K’La has never been coy about defying reality to reach her dreams. The rapper and singer has come a long way from being a starving artist in Atlanta to now being one of Def Jam’s newcomers. She’s currently riding with her single “Blame,” assisted by rap legend Nas, and moving forward with her career by juggling single parenthood — she has two young daughters.
Hailing from Gary, Ind., the hometown of the famous Jackson family, K’La packed up her things and made her move to Hotlanta in 2009, to pursue her music career. She eventually found herself in the studio one evening with rapper Roscoe Dash and her future manager. After claiming she could spit a few bars, Dash told K’La to show and prove. She rapped on the spot, and subsequently got a management deal. Her first mixtape, named after the popular novel The Coldest Winter Ever, followed in November 2010, The effort, a balance of her lyrical skill and singing soulfully about love, relationships and heartbreak, made it into the right hands — L.A. Reid signed K’La to Def Jam in January 2011.
Now gearing up for her debut LP, she’s currently in the studio with lauded Fugees producer Jerry Wonda. This musical union is ideal as one of three of the former Fugees, Lauryn Hill, is one of K’La’s biggest inspirations. The forthcoming album is untitled, but K’La plans to showcase her old soul flavor.
As a new face on the scene, K’La sat down with The BoomBox to give us the inside scoop on “Blame,” her zealous come-up story, being homeless, why Lauryn Hill is her inspiration and her old soul sensibilities.
So tell me how did you get involved with Def Jam?
I signed with Def Jam last January. L.A. Reid actually signed me. The first single came out last May which was “All Your Love.” So now I’m geared back and ready again with the single with Nas.
Did you get to work with Nas on the single “Blame”?
No, I haven’t met Nas personally yet. But I personally think he’s incredible to be on the record. So yes, I’m still blown away by that. But no, I haven’t met him.
Explain the story behind “Blame.”
Well, basically, I seen a lot of females who’ve been in a bad relationship can kind of relate. You know, there’s a reason for everything, and that song is just about… guys talk all this mess about females have this independent woman attitude and when you meet them, they’re already damaged from the previous guy. But you know, somebody’s responsible. So yeah, that’s how it came out. Pretty much me expressing those feelings of how that came to be. But a lot of women tell me that they can relate. So I’m hoping it’s very relatable. I just told my own personal experience and I think a lot of people have gone through it.
So tell me more about your journey to this point in your career.
I had moved to Atlanta in 2009, to pursue music. Things didn’t go the way I intended. Well, it did, I can’t say it didn’t. But it took a turn for the worst before it got better. I was actually homeless in Atlanta for maybe two or three months and at the end of the third month, I met my manager through a mutual friend at the studio. And I was drinking and I got to telling Roscoe Dash, ’cause he was in the studio too, I can rap too. And he was like, “Well, OK, then prove it,” and I rapped. Because I didn’t even sing at first, I was just a rapper. So I rapped then, and my manager heard me and said alright I’ll sign you. And the very next day I was with him non-stop.
We started on the journey together and a few months later in November, I put out the first mixtape I had done in my life. Through working with him, he encouraged me to sing. And on the mixtape, you got both the rapping and the singing. And singing is really new for me, I’m just now getting my feet wet in it. But it was amazing because the single came from that mixtape. He took me and introduced me to L.A. Reid in January. The mixtape came out in November. He heard the mixtape. He thought it was incredible. “All Your Love,” a Lauryn Hill and Bob Marley cover of “Turn Your Lights Down Low,” was my first single and things just kind of took off from there.
Who are you working with on the album?
We’ve been in the studio with Jerry Wonda who did The Score with The Fugees. Very classic producer. We knew what kind of sound we wanted to bring forth, and Jerry is like family. So I went in with him and we really like tackled the project and Rodney Jacksonhas also been working on it with us like non-stop. We got some really classic dope features. Of course Nas is on the first single. And we have a track with R. Kelly. We’re working on another single that I’m hoping Miguel will be on. I think that will be dope and I think that will be a nice collab to have. But I think it’s going to be really surprising when people hear the features.
Why will it be surprising?
Well, surprising because I’m young. I’m only 24. And I think people expect like this new-age type of R&B [sound from me], but my parents are older. My parents are 57. And my older brother is 13 years older than me. So I’m the baby in my family and I’m more interested in capturing that old, classic type of R&B and I think we’ve kind of pursued that on this album. And I think we did a good job of capturing that. People will be surprised to hear it from a new artist and a young one on top of that, so I’m excited to see how people are going to respond to it.
And as far as sound, how to you plan to be different?
I like to say I’m a baby of the progress of R&B ’cause I’m only 24 and I was born in ’88, so I remember very fondly an early Mary J. and I remember Aaliyah and that old school R&B. At the same time, my parents were older so I grew up listening to really old classics like Al Green and Minnie Riperton and so much old music so I have a good kind of mixing pot of music to pull from. In my music, I think you hear traces of all of that. I have a children. I’m a mother at the same time. I have all these different aspects so I want to make sure that all these different traces of those things are in the music because there are a wide range of people that need something to relate to. So it’s not just 24-year-old party girl. I’m a 24-year-old party girl, I’m a single mom, I’m all of those things.
How is it being a mom and pursuing this big dream?
I would be lying if I said it was easy. But it is a sacrifice that is very rewarding. And a lot of people say that it pays off in the end, but I have to say that it pays off immediately for me because there’s those different times I’m away from them a long time and I feel like I’m doing what I should be doing as a mother and when I get those moments and I come home and I see how proud they are and the way that they see things so much more differently then I did. At their age, in my mind, it was impossible for me to be on TV to be doing those things. That was just a whole different world. But for them it just brings it so much more closer and they say, “That’s my mom!” and to see that these things are possible.
When can we expect the album and title?
We’re aiming for either late October or February and I haven’t gotten a title yet. I’ve been thinking about it, I’ve been running through some names but we haven’t settled on one yet. It’ll be something really deep and profound.
On your mixtape, The Coldest Winter Ever, you mentioned that a lot of music that’s being pushed out now isn’t relatable. What topics are you trying to cover on your album that you don’t see out there now?
Well, it’s just very raw and real. It’s just hard for me to describe. Like the subject matter, I wanna say every song kind of has the same subject matter about love and kind of accepting ourselves for who we are and how they happen. But I really tried to be as genuine and open as possible on the album with my own story. Because The Coldest Winter Ever was basically my story of moving to Atlanta and what happened, those events, so I really wanted the album to pick up back on where I am emotionally now and mentally throughout the progress of everything and sharing it in my music and I think it’s going to come off real.
And as far as influences, who do you look to for inspiration?
I definitely keep Lauryn Hill and D’Angelo on on my iPod. I listen to that all day. Bilal.Van Hunt. A lot of people aren’t familiar with him. I love him. I’m a music lover. So all types of music, I really listen to and pull from but when I really need to be inspired to pull and do what I want, Lauryn Hill is usually my first to go to. You know The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. It’s what I want to embody, it’s what I want people to feel. So it kind of helps me get on my A-game. But there are some really inspiring people out now. I’m a big fan of Miguel and his whole artistry. It’s so different, but it’s so classic. It really gives you that Prince feel . You feel like you know it but you don’t. You know there’s a lot of inspiring people out now and I just hope to become one of them.
And can you play any instruments or dance?
I started to play the bass guitar when I was really young because my dad is a bass player and he had started teaching me when I was like 9. But I didn’t stick to it. I really wish that I had now. And I definitely need to go back to learn. But I don’t play anything, I’m wack [laughs]. I’m going to learn one day. But I don’t think I’m a good dancer [laughs]. I’m just good at being real and honest. So I try to make that entertaining.
And you’re from Gary, Ind., and the first thing I think of that city is of course The Jacksons. Are there any favorites by them that you can mention?
See that’s hard. Jacksons. Those are classics that go on and on forever from theJackson 5 to Thriller to “Butterflies.” But yeah, it’s going to be hard to pick a favorite from there. “Rock My World,” definitely one of my favorite Michael Jackson songs. And I’m a huge Janet fan. Janet had some hits. All of them. I can’t even pick them. Hometown love. All of them, classics.
If I was to ask someone who knew you back in high school, what would they say about you?
I’d be scared to find out. Oh, high school. A teacher. Anyone. I was a problem child in high school. They would tell you I was very smart. I was a straight A student. I was a very smart, insubordinate delinquent. I was a straight A student but I skipped a lot. I didn’t come to class. I think I just had a short attention span. Because I would come to class and work so quick, and I would be ready to go. I was a character in high school. I did win “Most Likely to Be Famous” though and “Most Talented” at my senior luncheon, so they were right. Whoever you ask, they may have a pretty valid story.
Are there any endeavors you want to do in the future beyond music?
A friend of mine back at home named Shaina, who took this whole ride with me, she moved to Atlanta with me, and like really experienced this whole journey with me, and she just recently moved back to our hometown in Gary. And we started a non-profit called ECHO, which is Enhancing Children’s Hope Overall. And we’ve been doing some really important things for the city out there. Because Gary is small and since the Jacksons, no one has really heard from anyone there.
We’re tryna just use people like myself, Freddie Gibbs, E’Twaun Moore, who plays for the Boston Celtics — he’s from a neighboring city — but [ECHO is] pretty much where my heart is. You know, trying to give a glimmer of hope for kids from my city. Because where I’m from, I had no idea any of this was possible. And I had to leave and come to Atlanta to even feel like I could try. I didn’t want to wait till my career was blooming and say I want to go home and help now. I said if I got the opportunity we can start early. We can make it happen and build it up together.