With the release of his new EP, ‘PROTECT MY he(ART)’, coming later this month, Chicago-based artist Kiraly Payne will have initiated the next phase of his music career. The EP not only marks an evolution in the versatile rapper’s sound, but it also represents a shift in his overall mindset when it comes to the creative process, ceding his own ego and the notion of proving himself to anyone. Instead, he’s in pursuit of a greater goal, as he puts it, “to make the best music possible”.
This next step for Kiraly has been motivated by his experiences in the Chicago hip-hop scene for the past few years. He only wants to see himself and his friends blow up, and doing that, he’s realized, requires the building of community and collaboration. Listen to Kiraly Payne’s new single “By My Side”, read about his forthcoming EP, and the Chicago hip-hop collective he’s starting in our latest interview below:
Photos by @kayodidthat
MDR: Tell me a bit about where you’re from.
KP: I’m from like Oak park, but we moved to Bolingbrook when I was six. Is there like a music scene there at all? I mean, yeah, but to be completely honest, most of the people in the suburbs weren’t very good, but there were a few like Mahoney, Marcus, no good. He wasn’t like, he wasn’t in Bolingbrook, but he was in Plainfield. It was like, know what I’m saying? It was similar, but I mean in the suburbs as a whole, it’s definitely a music scene. Absolutely. But not in just Bolingbrook. I mean, there’s a couple people, but there’s no like legitimate scene. You couldn’t have a show and have like of the people show up and Butler, it’s probably just going to happen.
MDR: How/When did you get into rapping?
KP: I wrote my first verse when I was seven. People don’t believe that, but literally I was seven years old. It was just the thought of hearing my voice on a song was just crazy to me. I was like, man, I got to hear my voice on a song. The song was called “Rollin” even though I didn’t have a car [laughs]. I started making beats when I was in sixth grade and then I started recording and on a Rock Band mic and putting the songs on, and I would say seventh grade is when I really taking music seriously. I dropped a mixtape freshman, sophomore, and senior year of high school. So this is how I was building my foundation while still living in the suburbs, and it started to bleed over into the city too. Then I went to college at Columbia. That’s how I met like a whole lot of people.
MDR: Who were you influenced by early on?
KP: Lil Wayne–that’s that n***a man. T.I. was like my favorite rapper. Kanye. Those were my biggest ones early on. My influences have changed from generation to generation.
MDR: So right now, who would you say your influences are?
KP: My favorite rapper ever is Kendrick. Kendrick just completely changed my life. When I heard “ADHD”, I was like “man, I got to make music that makes people feel like this one makes me feel”, you feel me? That was my goal once I heard Kendrick. Also Smino, Saba, Schoolboy Q… I rock with J I D, Isaiah Rashad… I love Young Thug too. Future, which people might not expect just because of my style, but I love them dudes.
MDR : As far as your production, who would you say influenced that?
KP: I would say that breaks down into sections too. When I first got into it, I was making trap beat. I was inspired by Lex Luger at first. He was the wave and a lot of n****s don’t really give Lex Luger the credit that he deserves. My favorite producer probably ever is Monte Booker, easily. His whole sound’s just crazy.
I was in the studio with him a long time ago. This was like when Smino had like 1500 followers on SoundCloud and Monte Booker had like 7,000. My homie Frank Leone calls me like, “I’m about to get in the studio with this producer named Monte Booker. You should slide through.” So we go to the studio, and this man playing beats and I’m just sitting there in awe like, “bro, what is this? You didn’t even warn me what I was getting myself into.”
Then, Smino comes in the room. I didn’t know who Smino was at the time for me. I’m just chopping it up with him. He telling me like, “yeah, you know, I’m not really shit yet, you know. People know who I am but I’m not shit yet.” And I’m like, “oh, okay. This is just another rapper like me.” … Then they dropped ‘S!CK S!CK S!CK’ which was the first EP that they put out together. I heard that, and I texted my homie like, “bro, is this the dude that we were chopping it up with?” He’s like, “yeah, that’s him.” It’s crazy. The few times that I ran into him, I told him about it. It’s just a crazy situation.
MDR: That’s wild. And recently, you rapped over a Monte beat, right?
KP: Yeah, that was one of my favorite beats on his SoundCloud. I just wrote a verse to it, and I put it out and it just went crazy on Twitter. He told me he fucked with it, so I ended up dropping it. It was cool to have that interaction. I would love to work with Monte directly one day ’cause I feel like we would make some beautiful s**t.
MDR: How would you describe your style of music right now, taking into account how it’s evolved and changed since you started?
KP: It has changed a lot. I don’t even really know how to really explain it. I rap my ass off because those are my roots–I got into this because I cared about being a great rapper. But now I’m more focused on being a great artist. My biggest thing was I got to a point where I realized just how subjective music is. It was kind of pointless for me to keep trying to be the best rapper alive because being the best rapper alive depends on whoever’s judging. … It’s just subjective, you feel me? I just want to make the best music possible. So I still rap my ass off, but I’m just trying to put out great music. I’m integrating a lot of melody in it. I mean that’s the best way I would explain the change in my sound.
MDR: For sure. I’ve definitely noticed in your latest tracks there’s a lot more melody in it. But you could still just go bar-for-bar when you want to.
KP: I mean obviously I kind of built my foundation on being a really good rapport. So I can’t completely abandon that. I try to cater to those people, but I’m also trying to cater to the people that want to hear great music because in reality, a lot of people don’t want to just hear you rap all the time. And I kind of realized that, so I just kind of studied the artistic side. That’s what I’m focusing on right now.
MDR: That leads into my next question. Let’s get into your forthcoming project, ‘Protect My He(art)’.
KP: The title is a double entendre. There’s my heart, which is me as a person, and then my art, which is my music and everything. The project is about just protecting me from anything that’s going to hinder my growth as an artist and as a person. A lot of this s**t is about this girl that I was talking to at the time who I don’t really speak to no more, which is crazy cause I made this whole project about shorty. That’s the gist of it. It’s honestly my favorite piece of work I’ve ever created. I’m so excited about it. This is the first time that I made a project not trying to cater to hip hop heads. I was just trying to make the best music possible and make something that I love and I feel like I did that.
MDR: What can we expect from the project as far as what it sounds like? Does it sound similar to what you’ve been dropping recently?
KP: It sounds different. I’d say it’s really futuristic. It’s blending a lot of different genres. Rnb, hip-hop, a little bit of dubstep, a little bit of house music, and a little bit of jazz. It’s like a blend of all of that within five songs. It’s definitely a lot different, but I think it’ll be well received because it’s quality music. And I’m not just saying that being biased because it’s my music. I genuinely feel like if I was in another person’s shoes and I was to listen to it, I’d be like, “okay, this is great music.”
MDR: What was it like exclusively working with 5HERiFF exclusively for the production on this project?
KP: My manager Chase was like, “bro, you gotta work with 5HERiFF.” The thing is I had only heard trap beats from 5HERiFF so I didn’t even know he was coming with the full package like that. When I got into the studio with him, and 5HERiFF was playing these beats, I’m sitting there looking at my homie in the studio like, “bro, do you understand? We about to make some crazy s**t. The first day we met, we decided to do a project together.
He airdropped me five or six beats. I started writing to those. Then I linked up with him again two weeks later and he airdropped another three or four beats. I recorded everything within a month and a half. I was in a zone. This is the first project that I’ve ever dropped that I had zero production on. But it’s cool because he had a certain sound that I was really trying to go after, and I didn’t even want to hold myself back because if I was to just try and put something that I produced on there, it would have just been out of pride. But I didn’t want to do that.
MDR: Was it hard for you at all to give up control like that?
KP: Nah, for the first time ever I was just content. I knew it was just a great piece of work regardless if I produced it or not. It might impress artists to see that you’re producing everything yourself. But in reality, normal people really don’t care about that. So I kind of put it into perspective that in the grand scheme of things it really don’t matter. You feel me. I’m going to be producing my shit in the future though. Don’t get me wrong, I’m never going to completely stop producing. But you know, I let him take the driver’s seat on the production side for this. I don’t regret it at all.
MDR: Are there any features?
KP: No, it’s all me. This project is the real introduction into what I’m trying to do next sound-wise. In the future, though, I’ll be doing a lot more collaboration. We actually just started a power group called OUTER(NET). My homie Left Ear who’s produced a lot of my s**t, my boy Myquale, Ausar, Isaiah G , Aaron Deux. We probably going to end up expanding.
MDR: How did OUTER(NET) come together? Like what was the thinking behind it?
KP: I hate to be that guy, but it was me [laughs]. Ausar was staying in a hotel in the city and he invited all of us over just on some kickin it s**t. And I’ve been talking about this for weeks on Twitter, but nobody was really bout the s**t. So I’m like, all right, when I see n****s in person, I’ll run this by them. Like we already stick together, we retweet each other’s s**t, there’s no actual unity. People don’t know that we really rock with each other. This is what we need to do. We need to create a movement and all be under one umbrella. Cause one person get on and the next person get on, the next person get on… A movement, like SAVEMONEY. There has not been anything like that in Chicago since SAVEMONEY. We already got one song together and then we have the second one that’s written, but we haven’t recorded it yet.
MDR: What’s your process like when collaborating?
KP: I’m not a complete introvert, but when it comes to making music, I’m an introvert big time. Like I’m an only child. I grew up by myself so I always made music by myself for the most part. I had n****s I work with, but I always record by myself. So, being in a studio with other n****s, it was weird. I had to get used to it but I don’t know, this shit is in my blood. Just being around all these other talents and n****s in the room, I’m like bro I had come correct. It’s always going to be a little bit of friendly competition. It was fun, though.
MDR: I feel like that’s a perspective someone can only gain from being in the scene for some time. I’m curious, how have you seen the Chicago hip-hop landscape change since you first started?
KP: Well, it’s pretty validating, because there’s a lot of artists in the scene that I really admire even though we were kind of side by side. I get a lot of that same energy from a lot of the artists that I admire. And it’s a different type of validation that you get from people that make art than people that don’t really make art. I obviously appreciate both, but when somebody else is great at creating something and they tell you like, “bro, you really made me want to create something”, it’s just a different type of validation. That makes you feel like, “okay, you know what, I’m really doing something right.”
In terms of how it’s changed, I think it’s ridiculous that nobody from this scene, in particular, has blown up yet because we are talented as f**k. There’s so many talented artists and that’s why I came up with the idea of creating the collective. We can really take this to the next level and put Chicago back on the map as a real Mecca with hella talented artists about to come to the forefront of this rap s**t. And I feel like there’s so many of us that have the ability to do that. I think we’re about to change things for the better. Chicago’s had kind of a reputation of not sticking together like somewhere like Atlanta. I really want to change that narrative, and I think that we’re on our way to doing that.