Arts & Entertainment

Chicago Rapper KAMI Discusses Latest Album Inspired by Nostalgic Films

Owen Connor | The PhoenixKAMI performed Sunday, Sept. 2 at North Coast Music Festival in Union Park.

It takes vision and intuition to produce a project that stands the test of time and transcend the boundaries of the commercial music industry. 

Kene Ekwunife, better known by his stage name KAMI, is among the young Chicago artists making a name for himself and defying categorical roadblocks that artists often face. 

As one of the members of SaveMoney, a Chicago hip-hop collective founded by local artists including Chance the Rapper, KAMI has departed stylistically in order to come into his own on his recent solo project.  

The 25-year-old pop, R&B artist released his 13-track album, “Just Like the Movies,” May 5, 2017. Urban music blogs toting serious clout, such as XXL Magazine and Vice’s Noisey, have praised the new wave hip-hop album. 

KAMI’s feature on Smoko Ono’s track “Superstar Moves,” which became a staple for Chicago radio stations airwaves, has earned him notoriety as his genre-bending production makes waves in Chicago’s music scene. 

After their rocking set, the Phoenix caught up with KAMI and his guitarist Robert Ellis to talk about his love of films and the effect they’ve had on his musical career. 

KAMI backstage at the House of Vans.
Kaylie Plauche | The PhoenixKAMI backstage at the House of Vans. Kaylie Plauche | The Phoenix

Emily: What gets you in the right mindset before a show? Do you have any rituals or routines you do before each performance?

KAMI: I was thinking about that today, and what I realized I like is not talking to anyone. For real, though. People come up and are like, “Are you ready?” Like, I would be if I didn’t have to talk to you.

Robert Ellis: But you have so many people backstage.

KAMI: But still — y’all should know me by now.

Emily: I’m sure most of your crowds are really hyped but what happens if s crowd is dead? For example today, you said multiple times “North Coast, are you still there?” Could you tell me a little more about that?

KAMI: That’s something I say during my set because you know, the whole concept of still being alive is some shit that we’ve adopted. I always make sure to ask that. As for hyping a crowd up, it’s more of like, “Are you happy that you’re still alive?” A dead crowd, that happens. It always happens. The important thing is to … have the confidence in yourself regardless. You can’t pander to a dead crowd. It doesn’t do anything but make people resent you. You just play the set. 

Emily: You recently dropped the music video for the song “Reboot,” directed by Cole Bennett. What was it like working with him and shooting with Lyrical Lemonade?

KAMI: It was super organic. I’ve known Cole for a minute. Cole has always kept us and shit, and he went crazy. He reached back out and it was like, “Cool, that’s awesome.” I think we shot within two days. It was just a random shoot.

Emily: You and Joey Purp seem to have a special bond and the both of you form the Leather Corduroys. What’s it like working with a buddy you’re close with, making music?

KAMI: It’s easy. It’s a good measure of if what you’re doing if actually good because you’re buddy is probably going to tell you like, “Yo, this is trash. What you’re doing is terrible.” It’s cool to have somebody’s perspective that I can trust.

Emily: Songs on the album “Just Like The Movies” have an 80s cinema soundtrack feel to them, and the album name hints at this. What effect did movies have on you that inspired you to create the album? 

KAMI: Wow, we were just talking about movies last night. I think it’s a medium that’s always amazing, seeing a movie. It’s somebody’s ideas visually represented. It’s like having a dream or something, you know? It’s seeing other people’s visions, and that’s just cool because it’s a form of communication. Movies that were about issues that you were going through as a child, like “The Lion King” stuck with you as a child and made you imagine, “What if your father died?” Movies pose questions. Art, in general, poses questions but movies leave you with a whole experience of asking questions. I’m just into knowing things or asking myself things to see if I can bring answers out of myself.

Emily: How did you translate that into the sound you created for you album?

KAMI: I try to take that concept of having a vision and translating it into music. We didn’t know if we wanted to do 80s sound — it wasn’t anything too calculated. It was just gravitating towards something and sticking with it for a whole album.

Ellis: I think lyrically and musically there’s a nostalgia that record that’s really cool. It’s not necessarily specifically 80s, it’s just nostalgic. It makes you feel familiar, and on top of that, every song was it’s own little vignette — its own little movie. 

Emily: Even today, you had a movie montage playing during the second half of your set at the Attendee stage.

KAMI: Did I? I didn’t think that shit worked. Really, they had it playing? That’s funny as hell. I mean, I definitely made the clips and I was like, “Let’s put this [in the set].” Cool, I’m happy with that.

Emily: Did you have any particular films in mind when creating the montage for your set?

KAMI: They were just my favorite movie scenes from “Eyes Wide Shut,” “Pulp Fiction,” “The Shining,” “Rat Race,” “Tropic Thunder” [and] “Vanilla Sky.” I don’t know, all my favorite movies.

Emily: What were your favorite movies as a kid, the ones that stuck with you? You mentioned “The Lion King” — are there any other ones?

KAMI: “The Lion King” was [one of my favorites] but the movie I watched the most as a kid — because I feel like people have favorite movies and ones they watch the most, like over and over — was “Rat Race” with Mr. Bean. … As a child, that was my favorite movies.

Emily: During your set, you mentioned you met your band during a 10-city tour. What’s the story behind meeting all of the guys?

KAMI: We were doing a tour with Jennison and the Whiskey Band and they just set it up with ten artists in ten different cities. Basically, out of a everybody, we gravitated toward each other. [Robert’s] musical taste — you just know when you find the one.

Emily: You have previously played at House of Vans, as well as other local venues in the city of Chicago. What’s your favorite venue, and where can people expect to see you next?

KAMI: That was cool. They show a lot of love. I had a show at Chop Shop, when “Just Like The Movies” dropped. That was a really dope show. I like Chop Shop’s set-up and sound. WHen the show’s done, it’s like a bar and a venue. … I think they should do more shows at Chop Shop. … North Coast is cool. Any Chicago festival is real special to me because just growing up here. It’s always going to be like a sense of accomplishment. It’s almost like a checklist thing — North Coast, Pitchfork, Lolla. This was one of the ones that’s important. At least now I’ve done [North Coast] and it gives me motivation to do other things.

KAMI is dropping his new album, “Very Slight” Sept. 14.


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