Kilo Kish, sitting poolside at her apartment complex in LA on a token sunny day in California this winter, picks up the phone to speak to me. I then proceed spend over a minute gushing over how much I love her and her debut album, Reflections in Real Time, before actually asking any questions. She giggles continuously, and says “thank you” repeatedly, almost completely in tune with the intro to her record.
“Thank You!” is the opener of the 20-track album, where she adjusts the volume of her mic, babbles about what she wants to say, and ends up scrapping it all and just saying, “Thank you, this is Reflections in Real Time.” After that, we’re shoved into the world of Lakisha Robinson.
Robinson runs through the story of why she goes by Kish in less than two minutes in the second track, “Hello, Lakisha.” What she doesn’t manage to fit in is that she was born and raised in Florida before moving to New York to attend Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Kish explained that she was such a student throughout high school and her college years that when her financial aid fell through her sophomore year, she immediately started freaking out. She though, “Oh my god, what am I going to do? I’m never going to be able to get a job. I’m never going to be able to support myself. I have to have a bachelor’s degree. I was just freaking out. I was able to learn that I don’t want to go home, so at that point I was like, ‘I’m going to live in New York.’”
In Kish’s subsequent gap year, she worked in a restaurant downtown, partied a lot (and met a lot of people because of it), and decided to start making music. Some of the people she met were Matt and Syd from The Internet, who ended up helping her create her first mixtape, Homeschool. Since then, Kish has been involved in every element of the creative process, dabbling in art, fashion, and modeling. She added, “I could never be comfortable being like ‘I’m going to make music only,’ and let someone have creative control over my video, or someone else have control over the packaging. I’m learning to collaborate more, but there’s so many places to create a story, so I really like to get hands on in as many [ways] as I can.”
Fast-forward to another mixtape, Across, and a move from New York to Los Angeles with a boyfriend, Kish later found herself single in California, wondering “What the hell is going on in my life right now?” So she figured it would be a good time to start creating her debut album. She started with a few vague prompts that would eventually become song titles, and began sorting through her journals, notes, and voice memos on her phone. She laid them all over the floor and thought that it was a good reflection of her at the time, saying, “I feel like I hadn’t been that personal in any of my other mixtapes, [and] it’s the first album, [so] I might as well give people a glimpse of the things I actually think about. Piecing everything together, it ended up being stream of conscious-y sounding because it’s just a bunch of different days, different years strung together into one song. It doesn’t really fit a perfect structure a lot of the time, but they’re all just parts of my brain.”
Kish recalled a moment when she had to go back to Florida from New York to visit her childhood home. Looking around in her old bedroom, she thought, “‘Wow, you actually ended up doing all of this stuff,’ and it was weird. I think it was even more weird that I was not happy doing it. When I actually stepped back at it, that’s more [of] what Reflections is. It’s the feeling of, ‘You got what you wanted, but for some reason it’s just not exactly what you envisioned it. Why is it not right for you?’ and this and that.”
Reflections in Real Time isn’t an easy listen, but in an authentic and charming way. It’s awkward; it sounds like a musical at times, and like spoken word poetry at others. It dives into the world of a twenty-something in the 21st century, complete with “Existential Crisis Hour!” thrown into the middle of the record. It doesn’t fall into a category or genre, with most critics settling with experimental R&B. However, Kish said, “I feel like as soon as people see your skin color, it’s experimental R&B, whereas if we didn’t look at anyone’s faces, it would be, ‘Oh, I don’t have a genre for this specifically.’ I always consider my music extremely conversational, and the beat makes it lean one way or another. Like Across, that could be called a rap project or an experimental R&B project, but [RRT] has no R&B elements in it.”
She continued, “I feel like genres in general and Spotify culture of playlist artists where you just lump people together like, ‘Oh, this is a cool party mix artist,’ or ‘This is chill work music’…I think is really limiting. Like, what are you using to gauge [genre]? Are you gauging this from my past collaborators, or a box you like to put artists in?”
Her past collaborators include The Internet, Childish Gambino, Chet Faker, and Vince Staples, just to name a few. Kish is joining back up with Staples to open on The Life Aquatic Tour this spring across the U.S. As for the name of the tour, all Kish could reveal was that we’ll “understand why his theme fits more to Life Aquatic, as he came up with the idea, but I would say both the shows are pretty conceptual. They fit together in the way that we’re kind of similar artists where we like to create some kind of experience, so it will be interesting.” Kish also shared that she’s been working on the sixth iteration of Reflections in Real Time, which is going to include a bunch of short art films for each track, created exclusively for The Life Aquatic Tour.
Kish added, “It may not make 100% sense, but it definitely will pose a lot of questions. It’s dealing with a lot of themes of reflections. I don’t perform that often, so I’m looking forward to exploring what it means to be an artist, what it means to be an individual, what the responsibility of an audience is versus a performer, and what it means to be a performer. I’m really excited to see people’s reaction to it, if they connect to it or they don’t, and for what reason.”
Catch Kilo Kish with Vince Staples on The Life Aquatic Tour in Seattle at Showbox SoDo on February 27th, 2017. Tickets are still available here.
ANNA KAPLAN | Loca and/or Loco | KXSU Music Reporter