Kwame: “I Want To Outdo Myself And I Want To Push Myself”

Anyone who’s up to date with the Australian hip hop scene – or Australian music more generally – will be familiar with Kwame’s song ‘WOW’. Released in early 2018, the trap rap original wasn’t just the Western Sydney MC and producer’s breakout single, but it also singlehandedly stretched the boundaries of Australian-made hip hop.

Kwame was just 20 years old when ‘WOW’ came, and while its success introduced him to a whole new audience, it’s by no means a definitive representation of the artist Kwame intends to be. For one thing, despite counting A$AP Ferg as a mentor and major influence, Kwame feels no allegiance to trap music. Want proof? Look no further than Kwame’s new EP, his third, Please, Get Home Safe, which is out October 23 via Def Jam ANZ.

The six-song EP sees Kwame asserting his growing dexterity behind the mic, with able support from guests like E^st, Arno Faraji, CLYPSO and old pal Phil Fresh. It also betrays Kwame’s affection for rapper-producers par excellence Tyler, the Creator and Kanye West, whose respective careers have been a masterclass in shattering audience expectations.

Following the lead of his heroes, Please, Get Home Safe is easily Kwame’s most accomplished work to date. Prior to its release, Music Feeds spoke to Kwame about his upbringing, musical influences, production choices and experiences dealing with systemic racism.

Music Feeds: You were born in Auckland, but grew up in Sydney’s Hills District. Do you still feel a connection to the Hills and the community you grew up around?

Kwame: Growing up in this area here, I adapted to the lifestyle of going to, say, a school that was predominantly white. I went to Castle Hill High and you know, it was cool, but there was only really one of me until the next year my sister came and then after we saw a couple of kids that looked like me. When I say looked like me, I mean Black kids.

So it was just going out and wanting to fit in and be liked, but then still coming back home, and me being Ghanaian and living in an African household, I was never taken away from my true culture. I guess I was lucky enough to be in that household but then still go out and learn the world outside of my culture too. So I think I still have the Hills in me.

MF: You’re 23 now. There was an embarrassing lack of diversity when it came to the dominant voices and faces in Australian hip hop through the late-‘00s and early 2010s. Was it hard to find people to look up to within Australian music during your youth?

K: Definitely, however, if I’m completely honest, I was never in tune with music coming out of Australia. Growing up in my house, I was exposed more to gospel, reggae, jazz, blues, funk, soul. So I was more so looking towards the international aspect and view of music. So it was never really a let down for me because I genuinely do not gain inspiration from here, just because I just didn’t grow up listening to new shit.

MF: The list of guest artists on your new EP is an indication of how Australian music has diversified in recent years. But lyrically, this record is still very much focused on your personal evolution and your desire to push back against pigeonholing. Did you know that would be the dominant theme before you started writing?

K: This was a premeditated idea and thought of mine before making the project. I got to a point where I was like, cool, ‘WOW’ did its thing, but even in the midst of ‘WOW’ doing its thing I was like, “I’m not just that song in particular.” So when thinking about making [Please, Get Home Safe] I said to myself, “I want to outdo myself and I want to push myself sonically, push myself in the writing aspect and see where I can get.”

After ‘CLOUDS.’ came out in November 2018, when that did its thing, I was like, “Okay, I know that if I do one more song like this it’s going to make me the ‘WOW’/‘CLOUDS.’ sound.” I don’t want to fall into that trap or be the artist that gains success off one particular sonic and then they’re forced to do another and another because that’s how they’re going to solidify themselves with their fanbase or on radio or whatever.

MF: The first single, ‘Stop Knocking At My Door’, includes a sample of Ann Peebles’ ‘Trouble, Heartaches And Sadness’. It’s a tricky business, employing a classic sample as the hook, but it’s done with sophistication here and it gives the song a nice soulful foundation. What drew you to that sample?

K: When I first came across that sample, I was like, oh my goodness, I have struck gold. When I heard that first couple of seconds and then it said, “Stop knocking at my window,” I was like, I just need to loop that, it needs to be done. So I went onto WhoSampled and I noticed that the sample that I used by Ann Peebles was also used by Wu-Tang as well. But then when I listened to their version I was like, nah, they didn’t do it right. It was just too easy and on the nose the way they sampled it.

And I was like, nup, the way I’ve done it is just so unique. I knew no one would think to do that. The influence of sampling that way came from one of my most influential artists being Kanye West. He’s a sample freak – the way that he can just chop a sample and create it into something so unique.

MF: Another standout production is ‘Ain’t So’ featuring Arno Faraji. There’s a bit of an Eastern influence to the beat and an emphasis on horns and big bass notes. What you were going for with that beat?

K: Arno came to the studio one time, unannounced, and I was like, “Oh, wow, what are you doing here?” And he was like, “I just came from Perth, just landed, and came to say what’s up to you guys.” And then I was like, “Oh cool – do you want to just get in the room and make something?” So we got in the room and I started the beat and I was like, damn, this has such an anthem feel to it because of the horns. I wanted it to be simple and let the horns keep the energy.

We were just sitting there, the beat’s looping, Arno’s just sitting there writing and I was like, “I’ll cook up a hook,” and he was like, “Yo, that’s it.” And then he’s putting a verse down and I was like, “Man it’s so dope to hear you on something like this,” because you know, Arno’s a very chill, wavy sort of guy. So I loved he still came with his own energy in that laidback, wavy sort of aspect, but he was really rapping and he flowed so well.

MF: The EP’s centrepiece is ‘Tommy’s In Trouble’. The line, “Grew up round some bigotry/The system set for killing me,” features on the single artwork and it also seems linked to the bandage that covers your face in the music video [see above]. Tell me about the symbolism behind the bandage.

K: The bandage was a representation of essentially the hurt that I felt on the inside. Initially, I wanted to use a mask that had a smile, however, behind that I was obviously in pain. Unfortunately, the mask would’ve been too controversial, so we pulled that back. But essentially what I wanted to portray was what one feels, internally, with being oppressed and the unfair treatment, social injustice, systemic racism and what have you. What I wanted to do was showcase that with the bandage and we rubbed it through dirt, just like really roughed it up so it was implying the internal struggles that I felt.

‘Please, Get Home Safe’ is out this Friday October 30th. Pre-order now.

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