Thanks for the memories. Stay Sweet.
Regardless of your opinions about rapper KJ-52, there's certainly no denying that he's had quite an impact on the world of Christian music as well as doing more than his part in bringing hip-hop music to the attention of some unlikely audiences.
I recently ran into KJ a few times down in Nashville during GMA Week, but about a month ago, I sat down with him on the phone to chat about his new album, The Yearbook, his recent touring dates, success, and a very special delivery.
Below is that conversation for your reading pleasure.
First off, I wanted to say congrats about your baby son coming. About 2 months away now, right?
Yes, May 15th
And with that news, who cares about the album, right?
I look at it as if I have two release dates.
That's a good way to look at it. So what kind of stuff has been going through your head as you look ahead at being a dad?
You know, honestly a lot of it is more feelings of apprehension and a little bit of nervousness. It's my first kid, you know? You don't want to repeat a lot of mistakes you've made in the past and so I want to raise my son correctly. Really, what I did is I took most of everything I was thinking about and that is what the song, "Always Here For You," kind of became. I wanted to make sure that I always remembered that moment and I wanted to give it to my kid at some point.
Yeah, that's pretty cool. I know I did a lot of writing and stuff when I first found out I was going to be a dad, so there is something there for them to look back on and at least know that the love was there from the beginning.
And obviously people do care about the album. . .
it's called The Yearbook and it offers some snapshot of your life, is that accurate?
Yeah. Basically, to me, a yearbook kind of represents what happens in that year - the highs and the lows - and all the pictures you see, you can look back and go, "That is where I was [then]. That is where my head was at during that point in time." When I was trying to finish up the record, I realized that the majority of the record had been inspired by what had happened in the last year or so.
Was the writing process any different from the previous albums?
Very different. Yes. Very, very different. This is the first record that I've produced the majority of it. So producing 17 of the 19 songs, really, my goal was to get the 50 tracks written and produced. So, you know what I mean. Making the music itself takes up a good chunk of your creativity. By the time you get around to writing, you gotta dig that much deeper, but I wanted to be a lot more transparent. I wanted to put a lot of the silliness of my previous efforts behind me, but that element is still in there. I was just trying to move onto to maybe some deeper subject matter. You know, not alienate my fan base, but at the same time, you can kind of take your fan base somewhere after five records.
Yeah. So did you enjoy the creative control of producing it as well as writing?
It was one of those love/hate things, you know? I obviously loved the fact of what I get to do. And to have that much more influence, it's very much a. . . You know, if I don't do this. . . I'd rather try and fail than not try at all, you know what I mean? It was very addicting honestly. I can honestly tell you, after the last month of the record being done, I've had a hard time adjusting. I'm calling it post-album depression.
So, you know, it was addicting. It was almost like being pregnant - not that I really know what that is like - but I had the whole record for 9 months. So, you know when you first find out that you're pregnant, you are all excited. And then about 6 months in, you are like, "I just want this thing to be over with." And then, you know, when the kid is finally born, I guess with the album, all you can say is that when you look at it and know that it was all worth it.
(laughs) Now, your bio mentions that you've produced 75 songs over the last year or so. . .
Yeah, by the time I was done, I had about 75 tracks to pick from.
That was all for this album?
Basically, I wrote 40 songs, but just about every song had 2 or 3 versions of it. So by the time you did the math, it was between 70-80 songs.
Yeah. I didn't know if you had worked with some other people, producing for them or something. . .
Well aside from Aaron Sprinkle and maybe one other guy, no I didn't with anyone. When I say I worked with other people, I mean that it's kind of a collective thing. Meaning I have musicians that I worked with, but it's. . . I didn't really go to other people for tracks per se.
Okay. Now you mentioned wanting to talk about some heavier topics with your songs and stuff. Obviously, the song "Fan Mail" is kind of a show stopper on that front.
A show stopper. It's kind of like everything in one punch as far as being topically deep and heavy. Are all of those accounts taken from actual letters?
Oh yeah, definitely. I always put a spin on them to not exploit anybodies story, you know what I mean?
But anything that you hear is from a letter I received at one point or another.
If I remember correctly, you were a youth pastor for a while right?
Yes. I was an inner city youth pastor for roughly three years.
Do you feel that you've taken that mentality with you to the stage in how you interact with your fans and stuff?
Oh yeah. The reason I was doing that, obviously that's what I thought God was calling me to do. I knew that was where I needed to be right then, but that wasn't something I was looking to do for the rest of my life. But the great thing about that was that it really prepared me for now. Yeah, I definitely pull a lot [from that experience] - from the way I run my shows to the way I interact with kids, fans, adults. I think people kind of pigeon hole hip-hop as a youth thing, but there is a whole generation of adults now, people who pay mortgages and have kids and they look for the hip-hop, you know what I mean?
Yeah. Iit just seems that you try to make yourself more accessible to your fans than a lot of other people out there.
Yeah. I definitely try to do that. I think part of that for me is just making sure that what I'm doing is always hitting the mark. Like, I'm always playing my stuff for various people, asking, "What do you think of this? Why don't you like this? Do you like this? Why do you like this?" That point in mind, it's something you try to balance. Something you try not to. . . You know, you live in the public eye, but at the same time, it's been something I've tried to balance. I can't say that I always figure it out.
Cool. Back to the album, it's not all serious - there are also plenty of jokes and what you could call "diss tracks" to the critics of the world. . .
(laughs) I guess if you want to put it that way, yeah. I guess so. That wasn't really the intention. It's just more of my way of just saying, "Okay, if that is how you feel, then this is how I feel." I wasn't trying to take shots at anybody in particular. There comes a point in time where you just have to go, "Okay, you know what?" That's when I say what I need to say.
Does it feel kind of silly to have to complain about being hated on, when you've had such success with your albums?
Did you say "silly"?
It's not that I get hated on. Actually, I think it's more of the aspect of how you define success, you know what I mean?
Is selling 100,000 records more successful than [selling] 50,000 records? If you look at any of my previous records, I've never said anything - very rarely have I ever addressed any of that. I think part of it was going into what was happening in the last year. So a lot of that was just my way of kind of going, "Okay. You know what? I've got to get some stuff off my chest, plain and simple." But to some degree, yes, it is silly. That's why you address it. You know what I mean? I've never tried to be the whiney rapper. . .
Right. . .
But I indulged myself a little bit, by being the whiney rapper this time.
Yeah and I think to me, it's that the critics don't ever want to be criticized, you know what I mean? I think is the problem. People that hand out criticism. I've always been like, "You know what? If you don't like something, that's fine." I've never been like, "Your opinion is not valid." I think I've always just had a problem with people that based their opinion on things that are not true, you know what I mean?
So for me, that's what a lot of my response was. It wasn't so much banging back at someone who was just going, "You know what? You're a wack rapper. You can't rhyme. You're an Eminem wannabe." - things of that sort. But when people use something that's. . . in other words, if you get facts wrong and then try to base your whole opinion on facts that aren't even correct, that's when I have to go, "Okay. You want to go that way, that's fine but at least get your facts right."
That's kind of where my head was at.
Was that spurred on a lot by the whole Dear Slim mishap and the misinterpretation of that song?
Well to some degree. That wasn't all of it, but honestly man, I get more slack from Christian sources than from mainstream.
That's really where my harshest critics or really people that completely strip the facts. That's really where it comes from. People would take one little thing that they think is true and completely distort it to where there is no truth to it. Or it's misguided or a half-truth. Really what they are looking for is just something to support what they already feel.
I've always been like, "You know what? I may feel a certain way, but I'm going to at least base however I feel on what the full picture is."
Definitely. Now switching gears a bit, it was good to hear Goldin Child up on the album again. Am I hearing things? I could have sworn rumors a while ago about a Sons of Intellect reunion.
Yes and no. I mean, we've kicked around the idea of doing it. The problem is that. . . The main problem is that from a realistic standpoint, from a contractual standpoint we are kind of limited, you know what I mean?
So the idea. . . well, we're asking, "What would we do with this?" or "What is the outlet?" Besides, God knows I've had enough side projects.
You sure keep busy.
Yeah. I don't like sitting still whatsoever. For me it's more about life. If I'm not creating, I just don't feel like I'm breathing, you know what I mean?
"Is selling 100,000 records more successful than [selling] 50,000 records?"
And it's not to say that I've always been smart with that - and I've talked about that in one of my songs. Looking back, I could have made some of my songs better. Hindsight is 20/20. So I'm like, whatever. There is definitely a degree of, I don't want to say regret but. . .
Well that is what remix albums are for. . .
Is that what they are for?
I think so.
I'm going to write that down, I'm still trying to figure out what remix albums are for.
Alright, you've been touring quite a bit with the Revolve Tour and you recently did a Women of Faith event. . .
Actually it's this weekend. . .
Oh, it's coming up?
Yeah. Actually, I have to leave tomorrow for it.
Oh, okay. Now you don't have to wear high heels or anything for that do you?
I hope not. We just have to watch a lot of Oxygen.
Bring your Oprah magazine with you. . .
Yeah. . .
That's a pretty cool opportunity. it's not one that anybody would necessarily expect.
Yeah, you and me both (laughs) I've been definitely agonizing over it, just trying to figure out. . . Part of me just can't believe I'm getting into this opportunity, but for them to open up the door. And it's funny to me because they actually recognize that this is a viable music genre when so many other organizations, you know, whatever industry people wouldn't.
I mean, it's an incredible platform to be able to do what I do, but I'm not necessarily going there to entertain them per se. it's more to raise awareness for Revolve.
That's cool. Alright, I know that you obviously keep up with pop culture because you tend to pepper you lyrics with up-to-date references. So have you been watching American Idol?
I've watched it, but my wife is actually more into it. I wouldn't say she forces me to watch it, but we watched some of the early tryouts and we watched it last week.
Do you have any predictions?
I predict that somebody is going to win and sell a lot of records.
To me, that thing is such a machine. It's like you could literally plug anybody in there with a decent amount of talent, you know?
No, I don't have any predictions. Whatever I would predict. I look at things from more of a different perspective than the average public would to some degree.
Well that is why you are you.
Fair enough. Alright, I want to give you a chance to throw in anything I might have missed, but in honor of your new album, I also want you to close out this interview as if you were signing my yearbook.
Okay. Alright, then. . . "Dear Brenten, It's been a good year. I'm glad for all of the classes that we've had together. Have a good summer. Don't ever change!"
Did I get everything cliché? Did I miss any?
I don't know.
"Keep in touch" - That is the other one we used to sign off with. . .
That's right. I expected "One Love, One . . ."
Oh no, no, no (laughs) I'm going strictly cliché here.
"Stay sweet." - That was another one. The girls used to always write that one, "Stay sweet. Don't ever change."
(laughs) Yeah, definitely. Well alright, is there anything else?
No that'll be it.
Alrighty. I don't want to keep you, since I know you're a busy, busy guy. So, I just want to say thanks for taking some time out and calling back. . .
Thanks a lot.
Find out more about KJ-52 and The Yearbook at KJ52.com, FiveTweezyHigh.com, or MySpace.com/KJ52