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Musicians To Know: Soul Work and That ‘Bay Area Bounce’ with Artist YMTK

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YMTK sitting on a stool and posing for a photo.
YMTK sitting on a stool and posing for a photo. (Domonizia)

For the next month, Rightnowish will be featuring artists with local roots who are taking the sounds of the Bay to a national stage.

YMTK is an eclectic, spiritual, fun-loving R&B and hip-hop artist who grew up in Oakland and currently resides in Los Angeles.

In his music catalog, you’ll find his collaborations with P-Lo, IamSu!, Rexx Life Raj, and many more. YMTK has also written for emerging artists like the East Bay’s Marteen and Compton’s Gemaine

But since sheltering-in-place, YMTK says he’s been exploring his creative process as an individual.

“… when you are creating by yourself, it’s like really on you,” YMTK says. And as a creative person, second guessing himself is common, but this time in solitude has proven to be a “swift kick in the ass to really focus on YMTK,” he says. 

YMTK swinging his locs as he poses for a photo.
YMTK swinging his locs as he poses for a photo. (Domonizia)

But, focusing on self and going through the process of doing soul work isn’t a foreign concept to YMTK. He spent his childhood in the church and says it has given his music a foundation, no matter if it’s a dance track or a prayer song.

In addition to discussing the role spirituality plays in his life and art, we talk hoops, hanging with Mr. Cooper, and shooting your shot as a musical artist in the middle of a pandemic.


Below are lightly edited excerpts of my conversation with YMTK.

Pen: Two tracks that you recently released: “Be Well” and “Jiggy 2x”? They seem like two different lanes, man. One is a more uptempo almost dance party song and the other one is more grounded spiritual. How do you arrive at those two points?

YMTK: … We’re complex people, you know, we go through different moods… Sometimes I’m “jiggy jiggy,” and I want to dance — and it’s a different vibe than Dizzy Love, which is dancy, but it’s more like Bay Area with that bounce — and Be Well, as you said, is a more introspective and spiritual song.

Pen: Gotcha, Is there anything that’s led you to that spiritual growth?

YMTK: My whole journey has been a very spiritual — and spirit filled — quest. I feel like I’m a little bit more tapped in and aware of it and aware of God… Because my father’s dad was a preacher, my mother’s dad was a preacher. And my mom, she’s an educator, but she’s also a gospel singer. So I was just a little bit more tapped in to really see how God was working in my life… And music being such a spiritual process, you know, we’re literally pulling things out of the air.

Pen: …The Bay Area has a rich history of R&B… How do you feel in carrying that baton?

YMTK: It’s a blessing to have crossed paths and and have relationships with some of these legendary figures and just being able to contribute to the legacy of Bay Area music in general, I feel it’s a blessing and responsibility at the same time…

Pen: …In your music you mentioned, “Used to be a hooper, hung with Mr. Cooper”

YMTK: That’s because I crossed paths with “Mr. Cooper”, with Mark Curry. He went to St. Joe’s and was a hooper back in the day. So he used to come back to the alumni games. He would be there chilling, taking pictures and joking around and stuff.

YMTK: As an adult, I was working for this company, 51 Minds Entertainment, in reality TV, and [Curry] was having a meeting there and he recognized me in the elevator and was like, “boy, what did you do to your hair?”… I’m not a clean hooper no more at St. Joe’s… It was just a testament to leaving the town, getting out here, trying to make something happen and then running into a legend that I really respect and look up to and being like, oh, yeah I’m out here.

Pen: That’s tight, to show that paths do continue to cross. And then on the note of hoop, like, I grew up playing baseball in East Oakland and like it plays into me as a photographer because I know to anticipate certain things or, you know, that mindset of a baseball player falls into the work that I do now. Does the hooper’s mindset play into the work that you do now?

YMTK: Yeah, no question, bro. No question. I always say, you know, the only thing we have control over is our attitude and our effort.

YMTK: And that’s something that I picked up from hoop. You don’t control the outcome of the game, you don’t control how your teammates are playing, you don’t control somebody else’s having a hot hand and going for 30, all you can control is your attitude and your effort.

YMTK: It’s not about the outcome being a win or a loss. It’s about like what you did. So I really have taken that mindset of just understanding that I have very little control. And a lot of that has to do with my spirituality of just understanding that there is something bigger than me at play.

Rightnowish is an arts and culture podcast produced at KQED. Listen to it wherever you get your podcasts or click the play button at the top of this page and subscribe to the show on NPR One, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, TuneIn, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.


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