Kamaiyah knew she was heading for something great. But even after the stellar reception to her mixtape, Good Night in the Ghetto, who knew it would reach these heights this soon? The Oakland-made rapper steps into the VIBE headquarters sporting a 90s-look inspired, equipped with the Jada Pinkett-Smith braided hair style from her role in Set It Off and an all-denim fit. At first glance, Kamaiyah is a laid-back, down to earth girl who knows her talent, but hasn’t let it get to head. That definitely continues to shine through as she details her speedy rise to stardom.
The rapper has come a long way from the streets of the Bay. She went from growing up watching her childhood influences like Bow Wow, TLC and Missy Elliott command the channels from MTV Jams to BET, to soon becoming them.
In only a short period of time after dropping her 2016 single, “How Does It Feel,” the rapper has already built up a following that’s grabbed the attention of YG (who she now refers to as her big brother). “It’s like one of those feelings, when you hear it you knew this is going to be crazy,” Kamaiyah says. “It was just a matter of time. I knew it was going to be one of the biggest records I ever dropped, but it just came so quick. ‘How Does it Feel’ set the tone, like this ain’t no regular sh**. She’s going to be here to stay. I felt like people thought she cool, but they thought I was going to be a one hit wonder type. But Good Night in the Ghetto solidified that; I ain’t going to be no one hit wonder.”
Since dropping Good Night in the Ghetto, the rapper has proven that she’s here for the long run. And in case you still weren’t too sure, Kamaiyah has already collaborated with hip-hop royalty including Drake on her latest feature on YG’s “Why You Always Hatin’.” But this is really just the beginning for the 21-year-old. Here’s what Kamaiyah had to say about about her upbringing, her creative process and what’s next.
VIBE: Can tell you tell us about your upbringing in the Bay Area and how that may have been an influence in your music?
Kamaiyah: I grew up like a normal kid, typical ghetto story. My pops, he was in and out of jail and on drugs. My mom wasn’t around like that. So I grew up a foster kid and sh** like that. Then my granny got me out so I was with her for the duration.
How was your upbringing an influence in your music?
It helped me a lot with writing because I had so much time to think, so I wrote so I wouldn’t be in trouble. Eventually I did get in trouble, but that’s typical sh**. I was watching Bow Wow’s “What’s My Name” video with Snoop. And he was the same age as me. I was like I want to do this, and sat down and started writing. A lot of people didn’t know I could write for a long time until there was a talent show when I was 11 or 12 at the Boys and Girls Club, and from there I just started doing this.
Who are your musical influences?
MC Hammer. We’re from the same neighborhood. I feel like he’s the biggest icon from Oakland in history, so I always reference back to him. I feel like no one has done it as big as him on a hip-hop level.
What nuances did you take from MC Hammer?
His individuality. I’m really big on individuality. And at his time, I feel like he was the emblem of different. He was the first hip-hop artist to go pop besides LL Cool J. And I f**k with that because he wasn’t afraid of the criticism. He came out while everybody was doing gangsta rap and said he wanted to be this kind of guy and stuck to it.
What type of music would you be listening to any given day?
Probably a Total album. I only listen to 90s R&B, hip-hop or I listen to oldies like Earth, Wind & Fire. That’s why my music be having hella samples because I actually listen to the sh**. My music has a nostalgic feel because it’s the samples. The style I’m rapping is different, but I’m taking these old sh**s and flipping them and making them new again. It’s kind of why I like the 90s because Puffy was taking old sh** and flipping it, and making it new.
What’s your creative process?
It’s not really thought out. I hear the beat… in my head I hear harmonies, so if I don’t hear a harmony to that beat I won’t write to it. So people will start playing some sh** and within a five-minute ratio, the hook is done. After that, I just fit the verses in around the hook.
How would you categorize your music?
It’s just feel-good music. When you hear it, it just takes you to a different place. Most music now makes you turn up, I make you vibe and chill and feel good. I think that’s why people like it because it gives you a different essence than what people are doing today. You’re only going to turn up for so long, but then you want to chill. That’s what A Good Night in the Ghetto is.
How did A Good Night in the Ghetto come about?
It was time for it to happen. We threw the whole project together in two weeks. We took one to sit with producers and did that last part. And the last week, we was just recording and then sent it off to mix and dropped it. It was not a long process. That’s why I was shocked it was getting so much [attention] because it didn’t take no time to do it. I feel like that’s why it wasn’t forced; it was natural, which is why it was easy to receive.
How has YG you navigate the industry? Did he give you any advice?
As far as pushing the brand. He gives me knowledge, but for the most part everybody around me just let me do me because I got the vision by myself. I just need to get out there. We just be kicking like brother and sister, drinking, partying and sh**.
Where do you see yourself going from here?
Right now, the foundation is being set. So by next year, you’re really going to see. Right now we’re really putting the hard work in so I can be a household name that sustains for the next ten years.
Who would be your top features to collaborate with?
Missy. That would be number one. Creatively, I just want to see her whole process, just work with her from the beginning to the end of a record. I know the visual would be crazy. Her mind is crazy. Put two crazy motherf**kers together, you going to get some crazy a** sh** so why not?
Have you thought about working with E-40?
There’s a record I was thinking about putting him on. He was one of the first people that reached out to me when I dropped “How Does It Feel.” He was like, ‘Man I love everything you do. I can tell it came from heart. It came out natural like an afro. If you ever need anything, just holla at me. I got you. I wish you nothing but success.’
Did you expect the reception to be so great after “How Does It Feel?”
It’s like one of those feelings, when you hear it you knew this is going to be crazy. It was just a matter of time. I knew it was going to be one of the biggest records I ever dropped, but it just came so quick. I dropped that strategically. “How Does it Feel” set the tone, like this ain’t no regular sh**. She’s going to be here to stay. I felt like people thought she cool, but they thought I was going to be a one hit wonder type. But Good Night in the Ghetto solidified that; I ain’t going to be no one hit wonder. Don’t take nothing from me and discredit that. This is a great project from beginning to end, straight singles. You could damn near drop any one of these singles. And that’s what I wanted to do, let n***as know I’m here.