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Oakland Rap Star Kamaiyah Is Hungry As Ever

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The album cover of Kamaiyah's 'Another Summer Night' shows her in a vintage Tommy Hilfiger jacket, standing outside of a house party.
Kamaiyah's 'Another Summer Night' perfects her Oakland house-party sound.  (Courtesy of Kamaiyah)

Kamaiyah’s new album Another Summer Night is pure Oakland house-party music, full of player attitude and trunk-rattling bass. With its call-and-response choruses and liquor-fueled, late-night tales, it instantly calls to mind the rapper’s 2016 debut, A Good Night in the Ghetto, whose standout single “How Does It Feel” earned Ill Yaya a spot in 2017’s XXL Freshman Class and collabs with big names like Drake.

Kamaiyah is one of the West Coast’s leading ladies of rap, but she’s also been open about her struggles in the music industry. She left her deal with YG’s 4Hunnid label, a subsidiary of Interscope, after becoming frustrated that her music never got the national push it deserved. (She and YG reconciled this year.) She went independent and put out Got It Made in 2020 — but just weeks after she celebrated its release at a star-studded boat party cruising the San Francisco Bay, the world went into COVID-19 lockdowns.


Still, Kamaiyah has remained prolific in the years since, and these speedbumps have only fueled her hunger to make a major impact for herself and her city. In October, she teamed up with Compton-via-Vancouver rapper Jay Worthy and New York producer Harry Fraud for the collaborative project The Am3rican Dream, where Kamaiyah’s sing-song flows add a bouncy groove to Worthy’s street verses.

Another Summer Night arrived a month later. And though it might sound like a return to Kamaiyah’s roots (indeed, she recently moved back to the Bay Area after seven years in LA), it also shows her as a changed artist, one who’s dealt with tremendous grief, and whose challenging life experiences have allowed her to become clear about her identity and purpose.

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Kamaiyah spits game to love interests of different genders, nonchalantly giving voice to queerness in rap. And in rare vulnerable moments that sound like whispered confessions in the corner of the club, she ruminates on losing family and coping with change. Over its 17 tracks, Another Summer Night shows Kamaiyah’s fighting spirit and willingness to find joy, no matter life’s circumstances.

As she gears up for a strong start to her 2024, with another project on the horizon and a show at San Francisco’s 1015 Folsom on Jan. 5, Kamaiyah spoke to KQED about her ambitions.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tell me about your rituals for writing and recording music. What do you do to get yourself in a creative mental space, and what do you need to make your best work?

Just a good beat, honestly. If the music’s not there, then I’m not inspired.

Because if I’m inspired, it literally takes me two to three minutes to write a hook. The verses, I can figure that shit out later. Let’s get this hook done because that’s what sells the record. I don’t need liquor. I don’t need n—-s and bitches in the room. I don’t need weed. I just need a good bouncin’ beat, and I’ma get done what needs to get done.

You’ve been independent for a few years now. What have you learned about trusting your instincts?

Being independent is really about volume, and I feel like I haven’t found my flow yet. So nobody knows, [but] I’m moving back to the Bay literally Monday because I’m like, all my producers are there, my engineers, et cetera. I need to be closer to what’s going to produce me at a rapid rate to keep me flowing and functioning in music, in the business.

Being in LA, I’ve been complacent. I moved here to be on a label. I haven’t been on that label for three or four years now. I need to get back to what works for me and what made me successful. LA was just a steppin’ stone, and I learned all I can learn here for seven years. [If I’m] meant to be back here, I’ll come back here just like I got here the first time.

That’s great to hear about you moving back. So I love how on “Groupies” you said, “Is she gay? / Or she straight? / I’m a hoe.” Can you tell me about your journey with your sexuality, and getting comfortable expressing yourself about it in music?

I don’t think I’ve ever been uncomfortable, I just don’t give a fuck. And I think that’s the reason I said that, it’s because I don’t give a fuck what you think about me. Bitch, I’m a hoe. I’ma fuck ever I want to, and if it is both of ’em, fuck it. That’s my prerogative. Because honestly, when I came into the entertainment industry, I wasn’t nothing. I was straight. I had a boyfriend. Broke up with him, and then, because I was a tomboy — you know, women from the Bay, we’re more masculine. Alpha-presenting women start approaching me, and then eventually I let one get me. And I was like, you know, this isn’t too bad. So it just became a thing.

It was never one or the other, or I like both. It’s just shit that comes with the business. And so you can’t pay me to think the n—-s ain’t doing the same thing because if we getting turnt the fuck out, you n—-s is getting turnt the fuck out.

Interesting! Well, I know you’ve also faced some pretty tough losses over the past few years and you allude to that on “Going Thru Shit.” How does grief inform you as an artist?

Unfortunately, even the day we have this project, my druncle died the morning of Thanksgiving. What I learned for the most part is to remain sober and levelheaded and give yourself 72 hours to cry and release those emotions. But don’t make a habit of being depressed because it’s going to always be something in this business, and you can’t stop because something occurring. Life goes on, unfortunately. As artists, we’ll miss opportunities based on our emotions. And the world don’t stop because you sayin’ no, and Ice Spice sayin’ yes. Who get the look? So you got to say yes even when you don’t want to.

I’m sorry for your loss. On “Lamborghini Dreams,” you allude to some of the obstacles you’ve faced in the music industry. What do you know now that you wish you could tell your younger self?

I feel like if I followed my gut instinct a lot earlier, I would have left my label a lot earlier, but I was giving other people that benefit of the doubt, thinking they have my best interests at heart when they don’t. And you can’t expect somebody to do for you what you not doing for yourself, giving yourself an honest chance at success. I didn’t have that in the beginning. And then when I decided to leave, the fucking world shut down. So it’s these last couple of years has been me learning just how to be an independent artist and understand the streaming cycles and all these things that didn’t exist.

Because when I first came in, all we had was World Star. If you got a million views on YouTube, you was the shit. Then it was, “Now you got to have this many streams. Now you got to have this many followers. Now you got to make this many fucking TikToks.” The parameters for what the label says is a success is just crazy. So you better off being independent and building your army I don’t give a fuck if it’s 10,000 loyal people. You get them to spend a hundred dollars a year. That’s a million dollars.

Kamaiyah plays Blurry Vision Festival in Oakland on May 13.
Kamaiyah plays Blurry Vision Festival in Oakland on May 13, 2018. (Estefany Gonzalez)

What does success mean to you now? 

Success just means leaving shit to my descendants. I’m trying to build my catalog and make sure my kids and grandkids is wealthy because of decisions that are made in my 20s and 30s. I feel like a lot of times we make decisions on life right now, not thinking about the future. I’m thinking about the future now, and it’s like, alright, no more serious relationships, none of that shit til you ready.

I feel like I spent my whole 20s worried about other people, other things, and that just drowned me. So I’m about to focus on myself. I’m not starting from the bottom. I’m in the fucking middle. So if I give myself six months, a year of a good run, I think I could be the next fucking Missy Elliott, damn near — if we do this shit the right motherfucking way. Because there’s not a doubt in anybody’s mind, like, [I] should have been there. It just was fucking red tape, red lights stoppin’ me, stop signs and shit.

How do you see yourself growing after this project? And what do you want to do next?

Still drop another one. I don’t want to ever get complacent … because the way the industry is thriving right now is volume. It’s not the ’90s or early 2000s, like, nobody is catching a hit that lasts for a fucking year anymore. People’s attention spans are so short. If you got the attention, keep it. And only way you keep it is more shit in their face. It’s got to be organic.

Recently you worked with Jay Worthy and 03Greedo, and you just had a show with OhGeesy. Is it important for you to work with artists up and down the West Coast while also repping Oakland and the Bay?

I feel like we got to bridge that gap because it’s always this narrative where one is stealing from the other, et cetera. And it’s like, we all the same family. We all homies.

I was intrigued by the title of your project with Jay Worthy, The Am3rican Dream. What does the American dream mean to you?

I feel like the American dream is to just get rich. That’s what people come here for, like when we think about anybody that say they have the American dream, they come from Third World countries and shit, makin’ something out of nothing to be successful. I feel like we forget that we’re part of the American dream, too, and we could chase that same success because we’re here.

And I always feel like Americans are lazy because we’re spoiled. It’s a muthafucka coming from living in a hut with no shoes and waking up, milking a donkey right now that’s going to come here and get richer than you because they got the drive and the desire and the passion to become successful.

We’ve seen a lot of talented women rise up in rap in recent years. How has the industry changed since you started, and what more do you think needs to change for it to be truly inclusive?

I feel like there’s an influx and a resurgence of women. But it’s not diversity. It’s the same shit. Copy paste, copy paste.

So I feel like it’s that variety that needs to be there. But the variety comes from other women feeling like “I can do it, too.” And it’s the insecurity. You don’t feel cute enough, you don’t feel this enough, you don’t feel that enough. But it’s like, nobody cares. The industry is the ugliest it’s been, no shade to nobody. This shit ain’t about glamor and glitz no more. It’s about success and consistency. The most successful people are the consistent ones. It ain’t about the looks.

What makes you proudest to be from Oakland?

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It’s just a family orientation. I just feel like the culture itself breeds love … and we have fun. I love Oakland. It’s like a party culture, a feel-good culture.

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