K.Flay is a Hip Hop/indie rock star who moved to the Bay Area from the Midwest to get a psych degree at Stanford. During study breaks she started rapping, and taught herself how to program and mix music. She hit the scene with seemingly effortless skill, collaborating with MC Lars, and opening for Snoop Dogg and Ludacris on college tours. Her EP comes out this fall, but for now you can grab free downloads of her single 2 Weak and a mix tape of her conscious lyrics layered over familiar beats. She raps about everything from her family's old minivan to corporate bailouts. We met up for coffee and discussed women in music, crossword puzzles, and the next book review she'll be posting on her blog. If you haven't heard her flow, check the video below.
K.Farr:What are you reading right now?
K.Flay:I'm still reading War and Peace. My brother asked if I wanted to read it with him, he'd just finished law school and had all this downtime. I was about to go on the road, and I kept getting sidetracked with other books. Reading it so slowly has been good in a way because I remember everything. The fact that Tolstoy was able to create this intricate world and make it historically accurate, it's insane.
Have you always been musically inclined?
I sang, played guitar and messed around a little bit in High School, but nothing concerted. It happened all of a sudden. The Hip Hop stuff was unexpected, but I'm very linguistically oriented. If you look at the lyrics to a rap song, they're ten times as long as any other type of song. Some of the greatest rock songs ever sung have only two stanzas that repeat. It's still awesome, but it's a different style -- Radiohead is a great example. It's a skill to embody or encapsulate something in eight sentences, but I like the opportunities for wordplay. So it was the medium that meshed best with me. I just didn't know until I got into it.
Can you pinpoint why you became interested in wordplay?
Growing up, my dad was seriously amazing at crossword puzzles. He was legit. He would finish a Sunday New York Times in fifteen minutes, and I was the scribe. My specialty was the overarching title, which informs all of the long clues, and usually those have wordplay. Maybe that's somehow the root of things.
Biggest musical influences?
As a kid I grew up listening to rock n' roll, blues, classic stuff. Being near Chicago, there's just that blues/funk influence in the air. I got into Hip Hop when I started creating music in college. Artists that influence my current style are strong female vocalists with a strong presence. Fiona Apple is one of my all-time heroes and Emily Haines is like my homegirl. There's a presence when they're singing -- that emotionality and vulnerability. The ultimate album for me is Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville. You have songs where she's super strong and exuding this power, and then other songs where she's totally vulnerable and insecure.
What about women in Hip Hop, do you look up to any of them?
My top three women in Hip Hop are in somewhat different genres. Lauryn Hill is number one because her vision when she composes something is very well-crafted and thought provoking, but it's also beautiful to listen to. And then I love Missy Elliot and MIA.
Is it difficult to navigate such a male-dominated music scene?
Not to use a cliché, but it is a double-edged sword. It's good on a very surface level because I stand out. On almost any bill or track I'm on, I'm the only girl. In terms of visibility, it can be an advantage. But there's definitely a lot that comes with it, there are a lot of connotations to what I'm doing. Even when I hear a female rapper, a lot of stuff comes up that's not good. There are a lot of talented females in Hip Hop, but it's a label that's laden with many potentially bad things. It can be a hindrance in some ways, but that's why I hope my live show wins people over. My goal for the music is that men and women take different things away from it.
Do you have a title for your soon-to-be-released EP or is it top secret?
It's top secret only because I'm not 100% sure, but it'll be an Emily Dickinson thing.
What makes you the most stoked?
Any situation or person that has the ability to reframe something and make it seem more different or profound, that's what makes me the most excited. When things are unpredictable but awesome.
K.Flay is performing at Cafe du Nord on Wednesday, August 18, 2010. For tickets and information visit cafedunord.com.