Kofi Black Talks Putting Staten Island Back On The Map and Linking With Raekwon

When news broke that rap pioneer and Wu-tang member Raekwon signed R&B act Kofi Black to his label, the music blogosphere was spiked with curiosity on this young talent. Well, VIBE.com recently sat down the with Staten Island native to disseminate his musical style, relationship with Raekwon, and his ambitious, hustle-driven goals for the future. –Tanya Chen

VIBE.com: What kind of role did music play when you were growing up? Were you always around it or was it something you picked up yourself?

Kofi Black: I was always around it. My mom said I was always singing something. I don’t know what it was, just noise. My mom used to sing and my father produced. The house was always full of jazz and African music. I was banging on pots and pans, and my dad bought my first drum set when I was 4 years old.

And what about your R&B sound? Where did that influence come from?
My mom and my pops, there was definitely a balance. I grew up around R&B through my mom and it was pretty much on her side of the family. My uncle had ties to Al Green–he used to sing with Al Green back in the day—we had R&B influences throughout our family so there was no escaping it.

Who were some idols or music role models that helped shape that sound?
It’s a lot of old school like Quincy Jones, Curtis Mayfield, Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Al Green, Smokey Robinson. I just try to capture that substance that they had and translate it to today, so I also like contemporary artists like Andre 3000 and Timbaland.

So how did you link up with Raekwon?
Raekwon and I used to live in the same neighborhood, exactly across the street from each other. His mom used to babysit me and I knew his brother Don. We went to high school together and everything. My family knew his family, both families are from Brooklyn and everyone moved to Staten Island together.

How did you guys start working together on music?
Basically, I had to prove myself. I was already working as far as singing background for Joe, Carl Thomas, and Raheem Devaughn. I then started traveling overseas back-and-forth to China, Korea, Italy, wherever, but you start hearing about what’s going on back in your hometown. I already knew [Raekwon’s] brother but I never went up to him and gave him my demo because I wanted to do my own thing. Later on—literally like 10 years later—after graduating high school, he was like ‘Kofi, you’re working hard. If you’re interested, let’s work.’ By then I had offers on the table and a lot of people were looking, but of course he had the edge being he’s like my older brother, so the industry being the way it is, you don’t really get that family sense, and you want someone who always wants your best interest.

Has the dynamic changed since between you guys, given that you’re friends and family, and now you all have a professional relationship?
So the [record] company has three brothers: you got Raekwon, you got Kareem and you’ve Don. Being a little brother in the business aspect, there’s a time for that relationship, telling me ‘Alright Kof, it’s time to talk business now.’ What it all comes down to is we all have families to feed, I have my own kids, so we’re all on the same page.

What’s the soundest advice or some words of wisdom that Raekwon has given you?
Rae would tell me all the time to just never ever be satisfied. You’ll always be good, but always stay hungry and your table will be full. The whole point is to stay hungry, don’t be lazy, there’s never a time to get comfortable, don’t get too cocky.

What kind of projects are you working on right now? Is there an album in the works?
I’m working on another mixtape and my album. I’m writing and working for a lot of people like Ryan Leslie, Sean Kingston, 9th Wonder, Busta Rhymes, and Rick Ross.

From here, where are you looking to go in terms of your music?
My thing is to do the unthinkable. I want to bring Staten Island back on the map. It’s not all about Wu-Tang, though Wu-Tang definitely put us on the map. There’s a lot of talent coming from New York but really no singers out here. It’s time for us to start rubbing our elbows again. I love rap and hip hop—I mean, I’m signed to a hip hop label—but as a singer, I’m looking for that good music with substance, that good talent. And what I want to do is represent my town really well. Like Staten Island, we’re in here too. ‘Cause when you think of Staten Island, you think of Shaolin, and we respect that—we gotta respect Wu, the pioneers—but Staten Island has a future too, and that’s my push.