By: Nate Whitsell
Kahlee is the perfect representative of the independent entre-artist of 2017 and beyond. One who learns. Turns and teaches. Pursues sustainability. And remains fueled by his family, blood or otherwise. Kahlee has embraced the multiple-streams-of-income model as an independent hip hop artist and is more that willing to share his blueprint with others. The #FRESHstate rep is an artist of the people and for the people, a quality that makes it nearly impossible for fans and artists across the gamut to do anything but respect, if not love, him and his movement. Kahlee clocked out at the 9-5, finished dinner with the fam, hit pause on the podcast, closed his calendar planning Hip Hop House monthly, and put his pen down mid-verse to share a bit of his story with us, so take a few to read up on the SD transplant’s family, music and entrepreneurial pursuits as he positions himself for a fruitful 2017.
NW: Who is Kahlee?
KAHLEE: I’m a father, husband and hip-hop head. I’m an MC, lyricist, podcast host… and a bit of an asshole. But the funny, good kind. Not the smash ice cream cones in kids’ faces kind.
NW: Can you tell us a story about how hip hop has changed your life?
KAHLEE: May be hard to believe but I’m very shy. Becoming a performer made me better from a public speaking standpoint. I’m able to communicate to the audience far better than in the past.
NW: It started with the music (I first heard you opening up for AHMAD at Kid Riz’ Lyrical Skoolyard), so I want to begin with the music, though you have some other things you’re focusing on that I want to tap into as well. Let’s talk REBLESSED. Why should readers jump over to your Bandcamp page to listen to REBLESSED after reading this interview?
KAHLEE: I’d say because the record is about them. It’s about you and me too. I’m a family guy with a 9 to 5. I make Hip-Hop music and have hella side-hustles. A kid in high school can identify with family problems I speak on in “Baring my Soul,” or hustlin’ for extra money on “Here I Am.” I wrote a song about losing my homie and after realizing how much fam I lost; I wrote another about my folks, “Still Here.” From questioning religion to our political issues in the US, in the end I’m just a dude who loves his family and music trying to enjoy life and not just live for the weekends. I honestly can’t come up with a reason to NOT check it out.
NW: Which song on REBLESSED is your favorite? Why?
KAHLEE: I think “Perspective” is my favorite track. I can’t tell you how many times I get fed up with the world. Stress builds up for so many reasons and I forget why I’m hustling in the first place. Everything I do is to make my family smile and laugh. As long as my wife and I can do that while keeping a roof over our heads and food in our bellies we’re good and it’s all worth it.
NW: One of my favorites is For My People, which is super moving, and features the other half of The Seed, Uptown Swuite, and SD emcee/activist, Odessa Kane. How did you link up with Odessa Kane? Why should readers click his name here to head to his Bandcamp page? (I’m focused on Kane, because we are focused on SD, but please head over and give Uptown Swuite a listen as well!)
KAHLEE: I’ve been living in San Diego for over 10 years now. It was around that time when I first met Odessa in cyphers downtown at some Underground Hip-Hop event I forgot the name of. My man is a Dago OG, great dude, dope MC and passionate about social issues, and all 3 of those things come out in his music. Definitely a San Diego staple that continues to hold it down for the city and state. Of course Uptown Swuite (the MC in Digital Martyrs) is my uce and I just had to have him on this too. Off Balance, (the producer for Digital Martyrs) is also from San Diego originally. Uptown, Digital Martyrs and I all represent #TheFreshState crew, but Off Balance also works very closely with Odessa. It’s just a family thing all around, so you’ll definitely see more from us 4.
NW: How did the REBLESSED collaboration/remix project with Digital Martyrs come about?
KAHLEE: Uptown started working with Digital Martyrs a while back and eventually got me on a huge posse cut with a bunch of northern Cali MCs. Off Balance was diggin’ me and I was diggin’ his production. Plus, you gotta understand that Off Balance/Digital Martyrs is one of the illest in this remix game. Period. The chemistry was there and we just started moving with it. I always knew I wanted to remix the album, so when we connected it was the obvious choice.
NW: Musically speaking, what do you have in store for 2017?
KAHLEE: I’m working on an EP with Cookbook from LA Symphony and the project is gonna be produced by Digital Martyrs. I’m also always working on features so that never stops. I have a couple EP ideas that I’m keeping close to the hip, but 1 will be fully produced by my old friend ANTI that was in the Literates with me. Aside from that, my director homie @MightyMuds and I will be shooting a weekly acapella series for the whole year of 2017. Plus more licensing music which is something I’m always working on.
Thanks for that. Can’t wait to hear Kahlee in 2017.
NW: Okay, so I’d like to begin transitioning us to some of the other things you have going on. Let’s start with family. Tell us a bit about your family, and a bit about how they influence your art and entrepreneurship.
KAHLEE: My family is my everything. My wife is a hustler. She’s amazing at her job and just amazing in general. We do what we do for our kids. So as much as I love MCing, I’ve also really gotten into hosting podcasts or events like my San Diego monthly, Hip-Hop House. I’ve also focused a lot on sync licensing. The need to be there for my wife and kids, and not be on the road so much, has helped me to find other music-related lanes that I’ve fallen in love with. Like everything else I get hooked on, I become a nerd for it and try to become the best at it.
NW: Speaking of entrepreneurship, when did you feel yourself going from being a hip hop artist, an emcee, to being an entrepreneur, to being something bigger than simply a musical artist?
KAHLEE: I’ve never just seen this as me being a rapper, or music artist. I’ve always been the one in any group or partnership who handled the business side. In recent years I really dove into the marketing side of things and fell in love. It’s another creative lane for me that actually helps the rest of my art.
NW: As I write these questions, I am listening to you and Propaganda on your podcast, Status Escalate. Can you explain to readers what Status Escalate is, why you created it, and where you see it leading to in the future?
KAHLEE: I actually got the name from the PR firm, Status Escalate, who I’ve been working with this past year. It’s from Guru’s line on the Gangstarr song, “Work.” I’ve always been the guy people call with questions about the business side, and especially the merch and promotion side of things. After attending a conference where all these certified experts were giving basic info I’ve known for years, I decided I’m gonna jump into it. Also seeing Curtiss King and my brotha Cookbook jumping into that side of things, I felt like it would be a crime to not spread my knowledge. The thing that’s cool is I’m bringing guests onto the show who are successful in fields outside of music as well as musical artists. The idea is to get into their minds and routines to bring different perspectives and experiences to the table. This leaves musicians the knowledge to implement new strategies and approaches into their businesses. For me it’s like a class I get to instruct, and only 8 episodes in, I already have hundreds of students/listeners. I see it growing and pushing me into a position where I will speak at conferences and on panels sharing my thoughts and experience on the business. Really, I’m just trying to have fun, learn and spread the good word.
NW: Your podcast is hosted at PlatformCollection.com. How did you connect with Platform Collection, and how/why is Status Escalate a good fit for what they have going on?
KAHLEE: I got involved with the guys over there when Platform Collection was still in the early planning stages. A lot of us are also in the Fresh State together which is why we were always around each other, creating and touring, etc. When KILLcRey, asked me to be his co-host on Proof of Life Radio I was all in. Once I created the Status Escalate Podcast it was the obvious choice since I was already on the network. There’s a lot of shows on Platform, and though shows like; Really Tho?!? with Cookbook or the Orcastrated Podcast with Noa James & Lesa J, touch on the music business, Status Escalate is specifically here as a resource for artists and entrepreneurs to learn skills, knowledge and gain the confidence needed to move forward in their careers.
NW: Who are some of the entrepreneurs you are listening to/reading, that you feel all hip hop artists should be tuned-in to? Is it important for artists to view themselves as brands? What are the essentials in an emcee’s tool kit in 2016?
KAHLEE: I can go on for days with names so I’ll keep it short, but anyone interested in learning about more are welcome to hit me up any time @Kahlee310. When it comes to this side of things, I listen to the Tim Ferriss podcast, EOFire with John Lee Dumas and Really Tho?!? with my homie Cookbook. I also watch everything Curtiss King puts out and of course audiobooks. Anything Seth Godin or Malcolm Gladwell make is worth checking out. But there are so many others I think every artist/entrepreneur would benefit from.
It’s definitely important for artists to understand that they are a brand. I don’t feel that’s up for discussion. As an artist who seeks financial success, you must understand that the music business are those 2 things; Music and Business. On the other hand, having a team to handle the business side allowing you to focus solely on the art could possibly work too. Though it would require an immense reliance in your team since you may have no clue what or why decisions are being made. But in the end it depends on what you want out of your artistry.
I think in any case, the most vital tool an emcee must have is patience. It’s not if you will succeed but when. Keep creating even if you feel less talented rappers are reaching higher levels of success. Keep that day job that sucks so you can afford to feed your stomach and musical passion. Keep grinding away at that rock and your masterpiece will reveal itself in due time.
NW: As we begin winding down, I’d like to pivot one more time. In your music, your life, and your podcast, there is this common thread of adding value to others’ lives. How important is it to you that your work, all of it, has a real and lasting impact on others? Why?
KAHLEE: Whatever the internet takes ahold of can and most likely will exist forever leaving the art I create available to my great, great grandchildren and so on. I don’t have much control when it comes to that. What I can control is my output, and I want something that can make a positive change in people’s lives. If it’s just a song about having fun that makes you feel good or a deep piece about the struggle.
Being able to identify with what others going through the same shit I was as a kid, helped me through some tough situations that not even my family realized I was going through. I’ve learned different ways of thinking and approaching life from music and movies, so to be that for someone else is a blessing. Especially if those people are of my bloodline 100 years from now.
NW: With everything going on in American society in 2016, how/why is hip hop culture important? Does hip hop really have the ability to make a meaningful difference? Earlier I asked you to share about how the art and culture has changed your life; now, I’m going to ask something much more difficult of you – can you share an instance where you have seen your music make an impact on another’s life?
KAHLEE: Hip-Hop is a podium to the youth and whoever stands at that podium has an opportunity to affect change in their listeners. Because of social media, tmz, etc, certain situations can spread further into outside groups leaving the speaker (or rapper) a symbol. Hip-Hop is important in this sense because it’s a direct doorway to the youth but the rapper is the key to change. I have a song called “Baring my Soul” where I’m describing a common dysfunctional family, the trouble that many kids and I went through as teens and how the stress can push us to want to hurt ourselves. I’ve heard other artists focus multiple songs on the idea of suicide but it’s often laid out to show no escape from the terrible feelings. The idea of “Baring My Soul” is that I learned from those situations allowing me to approach parenting different. I have all these things in mind so as I raise my children, hopefully they will handle their struggles better than I did. I’ve spoken both in person and online with quite a few listeners who’ve recognized this silver lining and they also approach life different because of it. It’s like the idea has always been in their mind, and something about that video and our conversation made them understand it better. I’m very appreciative any time I can affect even a small piece of change or comfort in someone.
Thank you for that. I know that sharing things like that is difficult, because it almost feels like self worship, but I really believe in the power of this culture, and want readers, near and far, to feel what I already feel.
NW: What’s something you’d like to share with San Diego’s hip hop scene?
KAHLEE: This year I’m bringing Phoenix based event, “Hip Hop House” to San Diego. It’s a monthly Hip-Hop event with good vibes and good music. I’ll be the host and my Fresh State bro DJ Eyeball will be holding down the decks. We’ll be bringing headliners through as well as local up and coming acts from all over Southern Cali and especially San Diego. The first event should be in February. I also have a few things up my sleeve in relation to my radio show, Proof of Life Radio and my music business show, “Status Escalate Podcast.”
NW: One emphasis of these interviews is to see a heightened level of unity in the San Diego Hip Hop community. Can you point to some other artists who you see as comrades and who you also see as helping to progress the scene?
KAHLEE: Of course my Fresh State fam Ric Scales, KILLcRey, Miki Vale, D.Dove and Steez76D. The homie Banish has been killing it for a while now and is about to have some dope shit happening. My dude Dubie’s got some music dropping soon and my brotha Karlo is dropping 2 albums this year. Also the fam Artistic, Root and Tram at Battle Bot stay bringing quality Hip-Hop events to Dago and the homies Kool Beef Productions out in Ocean Beach.
NW: Finally, where should readers go to connect with you?
KAHLEE: You can find me at any and every social media platform @Kahlee310 and of course stay updated on all music, videos, news and podcasts at www.310Music.net . To book me for a feature, event or anything else email: Rufr2016@gmail.com. You can download my music for free but physical copies are available at www.kahlee310.bigcartel.com and if you mention this interview I will throw in a free sticker pack and magnet. Other than that hit me up to say hi or say what’s up at a show. I appreciate your time! Big up #SDLovesHipHop for the support.. Peace to the #Kahleagues