Words by Jenna DePasquale
Catching glimpses of each other’s intimate settings has become par for the course in the era of video chats. For alternative rap prodigy Kamiyada+, his Zoom background features classic movie posters adorning the walls of his Los Angeles home, which he shares with other members of his collective, Midnight Society. The artwork from 2004’s Queen of the Damned garners the most attention as the late singer and actress Aaliyah stands with arms outstretched as a vampire lurks seductively. The cult classic famously features music from Korn’s Jonathan Davis, as well as nu metal icons Deftones, Distrubed, and Static-X -- a lineup that was not lost on Kamiyada+.
“There was a point where nu metal was the most popular music, aside from maybe early 2000s R&B. Every action movie had a song from Slipknot or Korn or Rage Against the Machine. It’s crazy what a time that was,” says Kamiyada+. “That was a big piece of nostalgia for me. I always try to channel not even just movies, but the music and the whole vibe and the aesthetic of the time into the music I make now. ”
Kamiyada+ had dialed into our call after escaping a car wreck on one of L.A.'s notoriously busy highways completely unscathed. Back in his safe haven, the 25-year-old reflects on where his music began: another bedroom thousands of miles away in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Kamiyada+ shared a home with his Panamanian family in the D.C. suburb, which has become a popular spot for middle class Black and African American families looking to escape the gentrification of the nation’s capital. “I love PG during the summer. It’s nice and cool, shady from all of the trees and nature,” he recalls of his East Coast roots. “The only thing I don’t miss is the snow.”
After his household would go off to work each morning, a young Kamiyada+ would stay behind to work full time on his music. “I saved enough money to buy a minimal setup: a USB mic, my laptop, and an enclosure at the foot of my bed,” the rapper explains. “I would sit criss-cross applesauce and record. That’s how I did almost everything for years.” Kamiyada+ had always dreamed of performing in a band, but after his guitar started suffering technical difficulties, he seized the opportunity to work as a solo artist. By sheer fate, he found Kanye West’s 2004 breakout album The College Dropout “sparkling in the sun” on his front lawn one day, which heavily influenced his skills as a rapper. Straddling the worlds of metal and hip-hop, Kamiyada+ created his own interpretation of a genre-bending movement that was taking off on SoundCloud.
Capitalizing on the ability to write, record, and distribute his own music, Kamiyada+ has worked industriously to produce a steady output of material over the last five years. His 2016 EP Static Depression served as a sonic preview of a burgeoning underground scene. From the backdrop of menacing instrumentals and heart-piercing beats, Kamiyada+ introduced a flow that gradually transforms bars into hardcore-style screams. A true pioneer amongst his contemporaries, Kamiyada+ would go on to release four albums and countless singles featuring the likes of King Yosef, Trippythakid, 83HADES, and other young up and coming artists.
Most recently, Kamiyada+ signed to the legendary pop punk label Hopeless Records, who released his latest EP The Metal In Me. The “cinematic plot” that he uses to describe the project’s universe manifests in the dark visuals for “Bleed Like I Bleed” and “Fucking With My Head” (feat. Zac Carper), as well as the title track. “I love movies too much to not implement an in-depth story in my videos,” Kamiyda+ says. “That’s also the fun part about it -- sitting down and brainstorming. How can I make this groundbreaking? How can this video have replay value? How can we cater to the supporters?”
A horror film buff and keeper of a black cat, Kamiyada+ is a new breed of DIY rapper who continues to record in his bedroom, too focused on paying homage to his influences to pay pigeonholes much mind. In order to get a better understanding of who Kami is, we dug deeper into the many pieces that comprise his artistic mosaic.
You recorded much of your early work in your family’s home. Were your parents supportive of your music?
It’s funny because probably for the first two years of me actually seriously making music they had no idea I was actually making music. In high school they put me in a program that gives you an internship and then you get hired at a job or a temp agency. It paid well, don’t get me wrong. They’d give me mad easy jobs that paid good, but in my head I was like damn, this isn’t what I want to do. I was sick of waking up at 6, 7 am. Clocking in. Rush hour traffic. Then there’s the feeling of the weekend coming and having to make the most out of it before you have to go back to work on Monday. I just knew that lifestyle wasn’t for me. When my last contract ended I didn’t renew and I was like fuck it, I’m just going to do music full time.
I would basically record when there was no one in the house. They’d never hear me record. Then the music thing started popping off and I started traveling. My mom would ask me to help out with groceries or just money in general around the house. I would always have it and she would just be confused, like how are you making money? I told her I was making music. Especially to the older generation, the idea of a musician and how that works is completely different from then to now. Back in their time, being a musician was like winning the lottery as far as actually being successful with it or making any serious money. Lucky for me, I figured out the stream and distro game early so I was able to just build off of that and not have to work again.
As far as my whole family, too, you get those family members that are like ‘ you still doing your music thing?’ Of course, my mom tells the family everything, that I’m flying to Tokyo or somewhere crazy. I come home for Thanksgiving and everyone’s bombarding me with questions. The whole tone and energy is different. It’s cool. It makes me feel proud of what I’m doing and I love that.
What motivated you to keep making music a secret at first?
It wasn’t anything subconscious or anything; it was more so that one, it was noisy ass music, and two, if I would ever try to record they’d think it was bloody murder. They wouldn’t even know how to react. Luckily, I somehow never got any noise complaints. I think I only got one and it was probably me as a kid playing video games. Once I taught myself how to scream I would be belting in my bedroom. Really, I’d probably spend from 9-3 recording. Everyone would get off work at 4 or 5. By the time everyone’s home, I’m chilling. It’s just funny because no one knew what I was doing. They knew I had recording equipment, but they didn’t know what it sounded like. Then my songs started running up and then I traveled and they looked up my name. My dad was like, ‘you recorded all this here?’
What was the process of learning the ropes of both rapping and screaming?
It’s weird because I went through mad different phases. My family is Panamanian, and they’re basically like Jamaicans that speak Spanish. They played Spanish music, but my sister and I never learned Spanish, so I didn’t understand it. Then they would play reggae, which I could understand, so that was the only thing I could relate to. I wanted to be a reggae artist but I was like damn, I’m not from Jamaica. How the fuck would that work? Then I found a Kanye CD, like someone threw it out the window right in front of my house. I went outside and picked it up. It had grease stains on it. I washed it off. I listened to that album every day before I went to sleep for three years.
Then from there, I got into ’90s grunge, ’80s punk. I liked Black Flag, Misfits, Danzig, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Tool, Deftones, Alice In Chains, Nine Inch Nails, then even Prince, Jimmy Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and mad older bands, too. I just started diving into all of it. Then in high school when my guitar broke, I was like damn, my next best option is to start rapping again. Then I found out about SoundCloud and all of the popping underground rappers in that scene. I kind of formulated my sound around that initially. Then I figured out my sweet spot of what sounded the best, that I shine most in -- an aggressive style. I was kind of like okay, let’s just interpret all of my influences into this sound and see what happens from that point on. It’s been dope.
Now I’ve been able to be really versatile. I feel like one of the most fun parts of making music is listening to music that I like and then taking some of those ideas and making them my own interpretations of it to create a whole new original product. It’s been a lot of experimenting, especially on the last EP I just dropped. I feel so good about it. I’m kind of ready to flip the script again -- go a bit harder, but also change the tone a bit.
What kind of tonal shift are you going for?
Right now it’s mad aggressive, so I want to mix the aggressive with the more mainstream tone -- stuff that you could play in the club, that you could play at a function, play at a party. Like that type of trap, but I also want to incorporate all of my alternative elements into that and make the best of both worlds. Good live show energy. But I’ll turn it so where it still sticks to my roots.
One of the words that’s been used to describe you is genreless. In many regards, you definitely tend to transcend traditional lines.
I really love that description. At this point I don’t really feel like I could be allocated to just one genre. It’s mainly like alternative trap and hip hop for sure, but I feel like at this point I’ve been able to make anything. It’s like let’s make the Kamiyada+ version of that. I feel like that’s a big part of evolving as an artist, being able to improve on your craft and get better to go outside of your box, go outside of your comfort zone. Experiment. Constantly experimenting. I feel like it’s a very important part of the learning process and sculpting the evolution of yourself as a human and as an artist.
Are there any particular inspirations that are sparking your current evolution, either in your life or in music?
I’d definitely say music wise I’ve been listening to a lot of ‘90s dancehall. Buju Banton had a big influence on me as far as vocal delivery goes, as well as lyrical content. I listen to a lot of Tool, a lot of A Perfect Circle. Maynard James Keenan is a big influence for sure. Playboi Carti’s newest album Whole Lotta Red> has been a nice influence. I like the tones. It’s still bouncy, like trap vibes that I would say the average listener could get used to, but there’s definitely a lot of punk overtones incorporated into it, which is dope. I definitely feel like that album, as much as it’s gotten mixed reviews, it’s definitely helped usher in a new wave of artists. It’s a new approach to the mixture of rap and alternative styles. I’ve been trying to capitalize on that and take some influences from it, but make it my own and in a way, do it even harder. I want to really take it there and make it an experience, make it dark, and really push it an extra couple of yards.
Carti’s album was definitely polarizing, but it sparked a conversation which is what I really appreciated about it.
Hell yeah. The regular trap heads were the people that disliked it the most because it’s not what they were used to. People that come from both worlds or appreciate both worlds really saw it for what it was. Even the production was very fresh. It wasn’t the run of the mill trap beats. There was a lot of crazy sampling, a lot of crazy approaches as far as delivery, chops, and loops go. The aesthetic of the album is really sick. There were a lot of ’80s horror movie vibes. It just felt fun. It’s a trap album for people that respect the alt world.
I feel like the people that were really polarized towards one side were either trap purists or alternative/metal purists. But even if they don’t like it initially, once the shock wears off, they start to rock with it after a while whether they want to admit it or not.
I’ve seen so many people on the drop day who hated Whole Lotta Red>, and now they’re like damn, I judged this album too fast. I’ve made that mistake a lot with many albums. There were definitely albums in the past where I was like this isn’t what I expected, I don’t like it. Then I reflect back on the album months or even years later and I’m like whoa, I just wasn’t ready to hear this.
Did you ever feel like you struggled to find your place growing up in PG County as someone who was entrenched in both rock and rap?
Oh hell yeah. PG County is a predominantly black area. I was the kid listening to Nirvana, Slipknot, Korn. Blasting my headphones on the bus. Now it’s funny because it’s the wave. The question I always got was ‘why are you listening to white people music?’ Music is music. If I like it, I like it. It doesn’t matter who makes it or where it originates from. Even from the early stages of rock music, black people were very prominent in that. They just got overshadowed over time. Even with that being said, music doesn’t really have a color. It’s not allocated to one specific group or one specific people.
Even people from my area are on the alternative wave now. Everyone’s rocking, even trapheads. Everyone is yelling on trap beats now. It’s just crazy how things change and how things all come full circle. It’s essentially a revamp of the early 2000s. Back in those days you had crazy festivals and all these crazy nu metal line ups. Nu metal songs in movies. Slipknot and Tool and Fear Factory -- all these bands were the ‘it’ guys. They were the poster boys for it all, and they were at the top.
I can see many parallels between nu metal and the current era of underground rap. For one, there’s obviously the fusion of rap and metal, but also how people weren’t ready for it yet when it happened, and it got some push back and it was polarizing. But now all those bands who performed nu metal--Deftones, Rage, Limp Bizkit--they’re all seen as legendary now.
Yeah, they’re the biggest influences. Those are the dudes that are being looked up to right now. My favorite band at the moment is probably Type O Negative. I’ve been taking a lot of influence from them as well. As musicians, they were insane. Instrumental wise, they had it all down pat. Very creative set of dudes. I always respect that in any band. I just think it’s cool to pay homage to all of the dudes who came before me. Essentially everyone is doing their own interpretation of all of these other bands that they were influenced by, and that’s the same thing that those bands were doing with the bands that came before them, like the punks.
So, how figurative is the title of your EP The Metal In Me?
Essentially, I kind of made a story. It was a matter of implementing my ideas into the scale of the music, the energy, and into a character and a brand. That’s essentially where the idea came from. It’s funny because “Metal In Me” was probably one of the first tracks I recorded when I moved into this new spot. I made it in five to ten minutes. Everything came together so fast. When I listened back to it I was like ‘whoa, that’s crazy.’ Then Hopeless reached out a few weeks later, and I sent it to them because I had a special feeling about that song in general and I was hoping they’d love it, and they did. It’s definitely a play on words. It’s the idea of feeling like inhuman in terms of energy and then also superhuman in a sense -- being able to do certain things that the general public may not be able to, or take the path less traveled by others and finding success down those paths. It’s very rewarding. Sometimes it almost doesn’t feel real. You kind of feel like you have a super power in a sense, being able to do certain things. Especially a skill or a craft. I kind of implemented that to be a play on words. Plus the song felt very metal too, especially the hook. It speaks on so many vibes, especially the premise of the EP. It encapsulated everything into a single phrase.
I really enjoyed the dark horror element in the the video for “Fucking With My Head,” too. What did the process of bringing this track to life entail?
This was the first time I got to actually sit down, write the video, and make it cohesive with the help of the label and the production team. It was dope. If I ever don’t feel satisfied with music, I’ll probably jump into directing and filmmaking for a time. I’ve always been into writing screenplays, short stories, etc. Getting the opportunity to bring all the ideas I had to life with these songs on this project was the most fun shit ever. It was very demanding, especially shooting for a whole day, repeated takes. Especially in the winter time, too. We shot the “Bleed” video in the desert and it was cold as hell. We shot it from 9 pm to 6 am, so they had to follow me around with blankets, but it felt good. I felt like I was busy putting in the work to deliver a finished project, to deliver an experience for my supporters. That’s my number one goal for everything in music thus far.
I’m trying to see what movie poster you’ve got directly behind you there.
It’s The Possession from the 1980s. It’s probably one of the best horror movies ever made, to be honest. It’s very out there, different. I’ve never seen any other horror movie like it. There’s no cheesy jump scares. It’s a very peculiar movie. It gradually gets crazier as things progress. Definitely a very dark movie. Even when you see the name you just assume that it’s one of ‘those’ movies, but it’s completely left field in terms of everything that takes place. The vibe of that movie is very inspirational as far as the music I’ve been making during the pandemic and after. I was watching movies every day when I was cooped up inside. I’d cook a nice meal and sip some wine and kick back and relax, smoke, and watch all kinds of movies, whether it be ’80s films or classics. It was mad fun. One of my homies put me on to Letterboxd and that changed everything. I’m really just a walking example of everything that I’m into.
You’ve gotten to do a lot of traveling, including a Japanese run. Do you have anything post-pandemic lined up?
I’ve been working with a couple of artists over the pandemic. I did a lot of writing for certain artists, too. Supposedly, I might make some little appearances at EDC and Coachella next year. In addition to that, I’ve been focusing on doing shows. I’ve been getting booked for a lot, which is dope because this is the most shows I’ve probably done back to back just in one month alone. It’s been sick because it’s gotten me back into performing and being able to work on my performances. It’s very good practice for that. I can’t wait until things are more open so I can start traveling again. I want to see more faces, see new things. I especially can’t wait for Japan’s borders to open up, but that’ll probably take forever.
Japan’s probably my favorite place to go. It’s just a different vibe out there, so I’m stoked to get back out. So much crazy shit happened when I was out there. The second time we went, I went to this club called Vision Tokyo. It’s a super big club and super dope. It’s probably my favorite one that I’ve been to out there. That show sold out. They didn’t even think anyone would know us out there because I had never ever seen my stats for Tokyo or Japan in general. But it sold out. The kids came and went crazy. It was such a crazy show. They were losing their minds. It was fun as fuck.
It’s a cool flex to be able to say, ‘I’m big in Japan.’
Oh hell yeah. I love it. Being out there really feels like you’re in a movie. I always tell my friends whenever we go back out there I’m going to kiss the ground damn near because I miss it so much. I really can’t wait.
'The Metal In Me' EP from Kamiyada+ is currently available via Hopeless Records - HERE