Kamaiyah on Success, Loss and Life Lessons from ‘Rugrats’
Kamaiyah doesn’t believe in rushing the process. The Oakland MC, best known for her appearance on YG’s “Why You Always Hatin’?” co-starring Drake and her retro ’90s rap anthem “Build You Up,” inked a deal with Interscope Records and has worked with an act from every tier of hip-hop from Lil Yachty to E-40 within the past two years.
While the former TIDAL Rising act keeps quiet about her future goals, she isn’t shy about putting in the work. “I tell people all the time it’s just God’s timing,” she says. “I feel like if you rush it or want something too soon, then it ain’t gon’ go the way you want it to go. I just gotta be patient. I don’t feel like there’s nothin’ that didn’t go the way it’s supposed to go.”
The former security guard will offer a peek into her newfound success, though, on her upcoming track “Successful” and project, Don’t Get Too Twisted. Kamaiyah describes it as: “Just real life lessons, testaments, growth, my trials and tribulations and experiences in the past year.”
During a pit stop at TIDAL HQ, Kamaiyah spoke candidly about being the only female rapper to rep the West Coast, losing her brother, and applying lessons from kids’ show Rugrats to her life.
You’ve worked security jobs in the past. What made you decide to focus on music full-time?
I got forced. My managers kidnapped me so I couldn’t go back to work. It was like right before I got my deal and I wanted to keep flying back and forth trying to make it to work, so they kind of like kidnapped me to [the point] where I had to call up my job like, ‘Yo, I gotta quit. This ain’t gonna work.’ That’s how I ended up losing my job.
How did your managers get wind of you?
[Senior Vice President of A&R at Interscope Records] Sickamore came looking for me. He called my manager Francois [Wiley] and asked him [if] he knew who I was. Francois knew my best friend’s uncle so he called him like, ‘Yo, you know this girl?’ His wife was my best friend so she’s like, ‘Give me Kamaiyah’s number.’ It’s just like some ghetto ass telephone shit and then eventually, everybody ended up together.
It’s a testament to how small this business is.
That’s some Oakland shit. It’s that connected and it just happened mad fast.
You’re the only one repping as far as female lyricists out in the West. Do you feel any type of pressure?
No. I feel like I’m just doing me. The pressure comes when you worry about somebody else. If I don’t worry about y’all, I’m straight. Me worrying about you might deter me from what I’m supposed to do. I’m not trying to step into your lane. I got my own thing going so I keep it like that.
Your songs ‘How Does It Feel’ and ‘Why You Always Hatin?’ have been on heavy rotation. Take me through your creative process. What triggers your pen game?
It depends on the topic and what message I’m trying to get across. I try to convey it in a cohesive manner when I come up with the context.
Who were some of the female MCs that you looked to who helped shape your approach to song-making?
I don’t feel like there were female MCs [who inspired me]. It’s the musicality period. I listen to all types of music — ‘70s music, ‘80s music, pop, disco, hip-hop, R&B. If you got those aspects in you, you’ll always be a great songwriter because you’re listening to different cadences all day.
Who were some of the people you were listening to when you were younger?
Temptations, The S.O.S. Band, Patti LaBelle, TLC, Biggie, ‘Pac — it’s just a boiling pot of everything. It wasn’t just one type of genre ‘cause it could go from that to *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears. It’s just a boiling pot of all different music and cultures.
How would you define the current West Coast sound?
I feel like my whole sound is West Coast. It’s funky. Bay Area funk. That’s L.A. We just funky.
How did you come up with the title for your project A Good Night in the Ghetto?
That’s all I wanted to have — a good night in the ghetto. That’s why that cover looks like a good night in the ghetto. Motherfucker walking up with some chips and some Hennessy. It’s about to be lit! Got the chips and the drank? Ah, it’s a party.
Has there been a moment over the past year where you felt like you made it?
Nah, I ain’t made it yet. I’m still at the point where [I] could make or break [it] so I still got a lot of shit to do. I don’t feel like I’ve made nothin’. What I did was set myself up to change my life forever.
Describe the moment you first heard yourself on the radio.
It’s definitely humbling when you hear yourself on the radio for the first time ‘cause it’s like, damn you waited your whole life to kind of do this and then to just be actually living it, it’s like whoa. It’s moreso frightening ‘cause it’s like the way that you speak into existence what you want. I’ma do this, I’ma do that and then if you really believe that shit, it happens.
How do you make sure to maintain that sense of who you are, a girl from Oakland, despite getting these co-signs from Drake and YG then signing to Interscope Records?
Stay humble. Staying true to yourself. I don’t give a shit about nothing else. I’m just myself. I don’t know how to describe it.
What can you tell me about your upcoming track ‘Successful’?
The new record — that shit bang. You go from ‘How Does It Feel’ to ‘I’m getting a taste of how it feels.’ I see they don’t wanna see that success. That’s all that is. It’s like me talking about how I come from this to that and now I’m seeing it from a different focal point. They don’t want you to get this.
Describe that moment you first felt so successful.
I mean I feel like I first felt successful when I did Summer Jam in my city. It felt like this shit was different ‘cause I done seen so many people touch that stage from my city and get the hometown solidification but it didn’t look the way it looked when I did it. This look like some real shit.
It’s different when you go to the mall and get a jersey and a t-shirt. This was a movement — me and all my homies in some yellow ass outfits with the flames going behind us. It’s real superstar shit. I feel like that was a defining moment for me and my career. We on some next level shit. We ’bout to fuck some shit up.
Is there a movement that you identified with when you were younger?
I just like the black unity culture from back in the day. Hip-hop originally started to protect, love and speak the message and go out against anything that oppressed the people. That’s the shit I fuck with.
Is that why you co-signed Tupac as one of the artists that changed your life?
Hell fucking yeah. I just feel like his mind was extraordinary. You’ll never get that again, especially now the way these kids are. You’ll never get that type of knowledge, wisdom and message. He was pretty much ahead of his time. The gems he was dropping are relevant to the world today. He premeditated [President Donald] Trump, like how the fuck do you do that? That’s a phenomenon.
I feel like I appreciate and value somebody like that ‘cause all the knowledge and wisdom he instilled in me is gonna live through in me to teach somebody else and that’s what it’s all about being in the game, passing it to somebody else.
What are some of the messages that you feel are important to carry in your own music?
Just self love. Life. Be happy. Be free. There’s no barriers around here. Just do your thing.
Is there a particular song that you wrote that you’re especially proud of?
I’m proud of everything I write. I wrote it. There’s nothing to single out. All my songs are dope in their own little way.
‘For My Dawg’ was emotional.
I feel like that’s emotional ‘cause it’s from the heart, like on some deep shit. But it’s like I don’t even like that song to be honest ‘cause I feel like it’s too much. I don’t want to listen to it. If I turn on my album, I’m like, ‘Change it,’ ’cause it just puts me into a whole different place. It make me hella somber. That’s why I put it at the end. I wanted [the project] to end seriously ‘cause you havin’ fun throughout the whole shit. Then it ends like, ‘Dell, that’s a real ass bitch. That was a real ass album. That was some real ass shit.’
What’s a life lesson that you learned from The Rugrats?
My favorite one is to just not be afraid of shit. I feel like they was fearless. Like if there was something one of them was afraid of at the end of the episode, it told or showed you why you shouldn’t be afraid and somebody conquered their fears. That’s why it’s one of my favorite shows. I still watch it to this day with my god daughter. It’s so crazy how something like that can bring two different generations together.
What’s a situation where you felt like you did mature from the Kamaiyah two years ago?
I lost my brother. I learned how to live and not only be a woman [but] a boss woman. I’m running a business. It’s like you can’t let your life situations affect your business. That’s a big lesson ‘cause women are naturally emotional so I had to detach the emotions so I could work. Now it’s my fuckin’ lesson learned to not get to a point where it affects this.
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