Citizen Kay is a talent who hasn’t stopped smashing goals this year. Developing a reputation for himself as a solid live performer with a stage presence that is undeniably entertaining, the Ghanaian rapper who has called Australia home from a young age has shared stages with some of hip-hop’s freshest and finest including Run the Jewels, Danny Brown, Public Enemy and more.
Today marks the release of his debut album With The People, a record fans have been excitedly anticipating ever since his acclaimed mini-LP Demokracy first came to wider attention. Demokracy, currently holding nominations for Best Urban Album and Best Independent Hip-Hop Album Release at the ARIA and AIR Awards respectively, may have been a great introduction to this rapper’s range of influence and the music he wants to be known for, but With The People has well and truly taken things another step forward in showcasing the potential Citizen Kay is harnessing.
Without holding back, he takes us through his new album track by track, delving into the origins of each.
“Our World” is a song about the fight and balance between making a living as an artist and simply doing it for the love of it. The chorus is sprinkled with the voices of kids to signify the innocence of artist/creatives, particularly when they first enter this world of music and being a creative person within this industry.
The first verse talks about that back and forth mindset between doing it all purely for the love of it and doing it as a means to live and about how we, the artists/writers, are the core of the music world because without the songs being written by us, there is really not much of a music industry.
The second verse dips slightly into the concept and idea of ‘selling out’ and how at the end of it all, this is really just my perspective and that everyone is free to choose their own take on the subject. Being a creative person, in my opinion, should firstly be about the love of it before the money. Being ‘real’ and being yourself is extremely important. Always know and keep in mind of who you were, who you are and who you want to become.
“Wax On Wax Off”
This song is based off a lesson I adapted from The Karate Kid movie; doing something that seems irrelevant and pointless at the time, but later on realising how important it was to the bigger picture. Recently this has become very evident to me in the form of my part time job – working in a fast food chicken restaurant (yeah, I know). It’s always just been a means of extra money in my mind but in the last year, [I] came to the realisation that the majority of songs, concepts, beats and general ideas I’d had for my songs (and other people’s) came to me while I was working this job. Without being conscious of it, doing something seemingly unrelated had sparked so much inspiration within my life as an artist.
Even more importantly, it played a huge part in shaping my personality as an artist; there’ve been a few times when I’ve had the incredible pleasure of playing sold out shows a weekend and then coming in to this job and cooking up chicken the following Monday. It’s played a big part in keeping me grounded and keeping everything in perspective. So remember to look towards the bigger picture of things!
“No Respect” (ft Sarsha Simone)
“No Respect” is a song I began writing after a series of conversations with different people about music and perusing it as a career. I talked to people who were fellow writers and also people who were listeners/bystanders of the art and almost all the conversations seemed to come down to a lack of understanding and a seemingly lack of respect for the art as a career choice. Myself and fellow writers talked about past situations where we felt looked down on for not pursing a ‘real’ career, a ‘sturdy’ job. Constantly being told how unstable our choices were. Trying to make people understand why we create and make music and the importance of art and creativity in this world. How unless you’re making a whole lot of money, it’s considered to be nothing more than a hobby.
What I constantly had to remind people was that the large majority of the people who are now successful in this industry began in similar situations, with nothing to their names or wallets. Everyone deserves at the very least to have their career choices respected; everyone plays a part in this world, from doctors to garbage collectors, to farmers,to musicians (and other creative industries) and you should never forget that. This song is specific to music and musicians/writers, but you should apply to every and any career path.
“What You Wanna Hear”
As a rapper/writer or absolutely anything you do in life for that matter, people will always have an opinion. Everyone else always seems to know what’s best for you and I’ve experienced this from the jump. Mainly in three reoccurring ‘categories’ which I go through during the three verses of the song. The first is a combination of the people in the business side of the industry and ‘those’ people who are just after ‘a good beat’. Getting told I need to write things more suited to ‘radio’ (as most other artists will understand), I’ve been told on multiple occasions that the lyrics ‘don’t really even matter’, which as a lyricist …well, you can figure out what that makes me say/think in response to that. “It’s all purely about having a good time and good beats ’cause you know, lyrics are just extra noise on a song.” Fuck outta here with that nonsense!
The second group of people are actually other musicians – I’m mainly known as a vocalist, rapping is the tool I use 99% of the time. Being someone who raps, that connects me with hip hop. The amount of times I’ve been told by ‘real musicians’ that hip hop isn’t real music is ridiculous! “It’s just talking with rhyming words”, “It’s just the same loop over and over again”. Now to be fair, that’s actually somewhat true for most hip hop, but you’ve gotta understand it’s so much more than that! Hip hop has been playing a huge role for decades in how this world has been shaped and continues to be shaped. It has given people in unbelievable environments, neighbourhoods and situations a voice, a way to tell their story. Not every song needs to be focused on ‘musicality’ or needs to be ‘dynamic’. There’s a love and spirit that comes with all writing, including rap, and they should all be given the chance to express in that way and more importantly, to be given their due respect!
The third group I wanna get at are other rappers! Yes, I rap, but rapping is just a tool I use for my music. It’s important for you to know I consider myself an artist and a writer and not purely a rapper. I love so many different types of music and am constantly inspired by other genres and artists. I love incorporating other styles into my music. Sometimes I will focus on lyricism and sometimes I’ll focus on the music behind it. I hope there will always be an underlining message or story with my lyrics, but I’m not trying to prove myself solely as just a rapper.
Every song I make, I make because I’ve been inspired. Anyone who knows a handful of my music will know I definitely don’t keep to one thing. I enjoy variety and difference, I enjoy challenging myself and stepping out my comfort zone. Understand that I first and foremost make music as a way of release and expression.
“Life Gives You Lemons”
Writing for this track began for a completely different vibe of song, but eventually made its way to where it is now because the overall concepts were the same for both tracks and this project was the priority. You wouldn’t necessarily think so from [the] first listen or the energy of the track, but it’s about my experiences with racism, coupled with my attitude towards it and the way I learnt to deal with it. The verses are about me beginning as a young one in Australia and basically all my friends being white. You know, when you’re a kid (and even as an adult) life seems to be about fitting in and for me back then, I always figured how much easier my life would be if I was white, how it would make it so much easier to ‘fit in’.
The funny thing is that I’ve really never had too much of a problem fitting in or getting along with people but back then for whatever reason, I thought any and every problem of mine would be solved if I was white. I knew next to nothing about my history/family back home in Ghana at the time, so my only reference point to life and who I was, was the people who surrounded me right there and then. As I grew in as a part of the Australian culture, I came across people who would make ‘casual jokes’ about me being black. At times I really knew they were just joking around and other times I knew the jokes were intended to hurt and insult me, but the way my personality developed was to also make light of everything, to joke around about it and simply to laugh it off rather than let it consume me.
I purposely put these lyrics to this vibe of song for one reason – the lyrics represent what went and goes on in my head, insecurities and all, while the music represents my external attitude to it all. I nearly always came off as a little cheeky, childish and energetic no matter what was going through my mind and I still do this to a large extent today. Although I knew what the concept of the song was before I even really began to piece it together, the main line, ‘When life gives you lemons, you just cut them fuckers up in 20 seconds, don’t sweat it’, is actually from a song one of my best friends and fellow rapper, Jimmy Pike, wrote. The line popped into my mind when we were first working on the beat and once it did I just couldn’t get it back out, so thanks Jimmy!
Now, this song topic I’m a bit pros and cons about. This song is about us as teenagers and young adults being ‘too young’ to make a difference in on our planet. I tend to be a little ambitious at times with my future goals and one of them involves work back in my motherland, Ghana, specifically to help with the problem of electricity. I was telling someone about this plan once and they seemed surprised, not because they didn’t expect me to do it but because they couldn’t seem to come to grips about why I’d want to start these plans as soon as possible. Their view on it was that while I’m young, the biggest problem on my mind should be where I was gonna go party next weekend. That for my age, the last thing I should be doing is worrying about making the world a better place and it should just be about enjoying myself while I can.
Now here’s where I’m on the fence…I somewhat agree with that – you should make the most of enjoying yourself while you have few responsibilities and are still young but where I don’t agree is that it should be the only thing on your mind. As young people, we should have a great desire to not only help ourselves but to more importantly, help other people as much as we can. I don’t think you can be too young to make a difference whether on a minor or major scale! Live it up for sure and travel across the oceans but at the same time don’t be shellfish, you feel me?
“Let You Go”
This song has been a long time coming for me. Years back, there was a family friend who lost his dad and not long after, lost his mum as well. I would have been 16 or 17 when it happened and I remember being able to really see the obvious hurt he was going through. It got so bad that he lost it a little mentally and wasn’t [well] for a long, long time till he managed to pull back out of it. But the entire time he was going through this (I could see he was), not once did I go out of my way to comfort him or try and be there for him. It was extremely selfish of me and I was scared of the conversations, as I couldn’t and still can’t, imagine the feeling he was going through. This song was written as a way of apology to him.
Even though there isn’t much I could have done at the time, simply knowing people are there and care for you is important and since then, I’ve come to understand and appreciate that importance of family and being there for people in both their highest and lowest of times. As well as a way of apology, I tried to imagine what I was feeling at the time and a glimpse of what he was feeling and if I’d had the balls to show love to try and speak to him about it. In the first verse, I imagined what I’d say to him and then in the second, I tried to put myself in his shoes – how I’d feel in that situation and what my (his) response would be. A little confusing, I know. If you think about it enough, it’ll make sense.
It’s more than okay to wear your heart on your sleeve, just as its important to be there for people – not solely just close family or friends either.
“My Father (Interlude)”
This is me interviewing and talking to my Dad about our family’s story and how we ended up in Australia from Ghana.
“Dreamin” is more or less my entire story/journey in one song. Moving from Ghana to Australia at a young age, dealing with being a black kid in a white community, my decision to venture into music and the ambitions, persistence, passion and love I have for writing and creating.
“Family Ties”(ft Miracle & Genesis Owusu)
“Family Ties” is a song about the appreciation of my family and how they’ve played parts in who I am, both as a person and as a writer/artist. It seemed fitting to get fellow rapping family members on the verses.
“The Reverend” (ft Thando)
I was raised in a Christian family, basically been going to church for as long as I can remember; it just became part of who I was and what I did. I never really questioned anything I was told in church until about 21. I’ve never questioned my belief in God or spiritual aspects of it but more so the people, the middle-men and women. The people that say in order to get to heaven you must do this, you must do that. I began to question people’s interpretation of the Bible, how can two people have two completely different takes on one verse – I realised it simply came down to the person who was reading it and their interpretation. I began reading and trying to learn for myself, asking other family, friends and church leaders questions in order to form my own understanding. “One God, it’s the people that I can’t relate”. I’m certainly wouldn’t call myself religious, but I do believe life’s bigger than us, that there is a plan for everyone. This song talks about all of that but also always comes back to this is just my opinion. At the end of the day, I’m just another person with another opinion and I’m not saying it’s wrong or right, but that it’s what works for me…for now anyway.
“I Gotta Problem”
This one’s a mixture of two things – the first is pretty simple; I’m hella stubborn. I’m a bit of one of those people who like to prove you wrong, [I’m] usually not so good at declining a good challenge. That’s the way I’ve been for most of my adult life and it bleeds into who I am as an artist as well. As much as I enjoy getting into serious topics, I also greatly enjoy being a little annoying, simply because it entertains me. More specific to the song, I tend to have this cheeky attitude towards authority figures.
I like knowing I’m in control of my own life and decisions and at times even when I know the person is right, I still won’t listen (mature, right?). This ties into the second part of what this song as about; most people seem to go through life on virtually the same timeline – go to school, go to uni, get a sturdy job, find a partner, have kids, pay off your debts. Now, I can’t really avoid most of those things and don’t necessarily want to, but one aspect is my job – I never want to be trapped doing something that I don’t have a love for, so I tend to rebel a little against ‘standard’ jobs, or more people trying to get me to get a ‘normal’ job. N.W.A taught me well.
“Throw Some Maple On It” (My Crew Interlude)
One day I decided to hit record on my phone while the homies were kicking it and this little interlude was the result. Just a few friends bantering and Jimmy Pike down raps.
“With The People”
“With The People” was one of the first songs written and recorded for the album (and as you might have figured out, is what the album was later named as well). This is nothing more than a song of appreciation for every single person in my life. Everyone from family, to friends, to acquaintances, to people who know me only as Citizen Kay (my real name is Kojo, by the way). I have so much love for all the people who show love my way and even for people who don’t. Life’s too short to be an asshole and hold grudges. One love.
CITIZEN KAY AUSTRALIAN TOUR DATES
October 22nd – Bar on the Hill, Newcastle | w: CODA CONDUCT
October 23rd – Shebeen, Melbourne | w: CODA CONDUCT + MOSÉ + THE FMLY
October 24th – Republic Bar, Hobart | w: CODA CONDUCT + PEARLY WHITES
October 30th – ANU Bar, Canberra | w: CODA CONDUCT + JIMMY PIKE
November 6th – Cats @ Rocket Bar, Adelaide | w: CODA CONDUCT + guests
November 11th – Beach Road Hotel, Bondi | w: CODA CONDUCT + guests
November 13th – Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane | w: CODA CONDUCT + guests
November 14th – Sol Bar, Maroochydore | w: CODA CONDUCT + B-SYDE
November 26th – Goodgod Small Club, Sydney | w: CODA CONDUCT + X & HYPE
December 5th – Jack Rabbit Slim’s, Perth | w: CODA CONDUCT + guests