Here is a guy who had so much passion he smashed through the barriers of what was supposed to be, and crafted his own destiny. Kero One originally worked as a web designer, making 50 copies of his first single with home equipment and personal credit cards. One of the copies was purchased at a record shop in Tokyo by a Japanese DJ, who generated interest for Kero One by playing it at a club. A Japanese record label then requested 3000 copies of the single, which led to performances throughout Japan. In 2005, Kero One released the self-produced album, “Windmills of the Soul,” which was named the “Best Hip Hop Album of 2006” by Reemix Magazine. In 2007, he opened the office for his own label, named Plug Label. In 2009, he released his second album, “Early Believers.” Kero One’s style, “has been compared to Common, Q-tip, and Kanye West. Although I gauruntee that none of those artists are as versatile with as many instruments as Kero One. We chat a bit about hustlin’, creativity, his future projects and more in this episode of the Creative Spotlight…
Kero One, pleasure to have you! As a Korean-American hip hop MC, do you feel like you have something to prove to the hip hop community?
Kero One: Thank you! No, not anymore. I think everyone knows it doesn’t matter your ethnicity or background, you can still make hip hop music. I grew up immersed in every aspect of hip hop since I was a youngin’. You cant tell me nuthin’! (Kanye!)
What made you switch from being a designer to Djing and producing?
Kero One: Well in fact I started as a DJ, then turned into a producer and MC then a designer last. However, web design became my 9-5 and how I paid my bills. That was until, I found a way to make music my 9-5.
Although I am not a hip hop artist, I am a web designer, so your story inspires me. I think it is a true do-it-yourself success story. Any advice for anyone who wants to persue their dreams but may feel like they are stuck in the wrong passion?
Kero One: Yes. In no way should you give up on your passion but sometimes things involve a little luck to push everything over the edge. In the meantime, work on your craft. Even if you’re tired after work, you have to grind. If you’re really passionate about it, nothing will stop you anyway. It will only be a matter of time before your hard work pays off.
I was listening to ‘Windmills of the Soul’ just the other day and the soulful jazz influence cannot be denied. It reminded me of Guru’s Jazzmatazz series and Tribe Called Quest. What are some of the influences you draw your work from?
Kero One: Musically, That work in particular was inspired by everything pre 2003. That was jazz, soul, funk, and underground hip-hop. I wanted to take all that and put live instrumentation on top of it. In All the Wrong Places had a 26 bar piano solo on the end of it. When was the last time you heard that in a hiphop song [laughs]?
How many instruments do you play?
Kero One: Actually quite a lot of instruments, but not an expert at one instrument in particular. I’ve showcased some of my instruments in my youtube video with David Choi covering Cee-Lo [see below].
Your initial success can be attributed to Tokyo Japan when a small record store decided to promote your CD. Do you feel the new era of digital downloads and the internet makes up-and-coming artists more accessible to an audience? Or do you prefer old school methods of touring, cold calling and record stores?
Kero One: I was lucky to have been discovered so virally without much internet presence back then. I mean digital downloads and the internet are great because it really allows talent to surface through the crud without that sort of luck. I mean, people are being discovered daily on Youtube. On the flipside, I do miss hitting up record stores and discovering music through physical product, flipping through product and looking at the covers, and actually talking to people face to face.
How did your relationship with Talib Kweli start?
Kero One: It was an inquiry from a Japanese label to remix a track that he did with deckstream. We didn’t work together in the studio for that one.
As a designer yourself, how do you feel about album cover art, and music videos today, versus, 10 years ago? Do you still feel the importance of having an aesthetically pleasing album package?
Kero One: Absolutely. I love dope album artwork and packaging. I used to do art when I was growing up so sometimes I pick apart design and appreciate it that way. Like the Jake One/Freeway money packaging is insane. Artists and designers hit me up!
Lastly, can you let us in on any big collaborations, guest appearances, or projects you have going on?
Kero One: I never like to kiss and tell…but I’m keeping busy working on a few collaboration albums. My thing is always hip hop but I’m also expanding into producing soul music as well. I cant wait for you guys to hear it.