Brooklyn rapper Kay Anthony goes deep on his climb up the ranks, his influences, the energy leading his music, the state of New York rap, and much more.
By AMIR ALI SAID
Photo Credit: Jacky Eye Que
Kay Anthony burst on the scene in 2012 with his debut track “Strawberries,” and he hasn’t looked back since. A tough-as-nails rapper with an affection for sampling, Kay makes music with a message, but he’s never over-preachy. In this very candid interview, Kay opens up about everything from his music process to his assessment of younger millennials to many of the challenges that have gotten him to where he is today.
Clock Theory: To see you make it to SXSW was impressive. That made me happy for you.
Kay Anthony: Thank you man.
Clock Theory: What was that like?
Kay Anthony: It was dope. The experience was dope, the whole going to another state off of music is wavy, it’s a whole different feeling, man. The energy is real there, it made me feel like I’m on top of the world. The only thing was that the sound could’ve been better.
Clock Theory: You performed by yourself? Or you had people there with you?
Kay Anthony: Nah, it was me and Yadi.
Clock Theory: Tell me about the Kay Anthony before the music. Who were you?
Kay Anthony: Before the music? Before the music I was into photography, and fashion. As you know, niggas used to be in Soho. Me and my bro Tre used to really be on fashion a lot, being in the crib trying to create different clothes and all types of crazy shit, but that was just like what we was on. We were just some creative kids.
Clock Theory: What first got you into music?
Kay Anthony: It’s a lot of things that got me into music. It’s too many steps to say but, I would say, I was playing around one day, in my son Dre’s crib. We were in the crib one day just playing around and I did this fucking Lil Wayne impression. I was rapping and he was like, "Nah, yo, you deadass got to take this serious. Like you really about to start rapping." After that, I really started writing and shit. All of my friends that I grew up with, everybody that I chill with now, and the people that I grew up with, they’re definitely the main reasons why I make music.
Clock Theory: What’s your earliest music memory?
Kay Anthony: My earliest music memory would be my aunt playing Buju Banton and Lauryn Hill throughout the crib, man. That’s why those are my two favorite–like those are my idols right there. And the fact that I even got to meet Lauryn Hill, and we did a track together is fucking surreal.
Clock Theory: Wait, hold on. You said you met Lauryn Hill?
Kay Anthony: Yeah.
Clock Theory: When was this?
Kay Anthony: About a year ago while I was working on Vice$ and Vanity.
Clock Theory: That’s dope. Where was this at?
Kay Anthony: She had came through to the studio and she just was–she heard about me through her daughter, and she came through and she just gave me a lot of advice, "I really like what you doing, you got to be a voice of this generation, it’s not a lot of people out here, as you can see music is losing its spirituality and you got to keep that alive. You’re one of the young ones that people are going to follow eventually."
Clock Theory: And so you would say that Lauryn Hill is like Top 3 of your influences?
Kay Anthony: Definitely.
Clock Theory: Who would be the other two?
Kay Anthony: It would have to be Jay-Z and BIG (Biggie.)
Clock Theory: Jay-Z for what reason?
Kay Anthony: Jay-Z as a mogul, businessman. I admire his business mindset and I try to follow that. That’s why I do a lot of independent things on my own. Like I don’t like being behind a company and people trying to have me do what they want me to do. I like controlling everything my way and doing everything my way.
Clock Theory: I understand. How did BIG influence you?
Kay Anthony: BIG? his flows and his music. He definitely inspired me. I remember just rhyming BIG’s–it was this part in the song when he was like, "Tongue stroke, third stroke, tongue all down your throat." And off of that, like I just was rhyming that shit everyday, even if I ain’t hear the song.
Clock Theory: And then Lauryn Hill, how did she influence you?
Kay Anthony: Lauryn Hill, man, she’s just a great woman, period. Like, I think a lot of women should look up to her. Even though she had her times where she seemed like she was weak, I feel like when she was in her prime and she was really doing her thing, she just was an influence to a lot of people. Not only women, but men, too. She set examples for a lot of people. And her reason for leaving the industry, I understand it, like, she just didn’t want to feel like she wasn’t connected to herself anymore (because she’s constantly doing music and stuff). That is a crazy lifestyle to live constantly 24/7.
Clock Theory: You mean to be a musician?
Kay Anthony: Yeah, definitely.
Clock Theory: Do you sometimes feel like that?
Kay Anthony: Not really. I think it’s cause I’ve been through so much already, like I appreciate it.
Clock Theory: Things like what?
Kay Anthony: Different lessons. Like, before I even started having doors opening for me, I think I’ve learned lot of lessons that I think I can apply to this music stuff. So I won’t ever have to, you know, feel like I’m out of it, like I’m losing it.
Clock Theory: You’re talking life lessons?
Kay Anthony: Definitely. It taught me a lot.
Clock Theory: What were some of those things?
Kay Anthony: A lot. Struggle, period. Like, struggle was the number one influence of even really putting my–like when I write music, I make sure that I include my struggle. I don’t leave that out. That’s a pivotal point in my life. Man...I’ve lived in a shelter before. I know what it feels like to actually be homeless, as a young teenager, as a young man. I know what that feels like. I know what it feels like not to have food in your crib for like a week type-shit growing up. Like, I have six little sisters and one older brother, and he didn’t really live with us, he was on his college stuff. He was trying to get it right so he could do it for the family type-shit.
Clock Theory: When were you in the shelter?
Kay Anthony: This was like sixth grade, in junior high school, man. My house had burned down, it had caught on fire and we had to move out, and we lived in a shelter in Brownsville for like a year.
Clock Theory: So where were you living at originally? Before your crib burned down.
Kay Anthony: We were living on Church Avenue. Which was crazy. I had came home after school and I was told, like "Yo we can’t even live here no more." We had to stay in a hotel for like two days. Mind you, this is probably like the week before Christmas type-shit, or the week of Christmas. It was like all fucked up. And like, my Mom had to like still give us gifts while we were staying in this fucking hotel. It was just crazy, but experiences like that, I think it makes me the person who I am now. It built character in me.
Clock Theory: Word. I understand. So when you sit down to make a song, how does a song come about for you?
Kay Anthony: Yo, my writing process is weird. I’ll usually just be like, "Yo, I’m 'bout to write. Like, I feel it today." But I’ll just sit down and write. And some of my best songs really come from–It’ll just be random as hell like, I’ll just get a hook in my head and I’ll just keep repeating it. Then I’ll be like, "Wow, what can I write for this?" I remember sitting down writing the song "Forgive Me," off of ‘Vice$ and Vanity,’ I was in my son Chad crib and I just kept saying "Father can you forgive me for my sins?" And I kept repeating that, kept repeating that, and then I was just like, "Yo, I’m 'bout to write." I ended up writing that whole song. Like, "Yo, this is going to be a wavy song, watch." And then I heard the beat after that and I was like I definitely have to make this into a song.
Clock Theory: So you wrote "Forgive Me" in what, like one hour?
Kay Anthony: Yeah.
Clock Theory: How often do you write songs without the beat?
Kay Anthony: A lot. I usually never write with a beat.
Clock Theory: Who would you say that you make music for? You make music for yourself first? Or do you make music for your listeners?
Kay Anthony: I make music for myself. It’s therapeutic. Like, anything I’m going through, any stress I’m going through, I make sure I write it down and make it a life lesson for others to learn off of.
Clock Theory: And what are you trying to get across with your music?
Kay Anthony: To inspire the youth to do better, man. I feel like as a generation we all need to come together and do something better. Especially all of my niggas in the hood. I write music for people that’s in low, poverty-stricken neighborhoods and things of that nature. Because it’s inspiring to them, you know, it gives them hope. When they see me doing, like all my niggas, when they see me in the projects, they still see me in the projects, but after that, they see me doing something much bigger and they be like, "Yo, my mans just hit Vibe magazine, damn I could do this too. I could do something positive. I could do something different." And it inspires them, instead of just being in the hood wanting to shoot each other down, gun each other down, and do all of the shit that’s destroying our community already. And I feel like my music brings other people together, or it gives people hope, like, "Damn, this nigga got a story to tell. That’s wassup, I want to be more in tune with this now."
Clock Theory: Word. That reminds me. You know, we both grew up in Brooklyn, like you say, you used to live on Church, and I’m sure you know what it’s like to walk in the grimey 90z (Flatbush) at night–
Kay Anthony: Exactly.
Clock Theory: Or to walk in the flossy (Canarsie) at night, you know what I’m saying, right after a party, say it's like 2 in the morning, we both know what that feels like. That angst that we have to face as a young black man–
Kay Anthony: Facts!
Clock Theory: That anything can pop off at any second–
Kay Anthony: At any second!
Clock Theory: All of those feelings. Does that make it into your music?
Kay Anthony: Definitely. Like I had a line in my song where I was like, "I became a man without a father figure because where I’m from the youngest niggas father figures, they older brothers don’t see 21, but in 19 years they done seen over 20 guns–"
Clock Theory: "20 guns."
Kay Anthony: Yeah. Like, it’s just shit like that, that really happens in New York. It be the young niggas raising young niggas, like how are you becoming a man? It’s no men out here teaching other young men to become men. It’s impossible. Everybody is still so young-minded. Even I still have the problems of being young-minded with certain situations too sometimes, and I’m 20 now, about to be 21. I feel like there’s no actual father figures out here trying to help us grow. And we just learning from our friends out here. If your friend out here fucking up, you gonna want to fuck up too. It’s just what it is. And that’s crazy to me. So that’s why I feel like, I definitely have to be a voice. Like, the day I meet Kendrick Lamar, I’m going to tell him like, "Yo, no funny shit, man, you truly raised me with your music." As a person, I feel like sometimes you can really be a father figure through your music to certain young men. I feel like that’s what hip hop has always been about. And that’s why people gravitate towards it, especially young black men.
Clock Theory: Another thing I noticed in your music is a lot of discussion of religion. Tell me about what faith means to you.
Kay Anthony: Faith is everything. You’re believing in something you necessarily can’t see or you don’t actually know exists, but you have this feeling inside of you and this voice inside of you telling you like, "Yo, this is what it is. You have to keep going, like, your faith is here, this is what you need to do." I feel filled with purpose when I make music. And it’s not coming out of nowhere, I’m really in tune with spirituality and stuff, so I feel like it’s coming from a higher source telling me this is what I need to do. And it’s no coincidence that certain doors are opening so I can have my voice heard on higher plateaus and stuff. I feel like there is a God. It may not be the one in the Bible or any other God that people explain, but there is a higher power out there. And there is a reason why certain things happen in this world and certain people are set where they’re set. And that’s how I feel, like, faith is everything to me, man.
Clock Theory: Do you think it’s important to have that strong connection with whatever you believe in, in order to be a successful human being?
Kay Anthony: Of course, 100 percent. You want to be a pure human being and have pure hearted intentions, you need to have faith, you need to have that belief. Nobody can take that power from you, except for you. And you really need to have that belief in you, man. That’s all it is like, I see people all the time saying they want to give up. I even have times like that, but it’s all about having faith. It’s no coincidence why certain shit is happening for you and certain doors are opening, man.
Clock Theory: I understand. So, talk to me about some of the challenges you faced while producing Vice$ & Vanity.
Kay Anthony: Shit...Everything, yo. (Laughs). That whole project was a life lesson right there too. Yo, I didn’t have video promotion until about the last three months before I was about to drop the project, because I was so low on funds trying to fund for the studio sessions and things of that nature. I had live instrumentation because I wanted to go all out on the fucking album. I just wanted to make–When people hear it Fifteen, Twenty years from now, they’ll be like, "Damn, this shit stood the test of time. This is it. You can listen to it Ten years from now and it’ll still relate to somebody that didn’t even grow up in this era." And that’s what I wanted to do, so I had to go all out. I made sure I went all out with this project because I knew it was going to talk to somebody. And the fact that I’ve been getting so much fucking positive reviews from it, from everybody, I knew like–I just had that faith in me that it was going to be something good. But I went through everything man. From not having money to even record the session and my engineer, Myles, he really just had that belief in me. He was just like, "Yo, I hear it. This shit is beautiful. I’ll play the live instruments on your shit. Just pay me piece by piece when you get it." And things of that nature. If it wasn’t for people like him, I don’t think that project would’ve came out. I don’t think people would’ve appreciated it if I didn’t go all out.
Clock Theory: I understand. Going back to one thing you said, "I wanted to make a project that stood the test of time–"
Kay Anthony: Yeah.
Clock Theory: What do you think of our generation, do you think our generation makes disposable music?
Kay Anthony: I definitely think a lot of people’s music won’t stand the test of time. Of course not.
Clock Theory: Why do you think that is?
Kay Anthony: I feel like people are doing it for an image and a façade these days and not really out here doing it for–It’s all about getting money, murder and fucking bitches. That’s the main basis of most of these rappers out here, and nobody’s out here trying to speak to anybody. And that’s everyone’s motives these days, “I’m gonna get me a nice chain, a couple bad bitches, and this is life.” But nobody is actually talking about the real issues that’s going on out here. To each its own though. I fucks with that music. However, I just feel the whole hip hop community has to do better as a whole, so we can uplift one another.
Clock Theory: I understand. You think music with dense lyricism is underappreciated and largely marginalized in our generation?
Kay Anthony: Hell Yeah. They don’t appreciate lyrics no more. That’s why it’s so surprising to me that my album did what it did because I didn’t think anybody would give a fuck about that shit. I expected to hear things like, “This just another nigga rapping about some deep shit, fuck that. We got heat out here.” But people actually appreciated it, whether you were a trapper or a person who studies lyricism, people were genuinely really appreciating it. Which is dope as fuck.
Clock Theory: So, you told me what makes you upset about music today, what makes you happy about music today?
Kay Anthony: What makes me happy? People like Kendrick Lamar, J Cole, the whole Dreamville team, TDE, people even from New York like, Jimi Tents, Radamiz, I.O.D, Yadi, I feel like they’re actually trying to push the culture too. I feel like New York in about a year or so, we’re going to be on top of the game. Niggas out here is really putting in that work so people can really appreciate this music. Like, after a while, it’s not gonna be no more just the south running shit. People are gonna have to get back to listening to lyrics again because that’s what we’re doing. I feel like it’s three good projects that recently dropped months apart. First it was Jimi, he dropped 5 O’CS (5 O’Clock Shadow), then I dropped Vice$ and Vanity, then Radamiz just dropped Writeous. And it’s going to keep on going, we gonna keep staying on top of that. I feel like that’s what it’s about, like we keep on pushing the culture. And it’s a lot of big sources picking us up. Radamiz is on USA Today, I hit Vibe Magazine, Jimi is all over the place, Pitchfork, Complex, everywhere. These people are starting to appreciate it. And they’re going to continue to see that we’re pushing that margin. Like, we have to get this out here. We no longer want to be under the rug.
Clock Theory: I understand. For you, what do you feel more at home with when you make music, sample-based beats or non-sample based beats?
Kay Anthony: I love samples, man. Samples always hit home. I grew up listening to Kanye, a man that was sampling everything in the early 2000s. That shit, that’s the feel I wanted to go with Vice$ and Vanity too, early Kanye production. I tried to get close to that, songs like “Lord Father,” which had an early Kanye vibe, not in the sense of lyrics or anything, but just the sampling on it. Sampling is dope to me. I don’t really fuck with too much of the 808’s and Hi-hats and shit like that. That’s cool. Like, I can rap on it, but I feel like I fucks with samples more.
Clock Theory: So, you’d say that your sound is rooted in sample-based beats?
Kay Anthony: Definitely.
Clock Theory: For me, when it came to listening to music when I was growing up, I listened to a lot of music from the late ‘60s, early ‘70s, the ‘80s, like James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, the Ojay’s, or Teena Marie. Did you have access to that in your home?
Kay Anthony: Yeah. My moms is definitely a pivotal point in my music too. She played a lot of oldies, like early ‘60s shit, ‘70s music. I appreciate that music so much. When she plays that–I rather listen to that than hip hop all day. I appreciate that music so much because it’s what I grew up on. My aunt was really deep-rooted into hip hop and stuff. After the ‘90s and early 2000s, I think she was like I’m done with Rap. She likes people like Kendrick Lamar and shit but like besides that, she doesn't really appreciate a lot of these rappers.
Clock Theory: Do you think it’s important to know music history in order to succeed as an artist?
Kay Anthony: Of course, so you can know what you doing.
Clock Theory: When it’s all said and done, what do you want to be known for pioneering?
Kay Anthony: Just being a voice of this generation, man. Not really pioneering anything. I want to bring something innovative, a new sound to the music and stuff but, I really just want to be a voice for this generation. Like, somebody people can look up to like, “Yo, he’s a good example of a man.”
Clock Theory: Since you’ve been making music for the last few years now, when did you realize that you were built for this? When did it hit you?
Kay Anthony: Vice$ and Vanity. That’s because, every other project I did, which was like three projects before this, I knew I could rap, but besides that I didn’t really think I had it. But when I started working on Vice$ and Vanity, I was like, “Yo, where did I get all of this shit from? Like yo this is crazy to me.” Like, working on that project I was like, “What the fuck, I don’t even know how I’m doing this shit right now.”
Clock Theory: That had to be a good feeling.
Kay Anthony: Definitely. And then I was just like, “Yo, now I can fuck with this. I can get in the studio with any big name rapper and I can be put up to the test. I’m ready for it man.”
Clock Theory: You ready to go bar for bar with anybody?
Kay Anthony: Anybody! I’m ready. I got that fire burning inside me. I’m ready.
Clock Theory: I hear you. So, what do you have coming next?
Kay Anthony: A lot of big things in the work, man. I’m going to say this–I got an e-mail last week from some people over at Dreamville with J Cole and them, and they sent a lot of love–there’s something big coming. I don’t want to say too much on it but you know, shoutout to J Cole and the whole Dreamville team, man. They’re definitely some dope people.
Clock Theory: Sounds good. Do you have any projects coming soon?
Kay Anthony: Yeah, I have an EP coming out in June called, The Man That I Am Now. I dedicated this project to all of my best friends that I grew up with and shit. They’re all on the album cover. I made sure I dedicated it to the homies who actually helped me get this far.
Clock Theory: I understand. Do you have any shows coming up?
Kay Anthony: Yeah, I have a show with Kodak Black and Lil Uzi in July. And I have a couple of other shows in June, I might also go on tour in Toronto in June, after I drop my project.
Clock Theory: Alright. Where can we get Vice$ and Vanity and the new EP that’s going to drop?
Kay Anthony: It’s all going to be on Apple Music. Apple Music, Tidal, and Spotify, but mainly, Apple Music.
The music and video below is presented here for the purpose of scholarship.
Kay Anthony – 'Vice$ and Vanity'
The Art of Sampling by Amir Said (Sa'id).