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Kayo Says Chicago Is Home To A New Renaissance

Written by on February 20, 2023

South Side artist Kayo shows growth through dark times and towards positivity with the release of debut full-length album It Was Fun While It Lasted.

Kayo by Jordan Esparza, courtesy of the artist.

“I give credit fully to God and Chicago for my abilities, honestly. The city just gives you a different level of taste, both in style choice and in the music itself.”

– Kayo

Growing up in neighborhoods around Chicago’s South Side and suburbs, Kayo’s sound was shaped by the city from a young age as he listened to Chicago legends like Kanye, Lupe Fiasco and Twista. Kayo recently released his debut album It Was Fun While It Lasted, and has aspirations to leave his mark on the Chicago music scene, as well.

Though he notes It Was Fun While It Lasted grew out of a dark time in his life, the album’s message changed as he began to heal from past traumas throughout its creation.

“[The meaning of the title, It Was Fun While It Lasted,] moved to a positive thing, kind of a renewal of sorts,” Kayo explained. “Saying to all the negative and past traumas or whatever… “It was fun while it lasted, don’t come back though.”

After the album’s lead single “Make It Right,” featuring fellow Chicago artist Morgan Gold, was added to Vocalo’s on-air rotation for February, we virtually sat down with Kayo to discuss the single, It Was Fun While It Lasted, the importance of Chicago to his musical identity, where to get the best goat roti in Chicago and what listeners should keep an eye out for in the near future.

What part of the South Side are you from?

I’ve actually moved over 20 times in my life, so I never stayed in one neighborhood longer than two to three years, but I spent most of my time in Washington Heights, right off of 95th. That’s where I became an adult, so I just claim that area. But yeah, I’ve lived downtown, Hyde Park, suburbs. Pretty much everywhere but up North.

How do you feel growing up in Chicago shaped your identity as a musician? 

I give credit fully to God and Chicago for my abilities, honestly. The city just gives you a different level of taste, both in style choice and in the music itself. It gave me a story and a unique way to tell that story, because our language is unlike anything else. And it’s a tough city in terms of criticism, so if you can break through here, you should be pretty solid everywhere else. Growing up on Ye, Lupe, Common, Twist, etc., then later seeing the Chance and Sosa rise, we pretty much experienced every subculture at its absolute best. So we’re held to a higher standard. That’s my biased opinion, lol.

You’ve talked about Chicago very often, but what role did living in Florida play in your creative development?

I hated Florida a lot, honestly. That was my first experience with depression in, like, a real clinical way, so I just have bad vibes about it all around. But it really made me realize taste is everything. I was such rapper’s rapper at first, because I was around all rap. Then you go to Clearwater, Florida, and no one cares who raps the best, it’s all about the music. So I came back to Chicago kind of like, “Yeah no, this thing gone crash and burn if I don’t get undeniable records out.” Your homies may love your raps, but the average citizen in the world wants good music — whether you rap good or not — so that became the focus.

Kayo by Jordan Esparza, courtesy of the artist.

Who are some Chicago artists on the scene right now you think everyone should know?

Elijah LeFlore, Ausar, Senite, Khaliyah X, Kiraly Payne, Morgan Gold, it’s way too many. Unfortunately, I have mad friends in the music scene, so I know I’m supposed to be a little more biased with this question, but I don’t want to write too many. Chicago is in a new renaissance, though, so we got everything and everyone coming out of here right now.

Who’s one artist in the Chicago scene you’re hoping to work with? Why them?

G Herbo, 100 times over. I’m a fan of the music, obviously, but he also just one of my favorite people in general. I’ve ran into him a few times, and he got great energy. The list is extensive, but Herb pretty high up there.

RELATED: G Herbo Discusses Swervin Through Stress And Dealing With Trauma

What song would you suggest to someone who is trying to get into your music?

“Wait On Me” [featuring Flood] or “Still” [featuring femdot. and Paris Price]. Those my two favorites by far.

Tell us about your single “Make It Real,” which was added to our on-air rotation for February. What’s the song about? What do you hope listeners will take away from it?

The concept is crazy, and I’m surprised I didn’t get in trouble for it by my girl. It’s basically about being in a relationship and having eyes for someone else that’s just a homie of yours. Very compromising position to be in. It’s like the movie Your Place or Mine with Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher. The one takeaway is: please remember it’s just music! Don’t get yourself in trouble trying to live out people’s verses. But it’s one of my favorites, honestly, very happy I got that off.

How did you get connected with Morgan Gold? What was it like working with her on “Make It Real”?

Ausar actually connected us. She responded to a post he made about needing a woman singer, but the song was actually mine. She fell in love with it and got it done immediately. Super easy to work with and has an incredible voice. Looking forward to cooking with her again.

Tell us about the making of your debut album, [It Was Fun While It Lasted]. What was your creative process throughout? What struggles did you have to overcome to get it released, if anything?

So boom. First off, it went through multiple phases. Like, I have Soundcloud links I can send y’all of different versions of the entire project, full body, totally different songs. There’s one version that has hella instrumentation from Billy Blunt over it that just got wasted, and it’s phenomenal work. I still think he mad at me. But because I was making it from a dark place, part of that darkness bled over to my discipline and I was just trashing stuff because I didn’t have the discipline to perfect it. Which became the biggest struggle, just getting out of my own way. But we ended up getting it done on a very high level, so I’m grateful for the setbacks. Much appreciation to Ro Marsalis, Southpaw Swade, THRD, Wildlife Willy, Pelham and Junior, Stoic, PilotKid, so many others. My chemistry with these guys is something special, and mugs gone have to deal with it for another decade plus, for real. We just getting started.

What are the most valuable lessons you learned from this process?

Quality over quantity, but when you get both, you won. I have a lot more but I think artists need to let that set in they brain a bit, so we gone leave that as the tagline.

You talked about how the project went through many phases in your interview with novice principle. What would you say the biggest changes were and how did your sound evolve from when you first started working on the album pre-Covid to now? 

Sheesh. Y’all did your research. Um, the biggest change was the actual meaning. It originally started dark and ended darker. Hence the intro title, “It Ends In Disaster.” I was really in a bad place. But eventually I got to a point of resolve, so it began to be less a negative “it was fun while it lasted,” which was really suicidal if you pay attention the verbiage. But it moved to a positive thing, kind of a renewal of sorts. Saying to all the negative and past traumas or whatever, “Goodbye,” or, “It was fun while it lasted, don’t come back though, lol.” The sound got way more polished and, simply put, I’ve gotten really, really, really good at rapping since starting on this version of the project. Like, stupid good. And I used to be average at hooks, so that was another growth point with this project. I got really good at that, too. Shoutout God. And Chicago.

Kayo by Jordan Esparza, courtesy of the artist.

Looking at your Instagram, it’s pretty clear you have a great sense of style. How do you feel like you express yourself through your personal style?

First of all, thank you! But I just be wearing and doing whatever, I’m sure I got some bad fits in there somewhere, because I’m not really calculated like that. I just love colors and textures, so that’s it, really.

If you could get food from anywhere in Chicago right now, what restaurant would it be and what would you order?

Cafe Trinidad! This gone sound like an ad, but literally my favorite restaurant in the city right now. You can only order online, though, which is unique, but I would order the goat roti with macaroni and rice and peas.

Now that you’ve released your debut album, what’s next? Time to relax or right back to work?

We pushing IWFWIL to the masses until everyone has heard it, but I’m a writer. I was back cooking before it even dropped, so I’m definitely working now. No dates or anything yet, but a lot of ideas flowing.

Kayo by Jordan Esparza, courtesy of the artist.

Can you tell us anything about what’s next for your creative house “Southside Blue Hearts”?

We’re putting together a tour right now, so that’s the biggest thing. Also just throwing events around the city and finding new artists to bring on. Anything that’s a show of good taste and just all things raw, we gone have a pulse on it.

Anything else listeners should know about that you want to shout out?

The merch is in stores. The best merch I’ve had by far. Definitely want to see everyone in a hoodie or tee at the next show. Also, we’re giving away gift boxes to the fans as a “thank you” for an amazing release, so definitely be on the lookout for that. Other than that, thank you for listening to the album and thank you for buying into me in general. I really appreciate every one of y’all, more than you could ever know. More shows coming soon, new music coming eventually, other than that, meet me outside! I’m there.

Keep up with Kayo on Instagram and Twitter.

Interview by Omi Salisbury

Introduction written by Morgan Ciocca and Omi Salisbury

Interview edited for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca

Photos by Jordan Esparza, courtesy of Kayo

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