This story will appear in FADER #81, on stands later this month. Kilo Kish begins a North American tour tomorrow in Washington DC; see a full schedule of dates here.
Lakisha Robinson’s universe is bigger than first impressions might suggest. The 21-year-old speaks like a valley girl of the Tumblr-era, ranking just about every experience on a scale of either “weird” or “chill” and cushioning every thought with multiple “like”s and “kinda”s. Yet it’s this very space-cadet whimsy that has allowed her, under the pseudonym Kilo Kish, to produce one of the year’s most fascinating half-rap (or maybe post-rap) mixtapes.
Until recently, the Orlando-born Brooklyn resident was studying textile design at the Fashion Institute of Technology and juggling evening restaurant shifts and freelance modeling gigs to pay the bills, but since graduating, she’s funneled the bulk of her efforts into a recording career that began “as a joke… kinda.” Kish professes a passing interest in contemporary rap music at best—she favors ’90s R&B and pop. Her efforts began as a parody of the mixtape rappers she’d meet at parties, facilitated by her then-roommate and present rhyme partner Smash Simmons. “We would just, like, drink beers or whatever, get in there and make fun songs,” Kish says. “But when I started playing the songs for people they were like, No it’s actually good.”
It’s a refreshing accident. For so long the female rapper has had to pick a side—either a tomboyish embrace of male rap standards or sex-kitten seductiveness. Nicki Minaj has found great success cartoonishly deconstructing this divide, but it’s been some time since an artist has sidestepped it completely. Kish’s relative outsiderness is like a reset button for the girl rap chronology, an inadvertent throwback to the days when female emcees like Debbie Harry or frequent De La Soul collaborator Shawty No Mas were just figuring out the form on their own terms and not reacting to or indulging the demands of men. She raps like she speaks, and she speaks softly, giving her debut, Homeschool, a charming thinness. It’s a tiny diary of lovesick, whispered nursery rhymes about the opposite sex that are equally prone to trail off into giggles as they are to erupt into something cosmic or surreal.
Kish mines these depths intuitively, shrugging off any attempt to formally outline her process. “As far as the content of my music goes, I don’t really think too hard about it,” she says. “I hear a beat and then it automatically takes me to this visual place, then I just try to convey that mood.” Homeschool was produced primarily by Odd Future’s The Internet. Kish met Matt Martians, who together with Syd The Kyd makes up The Internet, through Simmons in 2010, and recorded part of the EP at their LA studio. She credits the duo with setting the tone of the project. “Matt and Syd’s beats are all super spacey,” she says. “So I try to go about it in an, Oh whatever, we’re chillin’ we’re in space, woo woo woo vibe.”
Kish’s chillin’ is a state of perpetual motion. Ask her what she’s working on now, and she’ll rattle off a list of non-specific creative tasks: weaving, screen printing, painting, videos for Homeschool. Ask her about long-term aspirations, and she turns more abstract, outlining grandiose yet under-baked plans for cross-media collaborations with other musicians, which she eventually simplifies as “I just want to keep making stuff,” and just as quickly expands again, “That’s basically my life goal: make everything.”