Most lovers of jazzy Hip Hop will know Kero One (rapper/producer/dj/label owner) for his critically acclaimed debut Windmills Of The Soul. It’s been three years since that release, and now he’s back in full effect! You can find his sophomore album Early Believers on the shelves of your local record store or online music retailers. Next to that Kero is also embarking on a worldwide tour. Reasons enough to hook up with him and talk about the windmills of his soul.
“There is so much cynicism and pessimism in life, that it’s easy to shoot yourself in the foot before you can start walking. For me, I want to make songs that will inspire myself and other people at the same time,” says Kero One. With his jazzy music he definitely brings positivism and mellowness to the listener. Even on a cold, lonely winter evening you can’t stress out when you hear tracks such as When The Sunshine Comes and Keep Pushin.
Although Kero’s well known for his jazz-influenced music, he goes on another route for a handful of songs on Early Believers: “For Keep Pushin, I tried to produce a beat that went into a 125 bpm tempo – and I even rhymed on that track!” For those who are familiar with music production; 125 beats per minute is generally standard for genres like house and electro, not hip-hop. Suddenly, the title of one of his mixtapes, Uptempo’s How We Keep It, made sense: “I just went with the flow and created the album in the moment. However, I did try to take it into a more uptempo direction versus my first album where it was strictly mellow. Since I am influenced by more than just Hip Hop, such as House, Electronic, Bossa and Soul, naturally I wanted to use these influences on my new album.”
Music: Kero One – Keep Pushin’
Uptempo, sounds like a risky decision, because lots of people are digging the mellow vibe from his previous album. Kero isn’t worried about that: “I don’t really mind too much about if other people accept my music: I just try to make music that I really enjoy and love to listen to over and over again. The way I usually test my music is by listening to it on my iPod 1,000’s of times and make sure I don’t get sick of it. If I do, then I won’t use it. The results for Early Believers? It is my best work yet! I am really happy with how the album turned out musically, sonically and lyrically.”
‘Musically’ is a term only a few rappers are allowed to use these days, if we have to believe all those “Hiphop is dead”-related statements. But what does Kero One think of this controversial statement? “I was once told by an old soul, that Hip Hop is like every genre of music; it comes and goes in waves. There’s a high point, then a low point and it repeats. Hip Hop had quite a low point in the late 90’s as some would agree, but I think we are on the way up now. Even for the Bay Area where I’m from, with this whole Hyphy-movement. There´s so much talent in the Bay for Hip Hop and The Tones is a prime example. I think I’m happy with the different Hip Hop coming out of the Bay right now. There is quite a bit of diversity in the sounds and if it all sounded the same it would be boring.”
Next to his musical career, Kero One is also responsible for Plug Label; his independently-owned record label. “The hardest part is competing with major labels who have the huge budget and connections. However, this part has gotten a bit easier for independents as technology and the Internet change [in addition to] the music industry.” As a result of having his own label behind him, Kero One still handles promotion, marketing, finances and other business totally on his own. Is he someone who’d rather not want to lay down precious work in someone else’s hands? “Partly, yes. I’ve always been the type to think that I can handle it myself. For my debut it’s mostly because I had no other choice. For Early Believers I handled most of the work again, but this time received help from others as well, such as publicists and the employees here at our label.”
Kero One literally put his soul into his music, with a lot of effort on his own. Maybe that’s the reason his music reaches people from Japan to Korea and from Europe to the US. Still, the fan base is mainly based in Europe and Asia. “I believe most fans are based in Europe and Asia, because people’s lifestyles are different in those parts of the world. Also, some people that don’t necessarily understand all the lyrics can enjoy strong melodies and rhythms. In Japan for example, there quite a few people that embrace jazzy hiphop for those exact reasons. For them it’s very nice to hear – especially after a hard day working.”