Kap G Talks Staying Humble, Studio Sessions With Pharrell, And Advice For First Generation Rappers

Cultura Dura is a Remezcla and Mike’s HARDER content and event series highlighting emerging Latin urban culture. We’ll be exploring scenes that haven’t really gotten any coverage anywhere else – from block parties and street art to underground sports and raw, young artists making movements pa’ la calle.

Young rapper Kap G is quickly forging his way in the major label hip hop circuit, now preparing to release his first album with Atlantic Records and riding high after being publicly cosigned by Pharrell. Since he dropped his “Like A Mexican” mixtape earlier this year already having secured contributions by Young Jeezy, Chingo Bling, and Wiz Khalifa, Kap’s managed to build on that momentum by maintaining a steady output of freestyle videos proudly playing with shoot locations like the front of a Home Depot or inside a taco shop.

Kap was born and raised in Atlanta’s College Park neighborhood to parents originally from Mexico, who more recently had relocated the family from California to remove his older brother from gang involvement. As Kap puts it, his mom felt that his brother “was either going to be in jail as a kid or be killed,” so she moved the family to Georgia, where his father had already relocated to find more prosperous work.

As an artist, Kap’s eager to attach his own first generation experience to his music, his lyricism navigating the microcosm of cultures within his own neighborhood. Now with a rapidly growing following, he’s not shy of embracing his position and power to speak to a social realness that outwardly tackles a hip hop discourse of la migra, racial profiling, and the straight-up hard work of those trying to build something better for their family.

I caught up with Kap over the phone while he was working at DJ Drama’s Means Street Studios in Atlanta and between listening sessions with his comrade David Banner for collaborative track they have in the works. Read on for Kap’s take on the importance of waking up at 6 AM to learn the ins and outs and the rap greats, staying humble, his studio time with Pharrell, and his advice for other young rappers finding a way to tell their own stories.

What were your early days like learning to rap in College Park?

I started rapping in the ninth grade. I’ve been able to rap since I was little, I always rhymed. I never really took it seriously when I started. It happened in ninth grade, I started to take it kind of seriously, knowing it’s a big local thing around here. I’d seen a lot of people rapping that were my age and I was like, “I could do it too.” From there I started with my friends in an apartment. We had a regular studio. We started with a mic that was very cheap, with just a computer, and we would just download beats off the Internet.

What were you rapping about when you first started out?

I was just kind of following the trend because that’s what I was accustomed to. And what everybody was writing about was just like clothes, shoes, you know, girls…I was talking about how fresh I am, really just stuff like that.

What inspired you to start talking more about your personal experience coming from an immigrant family in the US?

Yeah, like when I was rapping I always knew I wanted to do it, but I was confused, thinking “how am I going to do it?”  So basically when I got out of high school in 2012, I figured that I just had to go hard and work, study, and just try to be a good artist and try to be different. So I did that.

When I got out of high school I moved in with my brother Juan, who’s my manager. I was waking up at 6:00 am, I was reading books, I was studying a lot of the great lyrical rappers like Nas, Jay-Z, Outkast. I just really started studying and putting in a lot of time.

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Did you have a sense at the time that you were leading the way for other Latino rappers?

Yeah, I had already knew because my brother who’s my manager now, Juan, he was telling me that when I was first rapping. He was saying, you know, “You need to put on for your culture. You’re gonna be a pioneer.” So yeah, that was already approaching what was in my brain.

So, fast-forward to now, since the time you’ve been signed to Atlantic Records, and more recently, Pharrell dubbing you as “the future of hip hop.” How does that make you feel to get that kind of response?

Oh, man, it was crazy because just coming where I’m from, I didn’t think like I’d ever meet with somebody like that, because he’s one of my heroes. When I first saw him, when I first I knew I had a session with him, I just thought that we were going to make a song and it’s gonna be crazy and that shit. But from there we just developed a relationship where he really worked with me.

So the first time I went in there, I played “La Policia” for him, I played “José [Got Dem Tacos],” the “Versace” freestyle. I played a lot of stuff and he was just going crazy to every song, and he was going from line to line, stopping me and being like, “Did he just say that?” He was breaking it down. He was really impressed.

He understood my story as he started working with me. He liked my swag and everything that came with it. So when we did our first song after I’d played my freestyles and my songs for him, he played me a beat and was like, “You gotta do this– do this one right now.” He left the room and when I did the verse I recorded it; he came back in and he just started going crazy when he heard the verse. And that’s when it just all started from there.

How’d you get connected?

The person who signed me at Atlantic, my A&R is KP [Kawan Prather], and he’s very known in the game., He’s the one who like signed with T.I., he comes from the Dungeon Family—you know, Outkast, Goodie Mob—and he’s just very, very known and has a lot of accomplishments and he is a good friend with Pharrell, and he got me in there.

Were you nervous going into the studio?

Oh, yeah. I wasn’t getting nervous, but I was kinda concerned, because at the time Pharrell had just made that video for 2 Chainz, “Feds Watching.” I was like, am I gonna make a hit record with him? What am I gonna make? Is it going to be a banger? This is Pharrell we’re talking about. Once I got in there it was good because the chemistry was there.

One of the first big MCs you worked with was Chief Keef, which was pretty soon after one of your first mixtapes dropped. How do you think that kind of success came to you so quickly?

Well, the song with Chief Keef did a lot of numbers right there, but I knew that when they started finding out about me, I still had to put in a lot of work because I didn’t want to just have a song that everybody knew in the street and then they forget about me. So that’s when I started doing freestyles to let people that know that I can rap, and then I put out that mixtape and let them know my story.

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Now that you’ve worked with a number of bigger names, what’s some advice they’ve given you along the way?

I was just in a studio session with David Banner. That’s like my big homie, like my big bro…when I did the “OG Bobby Johnson” freestyle in front of the Home Depot, he was like, “Man, that was so crazy to see that, to see you in front of the Home Depot and you putting out for your people, and you were really flowing through it, man.” He started giving me advice like, “Just keep doing that, don’t change…just keep working hard and you’re gonna be good, man…you’re on your way.”

Pharrell gave me advice about just staying humble, about just getting better, keeping working also. I remember one time when I was with him, it was probably the second or third time I was working with him. He was leaving the room, and before he left he said, “Hey, Kap, man, I haven’t been this excited since I worked with Clipse.” And that was something that really touched me because I was like, “Man, that’s crazy,” because Clipse was the group he worked with, that he had a classic album with.

When I was with Fabolous he gave me advice, too. He told me, “Just keep showing your cultures. Just keep shooting videos, keep working, keep your songs up.” Told me, “Keep showing the lifestyle, showing me in the hood, showing whatever you want the people to see.”

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Since a lot of your videos are showing the community or the neighborhood where you grew up, have you had people reach out that identify with that experience?

Yeah, I’ve had a couple of people like that, people hitting me on Instagram like, “Yo, man, it’s crazy. I’m Mexican too and I grew up with nothing…or like, yeah, that’s crazy, I thought I was the only one.”

How do you feel about the potential of your label branding you as a Mexican-American rapper?

I don’t think they’re branding me as a Mexican American artist right now. I’ve had a lot of the label’s help, but right now it’s just me doing what I want to do. I’m just doing the groundwork with everything right now. I’m working on myself as what I am, a Mexican artist who grew up in Atlanta who’s from the south.

In terms of your track “Like a Mexican,” why do you think it’s important to flip a phrase that could otherwise be used in a derogatory sense?

Because it really is the truth. I know we work hard; some of us have to do other things that people don’t have to do, like we got to wait at Home Depot for somebody to give us work because we don’t got our papers. We got to drive every day not knowing whether we’re gonna get pulled over, especially if we’re not citizens of the United States. We are cutting grass, you know, because that’s all the job that we really can get.

So I’m flipping it because that’s something to be proud of, and to tell people what’s up– that we’re not cutting grass because we want to, we do it because this is what we got to do.

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What was the motivation behind making “La Policia”?

I made that because I was in the studio one night– I was in there a whole day and I left after more than 12 hours, probably all the day. I left like at 5 am. I was with two of my brothers and I was going home, I was probably like 30 seconds away from my house and the police pulled me over. I was in the backseat, my two brothers in the front and they were just telling some lies, acting like we were the only cars on the road.

Over here in Atlanta the police go in hard, and they pull us over with no probable cause. We were like, “What’s the problem?” You know, they tried to check our trunk trying to see if we got something. They were racially profiling, and that’s why I wrote the song, because I was very frustrated. I had to tell the story for people to know.

What’s some advice that you’d give to other first generation rappers trying to make it?

I’d say that–to my Mexican people—being a minority,  you got to go ten times harder at anything you do. You got to be the best because no matter what, if you make one mistake, people are going to always see that mistake but never see the good things about it. I’d tell them to just go hard at anything they do. Don’t listen to what nobody says if it’s negative. Do what you believe in.