Get to know the German rap star in the making and leading man behind the cult of Colt.
Born and raised in Germany (he’s half-German, half-Nigerian), Kelvyn Colt is a different kind of artist. He was always interested in rap and after dropping out of a Law degree, became determined to pursue music properly. A self-professed “child of the internet”, his producers are people he met on Facebook music groups. When he wanted to leave Germany to pursue music properly, his parents gave him one condition if he wanted to leave home: he had to go back into higher education (“I was the first one in my family to study”, he explains).
So it was that Kelvyn moved to London, studying entrepreneurship alongside pushing forward his musical aspirations—it’s something that paid off, as he’s been described as “the future of hip-hop”, with his rap that pushes musical boundaries and dwells in emotions and waves and energies. His marketing skills, with a focus on social media, have meant that—without a network or insider-knowledge—he has propelled himself into the scene.
He has since left the UK’s Big Smoke and is now largely based in Los Angeles—but he’s back in town as part of his Europe tour and so ahead of his London date we’re sitting in a bustling café in Soho. Over herbal tea, we talk life in Germany, mental health, and making his Mum proud.
One thing I noticed when I was in Berlin last year was that there’s this huge emerging hip-hop scene.
Kelvyn Colt: Oh, definitely! Rap is the biggest thing in Germany right now.
Was that the case when you were growing-up there too?
Not at all, this is something that’s happened in the last few years. Hip-hop was always a big thing, of course, but it was wildly ignored by German mainstream media—up until this day, if you turn on the TV there you won’t necessarily see a lot about hip-hop.
How was that for you as a kid?
I didn’t grow up like the stereotypical German, I spoke English as much as I spoke German, plus my dad is Nigerian. I was listening to Marvin Gaye, Sade, Tupac, Biggie—all sorts of old school music, but mainly American music. I never really listened to German music though my friends would be listening to German house music, or even German hip-hop, but my musical education took place at home—so I grew up with black culture.
Amongst your friend circle were you in a minority?
Oh yeah, I was the only black kid in school. It’s not something I was really aware of when I was younger, but when I was in my teens I became more aware of my colour and how my environment and culture and understanding of life was very different to my classmates. So I spent a lot of time alone.
When was the first time you made music?
When I was really young I used to write poetry—almost like haikus, my dad would give me words. But when I was fourteen, those poems were getting longer—I was listening to a lot of Pac and Biggie, and I was rapping their songs. So then I started putting my songs on top of their beats—to this day I have a massive library of classic beats: Dre, Timbaland… Then I was just writing, writing, writing ‘til I was 16 when I started recording myself.
We had an exchange student living with us at the time, and he left me a microphone. Then we transformed our garage into a studio, with my homie Keith—his dad is a very skilled carpenter so he helped us build a booth. We grabbed furniture that people had thrown out and we built an actual studio—that was our Mecca. People I met over the internet who were also into music would all come meet up at my garage—we would basically live there. We would party, have girls over, play PlayStation, and obviously make music.
Did your parents not mind!?
They didn’t mind…the neighbours minded though, because it was loud as fuck.
You touched on how your parents wanted you to go back into higher education. Not to stereotype, but I feel like families with immigrant backgrounds can be a little stricter—like my family don’t think what I do is legitimate at all.
Oh yeah, like ‘That’s not a career!’. I’d get stuff like, ‘We get that you like rap but you could be the rapping lawyer!’. Luckily I don’t get that at all now—my mom was really holding it down for me. She’d be arguing with my dad and my step-dad. You know, I’ve been doing music for a decade now, even if I only started releasing to the public two years ago, so that’s the process my parents have witnessed. In the last two years we’ve accomplished a lot, but they saw the process before.
Up until I started releasing music they were concerned, especially because I was getting amazing job offers, because I have a very unique understanding of digital marketing and culture and how emotions translate into the digital state. But they understood that it wasn’t just a hobby when record labels started reaching out, and I started performing outside of Germany, doing festivals, radio and TV. What really manifested it for them was on the sold-out European tour last year, my mom came to the 500-capacity Frankfurt show and she came up to me after and said, ‘This is one of the most beautiful moments of my life, I can die in peace.’
Whoa. She must have been very proud.
I was like yo, calm down [laughs], but then she explained what she meant. To see 500 people had all paid like €25 each to come see her son’s show, to hear him sing about his emotions and connecting with it—there were people in the crowd crying, saying my music had given them energy, that it motivates them, for one person it had stopped them from suicide. For her, it was a very spiritual experience and she was overwhelmed by it. It makes me very happy and proud.
Was it a conscious decision for you to rap primarily in English and not German?
I grew up bilingual speaking English and German. In Germany a lot of hip-hop media ask me ‘why do you rap in english?’ but for me it was never a conscious decision. On an emotional level I always express myself in English, like hen I’d write poems when I was little they’d be in English and the music we’d listen to was english. Also English phonetically sounds better.
What’s the Kelvyn Colt live experience like?
The shows are a crazy thing. We have the turn up aspect with stage dives and the moshpit and everybody going crazy but then on the other hand it’s very emotional.
So it’s mostly moshing and crying?
Kind of. We make sure at the live shows that we not only pick up people on a turnup level but on an emotional level too. We have a lot of people come alone, who don’t come with friends and a lot of them tell me after the show they had the most connection with people they had in their whole lives. It’s really a community.
Is it important for you to talk about mental health in your music?
We teach people how to function in the system and how to make money, but not how to be happy and that’s why depression is at an all-time high. I’m not trying to be the poster-boy for mental health—there are so many other things I can touch on in my work—but I’ve been through all those things: depression, suicidal thoughts, because I’m human. We shouldn’t hide that.
What advice do you have for anyone dealing with mental health difficulties?
If you feel alone or depressed I want you to know that you’re not the only one out there and it’s very important that you talk to someone. You’re never alone and people won’t judge you for feeling what you feel. Don’t be afraid to reach out in fear of being judged.
What do you want to come through in your music?
I like music, musicality. I have songs which sound completely different from one another, but it’s because I wanna be able to create emotion, grab an emotion and put it on wax—okay, well, not wax. Put it on a .wav or MP3. I want to create value for people with my music – whether that’s just a good night out, or a soundtrack they can put on when they’re feeling low. I want to pass on my knowledge, to motivate you – not because I feel I’m a superhuman, or because I’m super altruistic or anything like that, but because certain things work for me, so maybe they’ll help and work for you too.