- Words Liam Cattermole
- Photographer Dan Medhurst
- Fashion Seyon Amosu
- Fashion Assistant Dimitri Egas Moniz
- Fashion Assistant Lumka Sidinile
- Grooming Tracy Wall represented by Creative Agency
2023 is shaping up to be Kelvyn Colt's most prolific to date. We sat down to speak changing societal perception, putting humanity first and why he values community.
Kelvyn Colt is the nomadic rapper combining his heritage with meaningful lyricism. Born to German and Nigerian parents, the free-willed wordsmith had to fight for recognition in his home country, but after a successful move to London, people finally started to take notice. Nowadays, he’s on the move more than ever, settling in Los Angeles but constantly returning to Europe for successful creative expeditions. Talking over Zoom from an Airbnb in Berlin, Kelvyn’s mindful of the fact that he’s unrooted, but his frequent movements have given him an undeniably unique perspective on the world. Speaking with an intellectual charm, his answers are delivered intentionally, frequently explaining his artistic choices with admirable dexterity.
Growing up in rural Germany, to become the superstar he is today, Kelvyn had to build a scene around him. It’s an experience the artist still carries, setting up the ‘Triple Black Heart Gang’ who he hopes can tackle the music game from a place of kindness. Established in 2018, Kelvyn made the movement in retaliation to his label issues, which left him an independent artist, but with full access to his royalties. Having creative control has allowed the 29-year-old to play by his own rules, experimenting with a multiplicity of sounds that epitomise his Germanic roots.
Opposed to many rappers who rely on unattainable, braggadocios narratives, Kelvyn’s storytelling spotlights his personal issues with mental health, substance abuse and imposter syndrome. Despite the sensitivity of these topics, throughout our conversation, he speaks about them at length, and with an honesty that his fans love him for. A passionate activist who values humanity more than superficial stardom, the COLORS aficionado released his latest project last month to much acclaim. Filled with social commentary, ‘German Angst’ confronts the crabs in a bucket mentality which enforced his early move to London. As he points out, this isn’t an experience exclusive to him and indeed even Kraftwerk had to gain respect in places like France and New York before they were taken seriously back home.
Standout single “DONTTOUCHMYDRUGS” is arguably one of Kelvyn’s most profound and multi-layered to date. Pitting capitalism against the pandemic, he asks his listeners whether our experiences during Covid overshadowed more political diseases still prevalent in society today. He also praises music’s ability to find community. Stacking speakers in the shape of a cross, a powerful moment in the track’s music video comes when people unite in a field and rave to the track’s Berlin techno grooves.
Unwilling to rest on his laurels, Kelvyn’s returned with the “Bittersweet Symphony” sampling new track “Memories”. And with plenty more in the pipeline, we sat down to speak changing societal perception, putting humanity first and why he values community.
You’ve recently moved to LA: a place many artists live in at some point. It’s somewhere that divides opinion in terms of the creativity and artistic freedom it affords. At this early stage, how are you getting on?
I haven’t really lived in one place in the past seven years or so. I’ve been living out of Airbnbs and hotels for years. Whenever I’m in the US I’m there for months but the place where I’m building my team, where I’ve spent the most time this year, has been LA.
Career-wise, it’s good because of the connections. You bump into crazy artists everywhere. It doesn’t really happen like that in other places. But LA as a place attracts a lot of high-performance people. I’m a high-performance person as well, but I know when to turn it off. I’m here for the human experience.
Growing up in Wiesbaden, it seems like there wasn’t much of a music scene for you. But in retaliation, you formed the collective BYS. Can you tell us about those early days and dreams, trying to figure out how you were going to make it in music?
What is more relevant nowadays is the Triple Black Heart Gang, which epitomises everything that I stand for. But the first crew I assembled was BYS. People in Germany didn’t really want to fuck with me as my music is performed in English. It wasn’t really until I moved to London and lived there for some years that people took me seriously. The same goes for most Germans who are famous; nobody cared about them to start with because of a nationally embedded crabs-in-a-bucket mentality.
Let’s talk about ‘German Angst’. The title refers to mainstream German culture and its hesitancy to try new things. As an artist, is this something that you’ve experienced regarding the acceptance of your own art there?
‘German Angst’, to me, can be split into three parts, the first being that Germans fear new things that challenge their perception of the world. The term ‘German Angst’ has existed in art and literature to characterise us for a very long time, it’s not something that I made up.
If you look at how Germans are perceived in pop culture, we’re not the coolest people. There’s this fear of us in global pop culture, which to me, is also a form of ‘German Angst’.
The last aspect of ‘German Angst’ represents my own fear. I’ve spent my life not being accepted because I’m half-Nigerian. It was always ‘where are you really from?’. Now that I’m in America, a lot of people say ‘oh, he’s German’ and I’m like hold on… why am I German all of a sudden?
On the flip side, your song “EYE4EYE” samples Rammstein, and Berlin techno is a recurring reference point throughout. Was the duality of the project’s title and this celebration of German culture intentional?
It all came very organically. After lockdown, I started dealing with anxiety, which is something I’ve never dealt with before in my life. I noticed that the music I was making was faster and more electronic. I wanted to reflect on how my head was feeling but also keep it stimulated when the anxiety kicked in. That’s when I noticed the soundscape was becoming very German.
A personal favourite on the EP is “DONTTOUCHMYDRUGS”. I think it best epitomises the subject matters you address on the whole project, whether that’s mental health or masculinity. It comes accompanied by some brilliant visuals; can you give some insight into the meaning behind them?
It took me a long time to find a video team or a production company that was able to help me execute it. There’s one scene where people are hunched around a cross made out of speakers. My friend and I arrive at the speaker and take off our hazmat suits, which was a comment on when we were finally allowed to drop our guard and celebrate under the umbrella of music. That to me was an almost spiritual experience: finding community, coming together and dancing. The cross is a religious reference, but it’s really about the music and being able to party together.
Since becoming an independent artist have you found it difficult finding a team to help bring your vision to life?
There’s a duality to everything. I don’t come from nepotism; my family knew nobody and we had no money. I built this from the ground up. In the beginning it was hard to find people who would believe in me. Nowadays, at the level I’m at, we’re spending £150,000 across music videos. My mum does part of my accounting and when I ask her to pay these invoices she’s nearly crying. I’m not making this money back. We’re doing this because we want to create great art.
Unlike many artists, you use platforms like Instagram to promote positivity and change within oneself. Why is it important for you to make social media seem more real and relatable to your fans?
Because we’re real people. And everybody is so obsessed with portraying something that they’re not. We’re more connected but also more lonely than ever. Everybody is trying to be an influencer. That’s something that Instagram has nurtured.
I’m a human being first. Everything else comes second. I make music because I was lost as a kid, but the music of Tupac and Kid Cudi, who were very real and vulnerable artists, saved me. I feel like I need to continue carrying the torch and show people that music is about being human.
What was it about their life that you think you related to when you were listening to Tupac and Kid Cudi?
I felt like particularly ‘Pac and Kid Cudi, they were talking to me through their music. I felt like they understood what I was going through at home and that gave me hope. My mission is to break down barriers and remove the stigma from within Germany about being a Black German man. Nobody from Germany has really made it in hip-hop. It’s about breaking down these walls and opening a door so that people can follow in my footsteps and the blueprint that I’ve created.
- Glasses Gentle Monster from Agency Eleven
- Jumper Fanni Flora
- Joggers Fanni Flora
- Boots Dr Martens from Exposure London
Was there a moment when you realised that Germany was catching onto what you were doing in London?
When I did my COLORS sessions. The second one went crazy. That’s when everybody was like ‘oh we can’t just pretend he’s not here, the numbers are speaking for themselves’.
What’s next for Kelvyn Colt beyond this EP? Is there anything else artistically that you’re looking to experiment with for the rest of 2023?
I just dropped another single called “Memories”, where I sampled The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony”. That song is going crazy. I have another one dropping called “Rage”, which we shot the video for in London. I’m very proud of that video. This year is going to be full of music.
What about that sample helped to illuminate the subject matters you talk about in the song?
I’m going down memory lane a lot at the moment and that tune makes me feel so nostalgic. I remember being a kid and watching the video on MTV. My friend Abbas is a producer in Berlin and when he played me that beat I was like ‘ok, I know what to make out of this’. We knew it was special. I performed that song last year, during the festival season I closed every show with it and my DMs were exploding. Everybody links it to nostalgia and I think that’s very beautiful.