Spending your whole career with the one team you’ve achieved a considerable amount of success with is the storybook arc of many legacies. There’s just something special about getting with a team or organization, competing at the highest levels in your field, and stringing together a slew of career highlights. It’s made names like Kobe Bryant, Jeter, Magic Johnson, John Elway, Larry Bird, and numerous others not only synonymous with our idealistic view and essence of what constitutes a self-realized winner but also singular in stature. That dynamic has gone to the wayside in recent times, as the talent has evolved into a kingmaker, controlling the pieces—and numbers—on the board while transitioning to the executive suite, and eventually, the owner’s box.
Rapper Krizz Kaliko once fit the description of the former and recently stepped into the latter. The indie legend and longtime Strange Music artist announced that he’s departed from his longtime record label home after 20 years. Having witnessed the independent grind that Strange Music cultivated for him and countless others’ success while yielding continuous revenue, Kaliko—the most tenured artist on the label’s roster aside from Tech N9ne prior to his departure—decided it was time to plant a flag of his own, launching his new independent record label, Ear House Music, last May.
With several of his albums and songs appearing on various Billboard charts over the years and numerous avenues for exploring opportunities for touring and merch sales due to Strange’s homegrown network and order of operations, one would suspect that Kaliko’s abrupt departure from the label must’ve stemmed from bad blood. According to the Kansas City native, that assumption would be a false one, as he explains that it was simply a matter of his decision to fast track up the road to creative and financial freedom. “I really wanted to own my own music,” Kaliko tells VIBE via phone. “I wanted to make all of the decisions.”
After revealing his amicable split from Strangeduring his virtual concert dubbed The Reveal, the artist-turned-CEO now has his sights on building Ear House into a household name, as well as a family affair. “I started the label with me and my wife,” Kaliko explains. “And it’s just me on the label for right now, but of course, I got people beating down the door trying to get signed.”
Taking a one-piece-at-a-time approach, Kaliko plans to get Ear House off the ground with his own musical endeavors, as he’s already begun churning out hits under his new umbrella, with plans for a holiday album dropping before year’s end.
VIBE connected with Krizz Kaliko and got the scoop on life after Strange Music, the importance of creative and financial independence, his upcoming music releases, and more.
VIBE: You recently released the video for “Feelin’ Good,” your new single with Futuristic. Describe the public’s reception of the single.
Krizz Kaliko: They loved it. Pardon the pun, but it’s actually making people feel food. That song feels like what your vibe should be like this summer. It just feels like summer when I hear that song. Childish Gambino had a song out called “Feels Like Summer,” and I noticed that song felt like summer. And I wasn’t trying to necessarily duplicate that feeling, but that’s what it makes me feel like. It makes me feel like that song when I hear this.
How did you and Futuristic connect and make the song come together?
Futuristic’s been like my brother for probably 10 years. He was on tour with myself and Tech N9ne a few years ago, I think it was 2017 or so and we have always talked about collaborating. So, I went down to Phoenix where he’s at. I told him when I started my new label Ear House that I was going to come down there and work with him because he had a lot of resources. He’s got guys to shoot videos and he’s got lots of stuff down there. So, I went down there and I sent it to him and he said he was happy that I didn’t make him really step on the gas rapping. Because people who know me and know him are used to us being super lyrical. And sometimes even rapping fast a lot, like the song that I had with Eminem. You know, this was just a feel-good song. We didn’t really step on the gas on the lyrics, we just made something that would feel good to people.
“Feelin’ Good” is also a change of pace from what die-hard fans may expect from you. Was that intentional or did that just happen organically?
Yeah, I wanted to switch the vibe up, man. Not necessarily intentionally like, “Let me make my song. It sounds like this or like that,” but without having to meet the approval of anyone in doing Ear House, I can do any type of vibe I want to. So, I’m just doing whatever I want, whatever types of songs I want. I have fans that truly love me and love what I do all around the world. So, I just do whatever I want and just make sure that it’s the same quality of music that they’re used to getting. From the production to the mixing, to the actual content and that’s it, man. And many people are really receiving it well.
You recently left Strange Music after a 20-year run with the label. What factors led to that decision?
There were multiple reasons, but the biggest reason was I wanted to own my own thing. It’s super attractive to be on a label when you first start because you’re not as worried about the deal. You’re not as worried about the fact that you don’t own anything, you know what I mean? But I just wanted to make my own decisions. I wanted to own all my own masters. I wanted to own all my own merch. I wanted to get a hundred percent of the money from any shows and 100% of the money or at least a huge percent of the money owning it myself. Naturally, you have to share percentages when you partner with people for merchandise, and even when you go to talent agencies and they’re getting you booked, you know what I mean? You have to share the percentage, but the bulk of the percentage is going to come to me when I’m doing the majority of the heavy lifting, as far as writing the music, performing the music, and what have you.
What’s your relationship like with Tech N9ne and the label now?
Tech N9ne is my best friend and my brother. And will always be until the end of time. My departure was not really based off him, it was just based off the whole structure of how labels have artists. A current deal is a 360 deal. They’re gonna take the majority of all of everything that I named before, your merch, your everything. You’re gonna have to get permission to use your likeness, if I want to get songs in movies or TV. The show money, the bulk of that’s going to the label, at least in my particular deal. So, that’s what led to it, man. I wanted to have my own thing, make all my own decisions. As a musician, you also don’t have retirement. So, we’re getting a hundred percent of the proceeds and putting in a hundred percent of my effort. I can set retirement for my children and even have a company to pass down to them if they want to follow in their father’s footsteps.
What would you say are the biggest lessons you’ve learned during your tenure with Strange Music?
The biggest lesson that I learned is to know your business, for real. Just to know the music business and exactly where money is being made; how the money is being made and where it’s being made. I learned a ton from them. I learned a ton from Travis. I learned a lot about business. There’s decisions that I make every single day that I’m thinking like, “How would the label handle this in a good way?” Because naturally, I learned what to do and what not to do, and what things that I thought were beneficial to me. I think you should do that in the beginning, I think you should learn as much as possible. If you’re gonna be at a label, learn as much as you can and then do it on your own because this is a DIY environment in the music industry now.
Is there a possibility for any collaborations with Strange Music artists down the line?
I’ll never close the door on anything. That’s gonna be my family forever, no matter what and the door is always open. I don’t ever burn any bridges if I can help it. Like I said, I left on good terms. I did a livestream show revealing what I was doing to our fan base because I didn’t want them to feel like there was any beef. So, that’s the original reason why I even formed Ear House. I was like, “Man, I don’t want them to feel like there’s beef between us, what should I do? I should form my label and tell them that this is what I’m doing.” There’s always the possibility of collaborations with myself and Tech N9ne.
You’ve been rolling out a succession of singles in the last few months, but I hear you have another collaboration coming up soon. Can you speak on that?
I got a humongous song with T-Pain, man. As you know, T-Pain is back in the top 10 right now and he’s always been like my brother too, so we have a huge song coming out called “B.B.” And hashtag the B.B. Slide. Yeah, B.B. Slide. I think it’s gonna take over. I know a lot of dudes say that, like “Man, we’re gonna take over with this,” but this one really has the legs to take over. And I can’t wait for people to hear it and to be doing the B.B. Slide with it.
What does “B.B” stand for?
The song stands for Birthday Bi**h. Yeah, the Birthday Bi**h Slide, there’s actually a dance to it. You know how all the women like to jump up and do the wobble and all them other dances ‘cause there’s already a dance attached to it.
How did you and T-Pain link up for that particular song and how did the concept come together?
He called me out of the blue one day and asked me would I come down and do his podcast, Nappy Boy Radio podcast. I was like, “Yeah.” And my wife was the one, she was like, “You need to do another song with him.” We have another song called “Dumb for You” that we did years ago and I was like, “Yeah, it probably is time for us to do another one.” It’s been like five or six years since we did a song together. We always make great music, plus he always talks about how he’s one of my biggest fans and I’m definitely one of his. He is a musical superpower. No matter what Usher or anybody has ever said, that dude is a superpower of the music industry and changed the whole game. I mean, there’s only certain people that come around and change the way people do stuff. Michael Jordan came and changed the way people play basketball and T-Pain came and changed the way that people do music, so it’s amazing.
Anyway, my wife hit me. She told me, “You need to get a song together,” and I was like, “Man, we’re going there in a week. I like to plan this out.” She’s like, “You don’t have time to plan it out, get a beat, get it done.” So, I co-produced the beat with my man, he was a police officer out of Des Moines, Iowa. The two of us produced this track and I had the idea like, “Man, I was in the club and I heard a girl say that. Ooh, let me show you how to do it on your motherf**king* birthday.” And I was like, “I should put it on a hook because girls talk like that to each other, Bi**h, it’s your birthday.” I was like, “I’m making a song out of that.” We made the beat. I took it, I already had it recorded. When I got to Atlanta I didn’t have it finished. So, I finished it in my hotel room, and when I got over to his house and we did the podcast I was like, “Dude I got something I want you to hear.” And I was like, “Man, this will be dope for us to do.” He was like “I’m on it,” and he shot it to me three days later, and bang! We got a banger and I think it’s gonna be definitely within the top 10.
You mentioned your wife, it sounds like she’s a big part of Ear House and just your career as a whole. What’s it like working in tandem with your wife?
There’s no better partner that I could have started any business at all. My wife has turned two multi-million dollar companies around. She’s got a master’s degree in business and she’s just super sharp. Now, she does drive me crazy because she doesn’t ever let up off the gas, so 90% of our conversations are about business. So, that part gets a little hard. And I’m actually bringing a new manager in because she manages me. I’m bringing in somebody to assist her so that some of our conversations are not all business because I got to log off sometimes, bro. I do a lot of social media. I write a lot of music. I write for other artists and I’ve written some gold and some platinum hits. And she keeps me on the path that I’m on, but sometimes I just want to log off and just chill. She does not typically allow that to happen. So, I have to be like, all right, but we’re gonna get some help in here because you’re gonna have to chill. She has no chill when it comes to business, but she’s a great partner. I wouldn’t be able to do this without her. She literally takes care of everything from assisting with booking shows to assisting with PR. She came up with the chant that we do for Ear House. She came up with the idea for me to even do a label because I was wanting to dip out on my own from Strange. And she was like, “Yeah, you should call it this, and here’s the chant.” So, I’m like, “Okay, let’s roll”. She has a lot of really good ideas that she keeps me on track, man. Great partner.
What has been the biggest challenge and reward since venturing out on your own with Ear House Inc.?
The biggest challenge is doing every single thing and staying consistent every day with being on the grind. And people always say that: “the grind.” If DaBaby says “Man, we’ve been on the grind,” what does he mean? That means he ain’t stopping. That means he ain’t stopping with publicity, he’s on the phone doing interviews just like this. He’s on social media doing this. He’s playing Rolling Loud, he’s playing concerts every night. When he’s not doing that, he’s writing music, he’s doing features, that’s what they mean by “on the grind.” So, the most difficult part is to stay consistently on the grind like that. The biggest reward has been just the liberation of doing things independently. And making my own decisions and the only approval that I ever need being mine. And the fans. Me and the fans approve, nobody else matters, and that’s a very liberating way to live.
Earlier, you mentioned that you’re the only artist on Ear House right now, but there are other artists beating down the door in hopes of getting down. What are the qualities that you’re looking for in the artists you’ll be signing and what genres are you looking for?
They just got to be elite, man. I know that’s kind of a blanket statement, [but] Ear House is a genre-less label, so we could possibly sign country artists, hardcore rap artists. I mean, there could be a cello player on this label, it doesn’t really matter, but they have to be elite because that’s what people are used to associate me with. Just elite music man. You know, a lot of rappers have come my way and I think that dudes just think if they can rap good that they should have a deal or that they should be [famous]. By all means, put all your music out, no matter who or what you are or what kind of music you do or whatever level you’re at, but we’re in the music business. You have to have music that connects. You’re gonna have to have music that other people agree is good, so that’s the kind of artists I’m looking for. If the masses can agree that your music is good, that would be the criteria you would have to meet to be at Ear House.
Word is that you’re also working on a Christmas album. What inspired you to go in that direction?
The fans. The fans have been trying to get me to do a Krizzmas album. I was like, “Man, I don’t know, that’s corny.” That name feels corny, come on, man. But I have so much demand for it that it doesn’t make sense. If you have high demand for something, for a commodity, you need to put it out there. That’s something that people would consume, so I just decided if the fans are really demanding that, I need to do it. I’m working on this, it’ll be an EP. I’m working on that as we speak, which is also part of the grind, man. You can expect that probably in November.
Definitely, man. Get that holiday money, that fourth-quarter money.
You might as well come on this way for Black Friday.
When can fans look forward to a new Krizz Kaliko album?
I don’t know. I’ve been debating back and forth if I’m gonna do albums [anymore]. Now my fans are used to getting albums from me, but I’m having a great time putting out singles, just a song a month. I think that it gives you more consistency. If I drop one album and then it’s gonna take me months to get another one out. The fans gotta wait six months to get some more musical content. Whereas if I drop a song every single month, they have content every month and I’m consistent and they never have to be without music from me. So, I’m more of a fan of just dropping singles right now just to stay in the public eye, just to give the fans more of what they want from me on a regular basis.
What’s next for Krizz Kaliko?
They can expect to be entertained, to be greatly entertained consistently with me. You watch my social media, I do a lot of comedy stuff, too. I’m just a fool like that. It starts off like I’m gonna just do this post and it ends up being hilarious, you know? So, they can expect more of that. Just being entertained with me on social media every single day and just elite quality music, man, that’s gonna make you feel great for every situation. A lot of my fans used to get stuff from me that is really emotional. You know, I talked about being bi-polar and having anxiety and depression and a lot of fans are used to me doing those types of songs. Then they’re used to me doing party joints like the one with me and T-Pain, so I have a song for every emotion. And they can expect more of that and for me to level it up every single time and make Ear House a household name and just a staple in everybody’s life, you know?