An interview with Young Kaii

Young Kaii is an artist on a mission and unlike many rappers these days, she’s not trying to sell you on anything but her lyrical skills nor is she willing to be anything other than herself. It wasn’t always like this — originally, the out emcee went by the name K-Star and her persona was loud, flashy and molded by a team of people with experience in the music industry. After some time and a bit of a metamorphosis, it was time for K-Star to grow into Young Kaii, a more laid back, honest lyricist who was ready to let her words on the mic speak more loudly than her persona.

We spoke with Young Kaii about her transition away from K-Star, what it’s like to be a gay artist in the rap world and some of the projects she’s been working on that will be ready to drop soon.

Photos courtesy of Young Kaii/Facebook The first time I heard about you and, I believe, wrote about you for AfterEllen, was when you were still going by K Star. Now you’re going by Young Kaii but you still sometimes shout out K Star and bring her up in your songs. Do you see K-Star as being sort of an alter-ego?
Young Kaii:
K-Star, I’ll always be K-Star, that’s something that probably will never go away. I still have my K-Star fans so I can’t let them down and just completely become Young Kaii. K-Star was really cocky and down for whatever. It was me at a time when I was surrounded by people who though they knew what was best for her. They’d say to get in the game you need to wear this, you need to wrap about that.” K-Star had a certain image that was flashier than what I represent now.

AE: So Young Kaii is kind of like a graduation I guess?
YK: Yeah, Young Kaii is more personal; it’s more me. K-Star I was CEO, I was even managing other artists. Because I started writing when I was 13 or 14. Around that time, G-Unit was coming up and having a group just sounded so right to me. So I thought hey, maybe I should start a group. I made a list of artists that I thought were hot and I kind of pretty much just made phone calls and asked a few of them if they wanted to be a part of this group. Then we just started going to the studio from there and that’s how I started my camp called ARTABLAZE.

AE: Tell me about your song “Break Them Down.” I like that track a lot and it sounds — maybe this goes back to what you were telling me about K-Star. Have a lot of people career-wise tried to hold you back or put up obstacles that shouldn’t have been there in the first place?
YK: I just looked around at my people and they just thought they knew what was best. Like I even had this mentor who had all kinds of connections. Paul Wall I got to speak to on the phone. I had a producer who put out “Showstoppers” for Danity Kane. So yeah he was pretty much my mentor and I’d record records and send them over and he’d tell me what I should change. He even told me that I needed to do Pop to get into the industry. So K-Star is kind of really trying to get into the industry in that field. Young Kaii is more free, it’s more me. Like in front of the cameras I was dressed up extra flashy and then behind cameras it was more tomboy and like just jeans and a t-shirt having fun.

AE: But “Break Them Down” is under Young Kaii, right?
YK: Well actually, it was a record that was done by Courtney Bennett, who’s an artist out of the UK, she sent that over to me and I loved it. I love working with Courtney Bennett because she’s one of those artists who can really bring something out of you that you didn’t know you had musically. So when I heard the record I was like oh my god, this is what I needed. This is my time to really express myself and how I feel about the industry and people not accepting me. It’s titled “Young Kaii break them down,” but to be honest, those words are coming from K-Star, is how I feel.

AE: Do you feel like, in a way, the rap world in general tries to take away the legitimacy of gay artists’ work?
YK: Yeah, definitely. The way I see sex sells and in the industry it’s a business. So they’re always going to look for what sells the most. And when it comes down to the community, sadly I think it’s always going to be that way. People are always going to try to hide that part of the world.

AE: I feel like there’s been a weird trend lately where a lot of artists who have claimed to be gay or bisexual in the past like Nicki Minaj, Amber Rose and Kreayshawn are now denying they ever were part of the community. It’s like, once it’s out there, why would you start to try hiding it? Can they really take it back? So I appreciate the fact that you’ve never tried to hide who you are because, it’s supposed to really be about the music anyway isn’t it?
YK: Right, I say that all the time. Orientation is something that’s personal. That’s what’s captured in the bedroom so why does anybody care who I’m sleeping with? And same thing goes for straight guys who get upset and make a comment about a lesbian. They want to make it a big deal. So it’s like, if this lady wasn’t a lesbian, does that automatically mean she’s going to sleep with you? It’s so stupid.

AE: Do you find that men are intimidated by you? I mean, you’re not exactly what I would consider the most feminine of lesbians, so do guys treat you as though you’re encroaching on their turf?
YK: Yeah, sometimes I feel like that. I’ll be hanging out with some guys and they feel offended by me or something. Like, they feel like they’re not masculine enough or good enough if a girl chooses me over them. Not all guys seem that way but definitely some of them.

AE: I saw that you’ve got a new video coming out soon for “Fantasy Girl” and you did a behind-the-scenes video for it. It struck me as kind of a coincidence: There’s another artist, Freckles, who I interviewed a while back and both of you made it a point to respect the models that are in your videos. I don’t think I’ve heard other artists specifically point that out. What makes it important to you to let people know how much you respect the models in your videos? I know that a lot of rappers use the term, “Video Ho,” and not everybody likes that. So from your point of view as an artist, what’s the relationship between you and the models you use in your videos?
YK: I had to bring that up because I didn’t want my image to be misunderstood. There are so many hood rappers making videos like that where the ladies are half naked and pretty much made the Video Ho world. I didn’t want anybody to see my videos and think that that’s what I’m representing. I didn’t want that. I’m totally against the concept of “video hos.” To me it’s like, if you have men doing this, you’re just helping men look less important. If I want to see that, I could just see some guy’s music video. We’re supposed to be helping each other out and not downgrading our own gender.

AE: Are you working on other projects right now?
YK: I have a lot of stuff happening in production right now. I’ve been shooting footage for so long that we have a bunch to put together. Right now I’m actually working on a mix tape that’s gonna be dropping real soon. The first mix tape that I dropped, Young Kaii versus K-Star, was really a tease.

AE: Pride’s coming up — will you be playing any of those?
YK: We have some shows coming up in late September and we’ve got some other shows that will be earlier but we’re still figuring out dates. We’re doing South Georgia Pride and another Pride festival in Mississippi which is actually to raise money for a camp that’s being put together for kids that have been bullied.

AE: Oh wow, that’s really great. I’d love to learn more about that and I’m sure our other readers would as well. Did you have to put up with bullying when you were in school?
YK: I put up more with gossip than anything. I’m a Libra so I’m very even-keeled. I was the class clown and I got into a lot of trouble. I felt like music was the only thing I was good at. That’s why I stuck to it.

AE: Well it’s good to have that as an outlet. It’s good that you stuck with it as well because I know that it can be so incredibly difficult to break into the industry. The fact that you stuck with it is pretty incredible. What would you say for some of our young readers who are interested in becoming an artist?
YK: I’m hoping this doesn’t sound corny but, just follow your heart. Don’t do it because you’re seeing things that you want to buy. Do it because it’s something deep inside your heart that you want to do. If you really want to take this seriously, know that it’s also about you. It’s about expressing yourself and also know that it’s not just for you but it’s for your audience. Think about the people you’re going to be influencing. Don’t let negative feedback get to you. At the end of the day, there’s an audience for everybody. That’s why we have our own taste so just because there’s one person who doesn’t like what you’re presenting, that doesn’t mean there isn’t somebody else out there who will love your work.

Keep up with Young Kaii on Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud and YouTube. She’ll also be playing South Georgia Pride in Valdosta, Ga September 15, Pride in the Park in Roanoke VA September 16 and will be playing a very special show for ProudFest, the festival in Mississippi helping to raise money for Camp Acceptance, the camp for bullied kids to come together and know that they are not alone in this world.