My penchant for females in hip-hop has spiralled out of control over the past year. 2011 didn’t just see Nicki collaborating on loads of artist’s tracks or like, wrenching out Lil’ Kim’s dusty weave. We saw Kreayshawn’s Gucci Gucci video go viral (not to everyone’s taste and I’m not sure what I can say that is positive about V-Nasty), we saw Iggy Azalea sport most of American Apparel’s spandex range and her and A$AP hooking up. Harlem badass Azealia Banks signed with Universal (but sadly did not score it with Interpol front man Paul Banks after her cutesy cover of Slow Hands…). I think at some point some British girls did some cool stuff for rap (anyone…?) but all the while Brooklyn-dwelling K.Flay (real name Kristine Flaherty) was hanging out being awesome and rapping over a bunch of cool beats she’d produced in relative obscurity. But it’s very likely that 2012 Is going to be her year.
Over from the states to record her first full-length, we meet with K.Flay in Sarm Studios after navigating our way from Ladbroke Grove underground in the pissing, pouring rain. Arriving early we dry off in the reception area, awaiting our invitation to studio 4. Promptly we’re led up the spiral staircase and ushered in to meet K.Flay.
K’s petite and full of energy, welcoming us in with a smile. Dressed in leggings, a slouchy tee, high tops with the laces loose, her hair is shoulder-length, side-parted and a little disheveled; she spends the interview mussing it about intermittently in an animated fashion. She’s full of this sort of effervescence that’s bubbling under the whole time, and immediately totally engaged when we start chatting. While we set up, she bounces about the studio before flopping onto a sofa, momentarily glued to her iPhone, thumbs going light speed crazy. She explains her addiction; Scramble With Friends. I express my reluctance at downloading the game because of the pressure – I’m perfectly content ducking in and out of Words With Friends at a leisurely pace – but K is a bit more hardcore with her gaming habits, telling us about a particular girl she has a fierce rivalry with on Scramble. “Or I think she’s a girl, her name on it’s like, ‘lady-something’!” she laughs at the veritable battle of words she’s having with a total stranger.
Hailing from Wilmette, Illinois (just north of downtown Chicago), K relocated to Stanford University to pursue a double major in sociology and psychology in sunny California where there was a “really interesting hip hop scene in the San Francisco bay area, there was all this hyphy music, like E-40, Mistah F.A.B, Turf Talk and all those guys, so like really weird and playful and eccentric rap.” With no musical upbringing (“I could play guitar as a kid but that was about it”) her initial foray into recording came about in a rather unorthodox manner; “I was talking with a friend of mine about mainstream hip hop and rap at the time and how a lot of it felt really formulaic and we were just kind of going back and forth talking about it, and he was like, “well you should make a rap song” so I did, pretty much as a joke-“ she laughs, “and it was horrible!”
Of her prank, K muses “There was something really fun about the process, about making a beat, recording something, and then it, like, existing. One thing led to another and “I started getting into production and I got a keyboard, started making beats and started playing house and frat parties on campus but I was still super serious about school. It was actually a really cool release for me.” She goes on “It was something that had nothing to do with anything I was studying, and something I had no expectation at being good at, and nobody else had an expectation of me so it was like, this really liberating thing to do. Then I just sort of got more and more serious, a couple of people in the Bay area in San Francisco who are further along, like other artists took me under their wing a bit, and like, mentored me and after graduating I started playing a lot of shows in the area. ”
The music K grew up listening to does not instantly lend itself to hip hop, but as she reels off names it’s evident where she has taken inspiration from in her own recordings, “I listened to a lot of like, depressed female vocalists… A lot of Liz Phair, Fiona Apple, PJ Harvey, Garbage… So kind of that rock girl, pissed off, “I’m angry too!” kinda thing. One of my top albums ever is Metric’s second album ‘Live It Out, I love Emily Hanes and I love Metric and I just like that they’re a band I feel has very interesting lyrical content with like, kinda cool but still very appealing music.” She grins “I was listening to it the other day walking to the studio!”
And for hip hop? “I’ve always been a huge Tribe [A Tribe Called Quest] fan and there is some stuff from that era that I kinda love. I think a lot of the Outkast stuff was pretty influential for me just because it’s weird and freaky… It has a very distinctive flavour even though that flavour is like, always changing, their albums are very different one to the next. ”
What female artists have influenced K? “I think Robyn’s a really interesting case study” wasn’t the answer I’d expected, but she goes on, “She’s sort of developed her own lane in a lot of respects, and she’s been doing music and been around for quite some time with just like, her.” Listening to some of the mixtapes K’s produced it’s actually not difficult to draw parallels between the two artists; K is absolutely doing her own thing and the way in which she combines cute synthy bits with lyrics about loneliness and confusing boys is very Robyn. “There’s something really compelling about her and her vibe, she’s just kind of a badass which I like and she’s just in her lane doing whatever, for the sake of the music and being creative and doing what she wants to do. I think that’s really cool, I’d love to be able to have that sort of energy.” The next evening K plays a show in Kensington’s Archangel; she really doesn’t have to fret about energy levels.
Describing her song writing process, she grins “I usually start a song with some kind of loop, usually like a sixteen bar drum loop, basic synth line, or little riff or whatever, that’s how I start, instead of with a lyric, and I kinda put it on repeat for like, a really long time.” At this point she laughs “It’s annoying for anyone around me… I just get a vibe. I think what’s nice about that, is because I’m creating the music to begin with it feels like it kind of co-evolves you know, as the lyrics change, I can be like, oh the beat shouldn’t be like that it should be this. I just kind of practice over and over again and try to find a rhythmic flow that sounds cool over it, and try to do something different I haven’t done before.”
Of her live set-up K explains “My live show, I run Ableton Live, we’re kind of looking at my live set-up now”, she gestures at the equipment in front of her “I use this Akai MPK 25 pretty much as my midi-controller for everything. I compose most of my stuff on [Apple] Logic and [M-Audio] ProTools, I like Logic for midi. I’m trying to get a little more into Ableton Live for production rather than just for the live show, but I feel a little crazy with it, and I just love it for on-the-fly kind of stuff, but I think it’s cool to add those little modulation things into a recording so that’s kind of what I am using it for.”
Before we have to leave for a further flurry of interviews K.Flay has penciled in for the day (and of course, recording), we speak briefly about her thoughts on being a female in the music industry. Does K feel a pressure to look, dress, act a certain way? “I think in pop music generally speaking there is this kind of hyper-sexualisation. I think for women, a lot, you either exist on one extreme end of the spectrum, like very hyper-sexualised or just totally not. I do think there’s a void somewhere in the middle, I feel like I want to fill that void. I know that for a lot of young girls, like I’m talking about growing up, talking about rock girls, there was that kind of aesthetic, you know, someone who was sort of a badass but wasn’t necessarily super sexualised. Even talking about Garbage or Shirley Manson, there’s a place for it in hip hop. She grins, “I do think there’s room for that, and for me it’s not a fabricated identity, it’s about who I am and what I’m about naturally. I don’t feel a tonne of pressure, I just would like for that to exist.”
K.Flay’s Eyes Shut EP is available for free download on her website KFLAY.COM and for other recommended listening, check out YouTube for her tracks Less Than Zero, Doctor Don’t Know and also her Gucci Gucci remix (she eats a lot of hamburgers in the video for the latter!).
- File-O-Facts: K Flay (hangout.altsounds.com)
- White Girl Rapper? We got them. (gangsgoonsandgunz.rahrahrecords.com)
- K.Flay: Free EP, Video, Tour (jambase.com)
- Which White Girl Rapper Will Win? (bossip.com)
- Which White Girl Rapper Will Win? (hiphopwired.com)