, regardless of what society [says], or any other element that’s telling you otherwise. You continue on that path. You stand out, you’re exemplary in society. You’re sticking to your guts [and] doing whatever the f— you want to do, and you come out as a young king. That’s how I see it.
But with that being said, every young king is bound to be crucified. No one’s ever going to see [your drive] in the beginning. All those billionaires that dropped out of school, and then made billions, I’m sure when they did it, no one was really for it. You’re gonna make these kinds of decisions in your life that you know are gonna be beneficial to you, but the rest of the world isn’t necessarily gonna see it like that, and you’re gonna get crucified for those decisions. But in the long run, [those decisions] are gonna make you a young king.
TCUS: Let’s talk about the album a little bit. What’s the status on your album right now?
Kayo: The album is done, the album has been done, and now we’re just going through the bureaucracy of things. Let’s just say I will be taking a little bit more control of things, I will be in the driver’s seat a little bit more in my career, [from now on]. Being a new artist in a major infrastructure like this brings restrictions that can be very frustrating if you don’t really understand the situation that you’re in.
Now that I’ve gone through all these different things – and I don’t want to speak on it too much – but the whole recording process for this album, being on a label, has been extremely good, but frustrating at times. And now that I have this kind of renewed inspiration and energy towards it, I really want to move forward with that mindset. So I don’t have a release date. The album is done, we have like 50 songs in the catalogue, just from the recording process of this album. I kinda just want to use this touring time to reflect and get everything ready before I move forward.
TCUS: Can you tell us about any of the guest features and producers you’ve been working with for this project?
Kayo: I don’t want to speak too much on it, because since we have so many songs in the catalogue, it changes a lot. I’m still recording. I can tell you that we’ve worked with a lot of different producers, I’ve been on a lot of writing and recording trips to LA and Toronto and stuff like that. But for the most part, the album is still really close to home, creatively. There’s a lot of the same people that I’ve been working with, a lot of the same recording processes. I still pretty much do all of my shit out of Class’s studio or Yogi’s studio.
TCUS: I’m glad you brought up LA, because I was going to ask you about that. What was your trip out to LA like?
Kayo: It made me feel like I was in a motherf—ing movie, straight up [laughs]. It was crazy. It was like seeing the process of these people that are full-time and established musicians, and to be able to be accepted by these people and taken seriously meant a lot. It’s like “okay, you’re on the right track,” you know? These are people that don’t have to be working with you, but they’re working with you because they see value in you or they see talent in you. So it’s crazy.
Not just that, but we were at this pool party or whatever, and it was the same spot that they shot a lot of scenes for Entourage. It was like “yo, I’m living this life that I hope to reach in the future.” It was really inspiring to be able to do that.
TCUS: One last question for you. You’ve compared your album to a set of letters or memoirs, documenting your life from four years ago up until now. Can you elaborate on this?
Kayo: By saying that, it really touches on specific parts of my life. Within those parts of my life, different people had different significance. So [whether it’s] expressing my experiences in school, I have songs geared towards that, where I talk to a specific female, or I talk to my friends, or I talk from the perspective of someone else that was within that situation with me. That’s how the memoirs come together. And the reason that I described it like that was because of where my head was at at the time. It was just like me expressing these thoughts and these emotions, but collectively being geared towards St. Lucia, because St. Lucia was such a major part of my overall experience.
TCUS: That’s all, is there anything else you wanted to add?
Kayo: Thank you for holding me down all this time, all the fans that have been out with me. Come see us at these shows while we’re on this tour; we’re on the entire tour with Class, my dude Quake is on it, we’re going all across the country until like May 4th or something like that. Come out, rock with us. I think personally, my craft, my performance and everything, has really been refined since the last time a lot of people have seen me. So I want people to at least see that growth. And support The Escape Movement. We’re gonna have new music out, this summer should be pretty interesting.