In his words “born in Queens, raised in Brooklyn”, and now also with roots in Portland and LA, Koncept is a quickly rising rap artist whose loyal following spans both coasts. Koncept just finished recording at Red Bull Studios, and the eminent release of his hot new EP prompted us to seek him out, sit down with him, and bring you a glimpse into his world. Dipping a bit into his background with graffiti, we bring you an exclusive shoot and interview with the artist himself.
Let’s start with some basics. Your roots are on the East Coast, and that is where your hip hop career began. How has it been acclimating to the west coast scene? Has it been difficult to cultivate a strong following?
Not at all. I actually record at Red Bull Studios in LA so I’m on the west coast pretty frequently. I played a bunch of shows through California and other parts of the west coast. Last summer we actually toured the whole country on the Koncept & J57 “Future Prospects Tour.”
I also have a lot of friends and artists that I’ve been working with that are throughout the west coast so that’s helped spread my name and music around as well.
If you had to identify with either coast, do you consider yourself an east or west coast rapper? Or do you think that we are at that point where one cannot simply choose either coast?
Well, the east coast is always “home” for me. I’m born and raised in New York so that’ll always be instilled in who I am. Although I wouldn’t necessarily categorize myself as an “east coast rapper.” I make music for the world. I have traveled a lot and seen many places and they all inspire me. All those places and experiences make me who I am as an artist and as a person.
I have found that usually artists have that “ah-ha!” moment, when they realize that this is what they need to be doing with their lives. Could you tell us about when that moment happened for you?
Every day. (Laughs).
I got the name Koncept when I was about 7 years old and I would write it on postage stickers and put them up around Queens – so it was actually originally my graffiti name. I got my first turntables when I was 11 years old and for a little while I was “DJ” Koncept. I always loved writing, and short stories and poetry was always my thing. I would freestyle with my friends just for fun, but then once I sat down and started to actually write my own raps, I fell in love with it; I couldn’t stop.
You work with J57 a lot. How did that relationship develop?
I met J57 while going to buy vinyl at Fat Beats Records NYC. I walked in the store and J was playing beats and a couple people were rapping, so I jumped in and kicked a verse. Real “rapper” stuff (Laughs). I clearly liked the beat or I wouldn’t have rapped, and he liked how I sounded, so we exchanged numbers and emails and started working together soon after.
Quickly from being in the studio we became friends, which turned into family, and here we are. He was my my neighbor in Brooklyn for awhile too when the apartment next to mine opened up. Haha
He’s my producer, my business partner, my brother for life.
There are so many different types of rap genres out there, what inspires your sound?
Honestly, every thing around me. From the city I’m living in, or traveling through, to the people I encounter through that, to friends, family, everything. I grew up in Queens, and a town called Warwick. I lived in Vermont for a couple years, then in Brooklyn for a long time. Now between New York, LA, and Portland. So all these different environments and surroundings influence what I’m creating.
As for music, I listen to all genres. Everything from hip hop, to rock, to electronic, to jazz, to reggae, etc. I just like good music. Music that makes you feel something. That touches your soul. That’s what I’m here to make. I want you to feel my voice, my sound in your body. Sometimes that could be a feeling that makes you smile, and other times makes you cry.
I hear that your new EP, “The Fuel”, which will be dropping this summer, has a new sound than what your listeners are used to hearing. Can you tell us a little more about that?
The answer to that is simple. I’m growing, both as a person and an artist, so naturally my music is going to as well. I feel that I’m at the point now where I’ve learned how to use my voice the way I was always meant to. Through constantly working on my craft, I’m constantly developing.
I plan to continue to grow everyday, but I think at this point I’ve developed to a place where I am supposed to be. The same goes for J57 in his production. The entire EP, as well as the album “Flight” (that will follow), is sample-free. We come from a hip hop background, so that will never stop influencing who we are as people and musicians, but listening to all music in general, inspires what we make. I don’t want to be put in a box. I’m not just here to rap, I’m here to make music. And right now we’re making the best music of our lives.
So, “Koncept & J57” is you on the vocals, and J57 on the production. Are there any features that we can expect on the project?
For us, when featuring someone on our records, it has to make sense. It has to be someone/something that is going to bring something extra and special to the music, rather than just being a placement for name value. The integrity of the music is our main concern always.
With that said, we have some of our crew and in-house singers throughout both the EP and the full length album including Akie Bermiss, ATR (Andrew Thomas Ried), Denita and The Grand Concourse. On “The Fuel” EP we have Hollis, from Seattle based group, The Flavr Blue, as well as part of Macklemore’s camp, on our lead single. You may have heard her on Macklemore’s “White Walls” single featuring Schoolboy Q from TDE. She also was on the list of winner from BMI singer/songwriter of the year. We have Dice Raw from The Roots (The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon). And last but not least, we have Nevaeh, an 11 year old girl from Portland who has a voice you won’t be able to get out of your head. This is one of the songs we are most excited about. (Photo left: features Nevaeh with Koncept). Originally it was intended to be for the album but we were so happy with how it turned out that we had to add it to the EP and get it out to you. We can’t talk much about who’s on the LP just yet. (Laughs)
Would you ever consider dabbling into other styles of music? How is your singing voice?!
I have the voice of D’Angelo, Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone, and Stevie Wonder all mixed into one man. Wait for it…
Where is your perfect set up, do you write at home and then record in the studio? Or is there a special place in town that you go to in order to work?
It really depends on my mood or where I’m at, and/or what I’m working on. I travel pretty often and I find myself most creative and inspired after seeing new areas and places in the world. Generally, I won’t write much while on the road and I’ll just take everything in that I’m seeing and experiencing and then really let it all out when I’m back home and can sit down.
I also used to write a lot on the NYC subways. I would sit at the end of the train car and put my headphones on for my rides from Manhattan to Brooklyn (and vice versa) and just zone out. I’ve wrote complete songs on some of those rides. (Laughs)
One thing that I believe in is to never force it. I think this is what keeps me from feeling stuck. If I’m not feeling it at the moment, or not in the mood, I’ll do something else, or go somewhere; it can even just be a close walk to open up my mind and get my thought process moving.
Out of everyone that you have performed with, who was your favorite?
Probably Ghostface from Wu Tang. I played with him at A3C Music Festival in Atlanta a couple years ago and it was incredible. I got to share a stage with an artist that I grew up listening to. Wu Tang is one of the reasons why I even rap today. I can still remember buying the 36 Chambers cassette tape from The Wiz in Astoria, Queens. Well, my mom bought me the tape. She wasn’t too happy when I pressed play and she heard, “Wu Tang Clan Ain’t Nothing to F%#k With!” (Laughs)
Going off that, what artist is it your dream to collaborate with?
There’s so many talented artists that I would love to work with down the line. I would love to work with Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake, Sia, Nas. I really want to work on something official with Flume & Chet Faker. Check out the remix I did of “Drop The Game”.
I honestly just do me. I think because I am from the east coast, and spend a lot of time on the west coast, both vibes are apparent. I do however notice that when I go out people almost instantly will call out that I’m from the east coast. I’m not sure if that’s my wardrobe or the way I talk. Maybe it’s a little of both. (Laughs).
I do a lot of my shopping while I’m in NY &/or in LA, but when I’m in Portland I always like to pick up a few things from Machus. They always have really dope pieces in there, and the owners and workers are really good people. I’m all about supporting people who I respect as individuals and I’ve had nothing but great experiences there.
What is your end goal? How will you know that you’ve finally “made it”?
I’m happy and so grateful to be at a place where I can live from making music. That’s all you can really ask for. To be able to make a living from what I love is a dream come true itself. I owe that all to my fans and the people that press play on my song, and come out to my shows. My fans are my world.
Although, I don’t know if I will ever feel like I’ve “made it” in the sense of where I want to be ultimately. I’ll always continue to grow and make new goals to reach. I’m always reaching higher.
For me, this is just my beginning. I’ve barely even started yet.
And to wrap this up, I know that I am always looking for new places to eat! Got any recommendations?
I would recommend Tilt. I’m a lover of cheeseburgers, and that place has the biggest burger I may have ever seen. Make sure you get the original handcrafted cheddar tater tots too. You won’t be able to move afterwards, but it’s well worth it.
I also want to say thank you for all your support. To you, the fans, to my family, and friends, I couldn’t do any of this without you. I love you. You are my fuel.
Thank you Koncept for your time! We can’t wait to see what you have in store for us.
Shot by Lane Oliveri. Interview by Sofiya Popova. Wardrobe styling and production by Jillian Rabe. With makeup and hair on Nevaeh by Jodi Vaughn. Special thanks to Service for providing the beautiful studio space.
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