NEXT: Once Lost In The Sunshine, Kari Faux Is Slowly But Surely Finding Her Own Way

Kari Faux is unapologetically herself, and it shows. As she sits, laid back sporting what she labels as “comfy” in the VIBE headquarters, she remembers the process that ultimately got her to the reassured, 22-year-old girl here today. She laughs as she talks about her journey from Little Rock, Arkansas to the foreign, summery territory of Los Angeles. It’s quite a long journey, but even through those moments of uncertainty, Kari speaks about her travels and experience in the best way she can.

She doesn’t recount make-believe stories of popping champagne with L.A.’s elite or random run-ins with other artists, although she could. After all, there aren’t many who can say they got to collaborate with Childish Gambino. Instead, she’s honest about the real L.A. experience. It was different, isolating and lonely. While many people might have turned back when things didn’t quite fit, she took the ups, downs and ultimately the self-discovery and turned it into her debut album, Lost En Los Angeles.

Before Kari—born Kari Johnson—began her road to L.E.L.A, the rapper dropped “No Small Talk,” the IRL banger illustrating a girl who was ready to trade in the f**kboyz for diamonds and other lavish things. The Internet track would eventually fall into the hands of Childish Gambino (Donald Glover) for a remix that was on his STN MTN/Kauai mixtape. “It all happened because of this man right here,” she says, pointing to her co-producer, Black Party. DJ Fashion Spitta, another member of her squad, sits on the other side of her, looking on. “He found my song ‘No Small Talk’ on Twitter and brought it to Donald, and he liked it. We [still] see him and hang out.” That was two years ago. While still appealing to her core crowd, Kari reaches even further on Lost En Los Angeles, the eleven-track reflection detailing Kari’s voyage through finding her own aesthetic, sound and self.

Kari sits, boxed in behind a long rectangular table as she reflects on her earliest memories of music. When she wasn’t crafting her own musical talent, jumping from piano to drum lessons (she also kept her hands full with cheerleading, basketball and volleyball practices), she spent her time listening to the greats, two of whom—Missy Elliott and Andre 3000—paved the way with their eccentric style and unique sound. “I got The Love Below by Andre 3000 and that album was so crazy to me because it was so different from anything else I had heard,” she recalls, attributing her initial passion to create a sound of her own to them.

Kari Faux
CREDIT: VIBE/ Stacy-Ann Ellis

At first listen, Kari’s sound is definitely different. Each song is delivered with a particular feel, guided by instrumentals and her electric, sometimes sassy voice. One moment she’s rapping, and the next she’s singing, an occurrence she says happens naturally. She mixes a little bit of jazz like the instrumentals on “Fantasy” with traps beats like that on “This Right Here.” Her musical upbringing makes it hard to trace her specific strain of music. “My dad was a music person; he listened to pretty much any and everything,” she says, diving into her diverse musical palette. “Growing up, he played a lot of funk music. My mom listened to a lot of gospel because she’s really religious.”

Funk influences from her childhood come alive on the album’s intro and lead track, “Supplier,” yet it’s still hard to say what genre she belongs in. The truth is, Kari doesn’t know. “I’m just going to make it and wherever you think it fits, that’s where it can fit. When people ask me what kind of music I make, I’m always like I guess I rap. But you don’t know because I don’t even really know,” she says. Ultimately, she decided to go with what felt natural, a decision that comes up many more times throughout her journey. Finding herself as an individual, on the other hand, was a little more of a stop-and-go process.

Kari Faux
CREDIT: VIBE/ Stacy-Ann Ellis

Because of her mother’s religious background, it was tough for Kari to come into her own right away. Although she tried to submit to her religious background, the teachings and messages of the church didn’t “make sense” to her. Her resistance ultimately forced a wedge in her relationships. “It’s not to say that I didn’t have a support system, but I had to show that what I was doing was working. At first my mom would try so hard, but then she was like, you know what? You’re going to do whatever you want to do anyway. I felt like she also admired that about me because she was never given the space to do whatever she wanted to. She got married young, had a kid as soon as she got married, and her whole life had to be about other people. So she admires that I just do whatever I want and I don’t have to please other people if I don’t want to.” Although this sense of no f**ks given aided in her adventures from Arkansas to Atlanta (she briefly went to art school) and then L.A., it didn’t quite prepare her for what would happen next.

“It was totally different.” That one sentence was all she could say about her big move. After a little more questioning, she talked about how simple things like the radio and weather were drastically different, and how she felt out of her element. “I didn’t understand at first. This is such a weird place,” she thought. “I liked the landscape of L.A. There was nice weather, beaches, palm trees and sunshine. But it was like wow, I need some contrast. I mean I definitely enjoyed it at first. Then I was like okay, I’m over it.”

She might have left, but she says the real motive was to figure out who she was as much as it was about leaving home. “It was really [about] trying to figure myself out as a person and as an artist and the direction I wanted to go [in] and what I wanted to represent.”

Kari Faux
CREDIT: VIBE/ Stacy-Ann Ellis

Kari was lost. It was hard to navigate through what was cool to her and what other people liked. “There were so many things going on and you start to see other artists do things. And then you [wonder] why is it not working for me or maybe I should try this,” she says. “Ultimately, it was like maybe I should just be myself and not worry about [what people are doing].”

Over the course of three months, the rapper rolled out her debut album. Although this chapter has already been closed and Lost En Los Angeles has already been released into the world, she still holds onto the lessons that came along with it. “Anything that’s not true to me, I’m uncomfortable. I don’t force it [anymore].”

But where to go from here? Kari is always on the move, transporting back and forth from Arkansas to L.A., with occasional stops in New York and Atlanta. But as far as her music goes, she plans to keep it on the same playing field, with maybe a few collaborations (she’s currently eyeing party boys Rae Sremmurd). Other than that, who knows where she’ll be next. Right now, she’s enjoying the ride. Her motto: “Read more books, drink more water, watch more movies.” Prioritize and minimize.

Kari Faux
CREDIT: VIBE/ Stacy-Ann Ellis