EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Bay Area rapper Kamaiyah caught up with us to talk about her Death Row dreams, hopes for a TDE link, being an authentic artist, and why she wants that Drake, Future, and Young Thug collab ASAP.
As Kamaiyah was penning her first rap at nine-years-old, she knew that she was going to use her skills to change her life. Her father, a drug abuser, was in and out of jail and her mother was abusive. At a young age, she and her brothers were removed from their mother's care and were sent to live with a relative, and since that time, Kamaiyah has applied a hustler's mentality to every move that she makes, in and out of the music industry. "I feel like my offering is the hustle," Kamaiyah said of what sets her apart from other women in the rap game.
The release of Kamaiyah's debut mixtape A Good Night in the Ghetto four years ago helped her amass respect among her peers, and while she's been named as the leading female force in rap out of the West Coast, she admits she still doesn't believe she's received the respect she deserves. "I feel like I play a part in that because I'm not the person that's gonna boast and brag like, 'I did this, I did that.' So, it makes it hard for people to know, 'Oh, she's responsible for this,'" Kamaiyah told us. Unlike other rappers swarming social media, you won't find the Bay Area emcee flooding your timeline with her opinions or latest selfies. It's something that keeps her out of trouble but also hinders her fans from connecting to her on a more personal level.
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When we chatted with Kamaiyah in 2016, we wanted to know if she found it challenging to be a woman in hip hop. She didn't think so at the time, but now with four years and Certified Platinum single under her belt, we were curious if her views have changed as her career has progressed.
"If anything it's easier to flourish as a woman in hip hop now," she admitted, adding that when she was officially stepping into the scene with her debut mixtape, there wasn't as much variety as there is today. "In 2016, it was really only me, Cardi B, Dreezy, Dej Loaf, and like, Nicki Minaj that I can recall. Think about the women we have now; hip hop has evolved and now you have different tractions of it. Rico Nasty is not a Dej Loaf or a Nicki Minaj. She's a whole different type of artist. Doja Cat is not like Megan Thee Stallion. Tierra Whack...she's more of like an Odd Future to me. She's like Tyler, The Creator. She's a different type of artist."
Kamaiyah also added that it seems as if women in today's culture are supporting one another like never before. "Every woman is flourishing," she said. "Females are getting along. It's a different type of time. We're celebrating each other." With all of these variations of styles and sounds coming from women in rap, Kamaiyah has managed to stand out in a genre that often gets criticized for having artists who follow a particular social media-driven mold. She admits that her hustle is something that separates her from the rest, and her work ethic and talent captured the attention of YG.
The Los Angeles artist collaborated with Kamaiyah and Drake on their Platinum ["I think it's actually Double Platinum," Kamaiyah said] single "Why You Always Hatin?" and later he offered her a deal with his label, 4Hunnid. She ended up taking the deal, but it didn't take long for their professional relationship to grow sour due to album delays. Signing with a record label wasn't an aspiration that Kamaiyah had; during her rise, she was adamant that being an independent artist would be the best route for her—that is unless it was Death Row Records. The rapper has a deep love and appreciation for all things '90s rap and R&B, and as a kid, Kamaiyah had dreams of following the footsteps of Death Row artists like Snoop Dogg or Tupac Shakur.
"What attracted me to them, from the outside looking in at that time being a kid, a lot of it was being like a family-oriented group. Individuals from the ghetto getting money and making the best music," Kamaiyah said. "Nobody in the world at that time was bigger than the West Coast and that was because of Death Row. They dominated the charts so it just made me wanna be apart of that."
The Death Row blueprint is something that she sees and admires in Top Dawg Entertainment. "I want to build my own label like a TDE," said Kamaiyah of her label GRND.WRK. "Because to me, TDE is the next [version] of a longstanding West Coast label. Put an imprint on the game... They don't make their affiliations their staple. They just give you great music and great art and you respect that."
As two highly respected forces out of the West Coast, a Kamaiyah-TDE collaboration doesn't seem too far-fetched. She's already worked with ScHoolboy Q but sees more TDE links in the future. "I would still love to f*ck with Top Dawg and them because I feel like, they're gonna push you, push the culture first, you know?" Kamaiyah admitted about working with the popular Los Angeles-based collective. "I feel like that's what I'm here to do. To make a historical moment in history in hip hop, so why not be with somebody who has already created that?"
"I feel like the internet has made it to where people are what the f*ck they wanna be, not who they are," the rapper said. Once upon a time, it seemed as if people operated in a what-you-see-is-what-you-get world. "Now, I can't pinpoint what the f*ck motherf*ckers truly is outside of their Instagram post. The musicality is kinda like, duplication. I'mma hear you do it, this dude with pink hair, I'mma get blue hair and I'mma do what he's doing. It's very rare that we hear a new artist that has their own imprint. That's why I idolized the '90s era because Bad Boy didn't sound like Ruff Ryders, Flipmode, or Death Row. Like, So So Def didn't sound like this person. You could tell motherf*ckas were putting it down for their region and making their own version of their music of what they thought hip hop was or R&B was. I don't feel like that's true today. I feel like we're getting the same thing, like carbon copies. People don't want to push the envelope of creativity."
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When speaking with Kamaiyah, her authenticity is palpable, and it's something that doesn't go unnoticed by other artists in the industry that haven't even met her before. "I was with one of the homegirls and she's cool with Rick Ross, and she's like, 'He says he loves you and respects you because he knows you're a hustler, you're about your money. He sees that you're not in this business trying to f*ck n*ggas to get ahead.' People respect that. They'll see it."
She made it clear that she has nothing against how other women have navigated their rap careers, but her method won't match what's perpetuated in popular culture. "I'm a woman who's grinding, literally, from the ghetto from nothing, and using what she got, her mind, to manifest the blessing that's she's receiving," she said. Her brothers also made sure she stayed in line.
"There was no way possible for me to even think I was gonna be around here scantily clad and get away with it. My brothers told me, 'If you ever become a stripper, I'mma shoot up the club,'" Kamaiyah recalled with a laugh. "That's when I was 15. 'You not finna do this, you not finna do that, we ain't havin' it.' So, I respected my brothers enough and the males in my life enough to not ever do nothing demeaning to myself because I love myself that much and I love them that much to not move a certain type of way."
Thus far, it's worked. She's an unproblematic entertainer who doesn't involve herself with online drama. You don't hear much about her beefing with anyone—unless it was that little indirect back-and-forth spat with former friend Kehlani earlier this year. "It was like, how could people even fix their lips to say I'm the problem when I've never been in any problems and I've been around a plethora of artists," Kamaiyah said. "Never is my name mixed up in some bullsh*t and all of a sudden I'm problematic. It just didn't make sense to me. That's why I kinda ignored it 'cause I like my peace. I'm home reading books half of the f*ckin' time. I don't care about social media. That's not what I'm here for. I'm here to push art. Push the culture. So, respect me for my art. F*ck all the other sh*t."
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With the drama in her rearview, Kamaiyah forges ahead with her career goals. "I wanna do some sh*t with [Young] Thug, Future, and Drake. Like, right now. Immediately," she said, also revealing that within the next two years, fans can expect to receive eight projects from her. "I'll feel like I'm in my prime when I'm like, 'Alright, this is my f*ckin' best album.' That's when I'll wanna call the Missy [Elliots], and the Erykah Badus, Lady Gagas and sh*t. But right now, me just being a n*gga, I gotta hit the streets."
Speaking of artists that are her dream collaborations, we picked Kamaiyah's brain with a hypothetical question. Knowing about her love for the '90s, we wanted to know which artists of that era would Kamaiyah tap for an album if she could pick any of her choosing. "I know I'mma want Nate Dogg, Tupac, Snoop Dogg, Too Short, E-40, sh*t. Who else? MC Hammer," she listed quickly and without hesitation. "And Tony! Toni! Toné!"
Some of those collaborations may not come into fruition, but expect to see Kamaiyah holding it down for the West Coast and, just maybe, letting her hair down and sharing more of herself with the public. As a multi-tiered individual, it may be time for Kamaiyah to peel back a few layers.
"I feel like people don't understand how funny I am, 'cause they don't see me enough. Or how f*ckin' smart I am. For some reason [people have] the impression that I'm dumb when I was a 4.0 student," she said when asked about parts of her personality that people tend to not know about. Then, with a laugh, she added, "And how f*ckin' fly I am! My fashion! I really feel like people gotta get to know me, for real. That's why I'm trying to be more open."
"I've done things off the streets that other females have not done. A Sprite commercial with LeBron James, like, do you not understand how big this sh*t is?" said Kamaiyah. "Because I'm not screaming it, people don't know this b*tch did her sh*t. They think I'm just [whatever] and they're like, 'Who is she?' B*tch, I'm the sh*t! That's who I am. I'm a f*ckin' queen. I'm a boss. And I'm doing all this based upon my hustle. I'm not out here shaking my ass or trying to f*ck my way to the top. This is me just hustling and people respecting my hustle. So, I'mma keep doing it the way I'm doing it 'cause obviously it's working... I gotta keep pushing."