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KEEP IT ALIVE: An Interview with Kero One

By Len Vinas & Photos by John Coyne

Mar 10, 2007 - 7:26 PM

Kero One composes live beats during his performance at Poleng Lounge in San Francisco on February 28. He’s a one-man show: a producer, rapper and deejay.

Kero One’s musical influences derive mainly from early 90s hip hop as well as classic jazz and soul. These influences are manifested through his music. His debut album, Windmills of the Soul, gained him notoriety and acclaim in the hip hop community.

The night was young. It was only 11:30 on a Wednesday night and what better way to lighten the mood before Kero One performs than DJ King Most asking who is better:

Mr. Hallelujah Holla Back – “King of the Burbs” John Brown, Boston native Sullee, or New York bred Persia? Sure enough, the crowd of 50 at the Poleng Lounge in San Francisco said, hands down, it was all about Sullee. But that’s debatable.

Everyone quickly forgot about those white rappers and held their focus on the man of the hour, Kero One. A triple threat: producer, rapper and deejay, Kero One brought the house down with a freestyle rap, live beat making and a rendition of “In All the Wrong Places” off his album Windmills of the Soul. The 30-minute set was short but also left the crowd buzzing because of his flawless freestyle and ability to compose melodic beats on the spot.

OH DANG! was lucky enough to sit down with Kero One to discuss life, his musical influences, his album and where he thinks the state of hip hop is. This Bay Area cat doesn’t know how to go dumb but he sure knows how to Keep It Alive.

How long have you been deejaying, rapping, producing?

I started deejaying in middle school. I got inspired by the high school dance deejays and by watching deejay battle videotapes. I was about 14 at the time. Emceeing came a little bit later, like after hearing the Wake Up Show and a lot of the freestyle battles, like Hieroglyphics versus Hobo Junction. I wanted to start making songs. I needed some beats and I only knew one other producer, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. I got myself a beat machine and from there I started to get into it and I started making tracks. At that time, I was about 18.

Who were your biggest musical influences growing up?

My biggest influences come from early on, like a lot of the early 90's hip hop artists like Nas, Rakim, and Organized Konfusion. Also, Bay Area cats like the Derelicks, Souls of Mischief and the whole Hieroglyphics crew and onto east coast artists like Lord Finesse, PCP and the Jugganauts.

Let’s talk about the album Windmills of the Soul. How did you come up with that name?

Windmills of the Soul was inspired by a jazz record by Dorothy Ashby called Windmills of my Mind. I changed it up because I feel this album is a true reflection of something I am really passionate about. And “windmills,” I see the natural energy in everything that comes out, and I try to make it organic as possible.

Where do you see the current state of hip hop?

I’m not too sure about the state of hip hop. I’m not too in tune with the Hyphy Movement at all and I don’t know really what’s goin’ on with that. But I think overall, there are interesting artists that are doing things out there. I get inspired by artists like Pharaohe Monch, Mos Def, Common, and Will.I.Am on the production tip. So I think the overall state of hip-hop right now is it’s kind of in a changing process in terms of the influences. J Dilla had a huge influence on a lot of people because of the fact that when he died, more people found out about J Dilla than any other artist I can think of in hip hop in such a quick time. Right after his passing, more than anything, I hear his influence in a lot of people’s beats now. I think a lot of people are taking that and going with it.

Being a Bay Area artist, do you feel any pressure to live up to the Hyphy Movement?

No, because that it’s completely opposite from the kind of music I’m making and what I’m about. For me, it’s always nice to listen to all kinds of music. But what I put across is just a reflection of what I go through on a day-to-day and the way I was brought up, which was more about focusing on not getting dumb and not getting stupid. I’m not involved in that scene at all. So, to me, it’s a whole ‘nother world.

What kinds of support for your career did you get from your family and friends?

In the beginning, having Korean parents, they would rather have me focus on an established career and school, trying to get one of those salary type jobs. They didn’t take it seriously until they started seeing the room filled up with boxes and boxes of albums and CDs being shipped out every week and seeing that it wasn’t something I was playing around with. I was serious about it. It was at that point that they really saw that and they have been really supportive but it wasn’t like that initially. I don’t think many parents can take that seriously, when a son says they are gonna become a rapper. It took a few years and it took time.

In terms of friends, I had a lot of homies that were into the arts. So I had homies that were photographers and graphic designers. A lot of them cats helped me out in the beginning and put forth their creative efforts. My boy D. Song of Soul for Song Media did a lot of photography. My man Flavor Innovator did a lot of the artwork and King Most was down with the production. Everyone from the record stores to the distributors helped out because I had no label pushing me and I had no major distribution. So it was all from the ground up, we did everything ourselves.

What are you working on now?

Right now, I’m working on parts of my next solo album. I’m also working on my live show. I’m trying to incorporate a lot of instrument playing and beat production on the spot. I’m also working on collaborations with other artists. I just finished one with Ohmega Watts and we’re putting out a compilation called Kero One Presents Plug Label to introduce the label and what we’re doing. I also did an unofficial remix project with Common, Erykah Badu and Andre 3000 called The Love Triangle EP. It’s an underground mixtape.

I’m gonna be constantly dropping stuff and I’m working hard trying to make quality music.

Anything you want to tell the people and fans before we wrap this up?

For those that are out in Europe, definitely come check out the tour. I’m gonna be doing half of it with EPMD, so I’m really excited about that. And for anyone who’s taking the time to read this interview, big ups for checking it out and I hope I said something that you thought was funny, stupid, interesting or brought out some sort of emotion in you. Check out my album Windmills of the Soul. And if you’re a deejay, check out the 12-inches, I got a bunch of ‘em. You can connect with me on www.myspace.com/keroone, and thank you.

For more information on Kero One, visit www.kero1.com and www.pluglabel.com


Len Vinas is a contributing writer for OH DANG!

John Coyne is a freelance contributor to OH DANG! Check out his work at: http://flickr.com/photos/jjcphotography/

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