Introducing KOTA The Friend - the Brooklyn-Boy who’s doing it on his own terms.
With an easy listening flow containing proverbial yet introspective lyricism KOTA the Friend is a visionary lyricist ready to pull on your heartstrings with authenticity and self-reflection. Hailed as Brooklyn’s best-kept secret he maintains as an independent artist turning down multiple record label deals to pursue his fiercely DIY ethos.
Hailed by R&B Queen SZA, MC and rapper, KOTA the Friend, is an example of a visionary who’s quietly taking control. With his self-produced album FOTO, which dropped earlier this year, the rapper takes us on a journey through his ability to lyrically craft polaroid-like moments, and the highs and lows that are captured within them whilst exploring themes from love in singles like ‘Bagels’ to race in ‘For Colored Boys’.
KOTA finds freedom in music, rapping openly and honestly in alignment with his values. He prefers to exercise a self-autonomy over his creations, whether he’s making music or creating visuals for a music video. Creativity is inevitably a reflection and extension of KOTA the Friend’s self, which he does not want to be tainted by other record labels, three of which he has turned down!
When listening to KOTA the Friend it feels as though he’s opening up to you. Enticed by his streams of consciousness-style, his hopes and his struggles and anxieties evolve into an effortlessly introspective flow, which has drawn in an international fanbase.
Where does your DIY ethos come from and why is it so intrinsic to your music?
It’s very important to me that my vision comes out the way I wanted to and so I do most of the production of the audio and visual myself because I feel like I can do me better than anyone else can. Because I have the skills between videography, producing music and all of that. So, I do it to create a product that is solely my own.
Tell me more about your exclusive ‘Lyrics to Go’ videos, whereby you release freestyles with simple visuals. Are these a way of enabling yourself to release creativity that you can’t fit into an EP?
Definitely. I feel like music is free. So I don’t think of everything as just a project or an album or EP or whatever. Like a money-making scheme. Sometimes I just want to put stuff out to the people that they can hear and gravitate towards me and appreciate. At the same time, I do it because I need to get that stuff out. Those are emotions that I’m having and it keeps me sharp in the midst of everything else that is happening. So that’s the reason ‘Lyrics to Go’ actually started.
You speak a lot about your negative experiences and emotions that you’ve had within your music. Your first few EP’s are a lot darker in terms of content, but ‘FOTO;’ your newest project feels like a light at the end of the tunnel. What elevated to this positive clarity?
That’s kind of just how my life went. It’s like it went from negative, to OK this might be all right, to you know what things are getting better. I got to a point whereby I was able to say, OK, I understand where I came from and the things that have happened in my life and why. How I could have handled things better and how I will handle things better in the future. ‘FOTO’ is a really positive album because it’s coming from a really positive place of years and years of self-reflection and finally being in a place where I can accept all the things that have happened and move on and try to do better.
“What the fuck you bringing to the table, Did you pay dues, Are you grateful, what you been through, was it painful, did it break you?” These are lyrics in Sedona that resonate highly with anyone who has been grinding or struggled in their life. How poignant was your personal struggle in creating content?
Content is the main thing; it’s the most important thing. That’s where the struggle is. I was doing it alone. I would just go out with my camera and I would set it up and I would stand there and I would shoot like five videos and drop like one a week. So I was always on the move. There wasn’t a time that I felt stagnant. I knew what I had to do. I set goals for myself and I had to hit them, and any time that I wasn’t hitting them I would feel like ‘Yo I gotta get out there – I’m not where I want to be. I’m not doing the things I want to do, meeting the people I want to meet.’
As I was doing it on my own, I learnt a lot about myself through that and about what I wanted to do. But as far as those lyrics go, that’s me saying that’s the only way you can be part of my squad. I need to know that you’ve been through it, just cause we’ve all been through it. Anybody that hasn’t been through the struggle, that hasn’t been through a grind could never make it because this life is forever.
What is a regular day in the life of KOTA?
As soon as I wake up, I know I’m getting a phone call because my son wants to see me. So I shower and get my stuff on. I go and I pick him up and do stuff with him and then I go do whatever I have to do once he’s taken a nap at about 1 o’clock in the afternoon. I just go record something or shoot something or do something that I have to do for my career, to bring in the money. Then I spend a few hours doing that and come back at probably like 6 p.m. to put him to sleep. After he’s asleep and I’m done with my day, I’m usually so tired that I go home and just crash. That’s really a day in my life.
Is that the day you would have every day if you could?
Yeah. Definitely. Well, I mean, I like that idea. It’s very simple. Like I don’t really do much. I don’t hang out much and I don’t really go clubbing. From time to time I may go out with my friends and have dinner. That’s it and I’m really happy about that.
What are your views on love?
Everybody likes to be loved in different ways. You can love so many different people in so many different ways. There are levels to love. You love people in certain capacities. I love being around this person, I love hanging out with you, but this person you love in a romantic way and it’s a different type of love. Life is about energy. It’s about masculine and feminine energy and balance. I’ve had full conversations with people and I will ask them “What is love?” because it’s such a hard question to answer. I can only tell you what my experiences have been.
Was there was ever a time where you didn’t accept yourself? What would you tell that person now?
There has definitely been a time where I didn’t accept myself. I guess I would tell myself; everything’s gonna be easier when you start telling yourself the truth. When you start accepting all the bad things about you and the good things about you and you really start understanding that you can be better. You’re more than what people tell you you are. People really don’t know anything, so what you need to do is you need to look inside yourself. You need to trust yourself and stop doubting yourself because everything that you think that these people know, they don’t know. You know you and you need to get to know yourself better. The more you get to know yourself, the more you can succeed, the better you are as a person, the better you will be for other people. So listen to yourself.