From writing hit songs on his iphone to imitating Michael Jackson as a young artist, this New York native may have more tricks up his sleeve than one could imagine. Building a reputation around his street persona, Cankoone got a bit more personal with VIBE.com and laid down a different kind of track for us to get aqauinted with. Get to know NYC’s newest rising talent.—Nyvia Weathersby
VIBE: How did you come up with the stage name ‘CanKoone’ and how does this alter ego affect your music?
Cankoone: I didn’t come up with the actual name myself. My friends gave it to me. I know pretty much everybody in my neighborhood that I grew up with and at the time. I was kind of doing my little street thing and hustling. But one of my boys that I grew up with was just like, ‘Yo you’re a fly dude, steady getting money. You’re like a ‘tycoon’. Matter of fact you’re a ‘flycoon’. He started calling my flycoon and then from that a bunch of my boys started calling me Cankoone and it just kind of stuck.
Do you think your stage name fits your music?
I got that name from my boys probably like four years ago, so it was perfectly timed in terms of what I was doing with my music. I was making a transition from being like an underground sounding rapper to a more international-sounding artist, who makes more pop and R&B. Stuff that was more fun and not necessarily just lyrical, but actual songs that make people dance, have fun and enjoy themselves.
Would you say that your music defines you?
I would say that over the past few years I’ve tried to allow my music to express who I am, not just as an artist but as a person. A lot of times people would tell me, “You have to find your voice.” I’m a playful guy. I try to have a good sense of humor. I love to have fun and go out with my friends and get a little crazy. My music is me. It’s basically an audio extension of myself and my general character but maybe a little bit blown up.
What sparked your interest in music?
I always loved music. I used to be in the back of my father’s car and he would be playing Al Green, The Temptations and Earth, Wind and Fire. I was just fond of music in that way and my mother always used to listen to Billy Holiday and stuff like that. It was just a lot of good old classics that I loved and being a fan of music. I grew up listening to Outkast, Biggie and Wu-Tang and everybody else. I had a big influence on people over the years in terms of hip-hop. I just used to battle and stuff when I was like 14 and 15- years old in high school. And from there it was always kind of like a hobby but I was really good at it. I could always remember lyrics very easily and at age 20 I actually made the transition with my boys that I was in a group with from standing on the corner to actually going in the studio to make songs and put hooks together.
How old where you when you first performed on stage?
My own big performance, I think I was 17 .I had got a basketball scholarship to this prep school in Connecticut, so I transferred from LaGuardia High school. At one point somehow I convinced the teacher advisor to let me do this concert in the gym and then a bunch of my boys were supposed to back me up but they chickened out so I ended up doing the concert by myself. I remember it being funny because some of my lyrics where mad raunchy at the time. It was pretty fun. Actually some of my friends where friends with Nicki Minaj. I think she was under me or a year above me. I remember seeing her around because she was a drama major too.
Did you drop out of school?
I still went to school but I ended up taking some time off due to some family things that were going on. It wasn’t like I just dropped out to pursue music. At one point I was doing my hustle on the side and just recording and doing random showcases and college shows. That’s pretty much when I started to get into it and focus on the actual craft of making music.
Who are some of your personal and musical inspirations?
Bob Marley: just his whole essence and the ‘live free’ essence that came with that. I definitely grew up listening to Jay-Z and Biggie and that whole New York vibe, the witty lyricism and stuff. Outkast, that was the first hip-hop CD I ever bought. ‘Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik ‘ was so different to me and just had so much flavor to it that I loved. I really respect the type of. music that Kanye does. he’s not afraid to tap into different types of inspirations. Akon and of course Michael Jackson. When I go on stage now I think about when I was five years old and I won imitating Michael Jackson. It was like a family contest
What genres of music really reflect your personal style?
I would say it has to be a combination of alternative hip hop. I like all different types of styles. I listen to Gucci Mane from Waka Flocka, the same way I might listen to Lupe Fiasco. I like hip-hop that doesn’t necessarily follow the rules in terms of what I grew up thinking, listening to a bunch of New York artists and stuff. Also, I listen to pop. I go to the clubs, I like to dance Lately I’ve been trying to listen to everything. In general my style in terms of fashion is pretty eclectic. I’ve got friends from Pakistan and I have friends that I grew up down the street with – I might be wearing some crazy rock & roll blazer one day and a Louis Vuitton blazer the next. I just like bits and pieces of everything music wise and fashion wise- I express it in my own way.
What were a few key components to your success?
It sounds pretty ridiculous but one of my key components lately is my iPhone. I’m constantly creating with my iPhone. I got it 3 or 4 years ago, and it has the voice memo app on it. A lot of people don’t know but a lot of my songs I actually just write them fully out before actually having any music. I’ll write the whole song out then I’ll sit with a producer and build the music around it with the producer. With my iphone I’m constantly leaving references for ideas and I go back and listen to and build a complete song off a melody I got off my couch watching some cheesy movie.
You stated that you don’t believe in roadblocks or giving up. What process did you have to go through to get this particular mind set?
Just in general, I grew up wearing nerd type glasses at age 7. I was kind of the nerdy kid. You get teased but it helped me develop thick skin. It was always like, as a kid, not feeling like I fit in or belong. I was a little bit nerdy but I’m in the hood still. I got past that and I embraced who I was essentially and now I still have nerdy habits. It was that and playing a lot of sports like basketball, it helped build up that resilience and drive to always get better and be the best amongst whatever your doing. Personally, I’ve lost my mother, father, grandfather and grandmother in the past 10 years. A lot of very close people that aren’t with me that really give me drive to make them proud of me and be the best I can be. I can live for them
Tell me about your single and what it was like working with Juelz Santana
The single is starting to heat up. Wwe were able to get the video done a month or two ago so we’re pushing it. We’re trying to get more and more DJ’s to spin the record. I sat with the concept of ‘My City Never Sleeps’ for maybe like a year .I had the concept in my iPhone and one day a melody came to me, so I laid down the melody and got with my boy Brandon Bill, who produced and sang on the track, and we just built it from scratch at his house. I played it for a few people and producer J.Cardim.
Cardim mentioned he was going over to Juelz studio over in Jersey so I guess he brought the track with him and played it for Juelz and he was feeling it. He came up with his verses for it and it was dope. As soon as I heard it I was like ‘yeah this is going to be crazy.’ The rest is history. Juelz came by for the video and did his thing. It was a crazy situation because the first day of the shoot was when Juelz ran into his legal issues. We had to postpone it for like two weeks and everybody got a little anxious but he still came through and did his thing. I really appreciate it. He is one of the few New York artists that I really respect.
Who are some of the artists you are collaborating with?
I don’t want to say too much but right now I’m working on this one record that I should be able to do with Joe Budden. He is a dope lyricist and dope artist. I respect him. And a few other artists but it’s not set in stone, so I don’t want to throw anybody under the bus.
As far as you being a musical inspiration to your fans, what is your hope for the future of your music?
Right now, I’m getting back on the show circuit. I had a few meetings with booking agents that are really interested in me. I’m really eager for a college tour. Right now, I’m working with the number one college agent in the country. Hopefully I can get that buzz up and get people loving the music so fans can see how I am and get a feel for me.