Who is Kaly?
Coming from a South Asian descent, he’s known for his Given his name by a former flame for his naturally smooth tone of voice, Kaly is known more now for his raw, gritty vocals and uncompromising lyrics. Soft-spoken and respectful in person, even he will admit he has no idea why a change comes about every time he steps into the booth, “I literally have no idea when that first started happening or why it still happens, people are always surprised when they hear me in person and then on a track. Trust me, I’m the most amazed out of anyone.”
It is this combination of grittiness and intelligence that has brought Kaly to the forefront of all of his peers, but also that which has proved to be the basis of his difficulties in the industry. Unorthodox in his delivery and unwavering in his belief that music is more than what you hear in a club, he has found himself at odds with numerous industry acts and even members of his own team at times. Nonetheless, through sheer determination, Kaly has made inroads for himself, charting numerous tracks on the BBC Asian Network; gaining praise from industry notables such as Rishi Rich, DJ Bikram Keith, and Mentor Kolektiv; and even having one of his tracks featured on the Playstation 3 videogame “Haze”.
After several false starts and numerous broken promises that led to an abrupt departure from writing, Kaly has decided to take matters into his own hands with the release of his debut album “The Flight”. Completely self-financed and created over the course of a year that saw Kaly at his absolute lowest point, “The Flight” stands as a testament to Kaly’s struggle to overcome negativity and his dedication to being a voice for all those who dare to go after their dreams. No longer waiting on others for their approval of his dream, Kaly has reinvented himself and vowed to make everyone who ever doubted him choke on their words. There isn’t much he forgets.
You have a new project out called “Letters from Agrabah.” What does the album title mean? Where does the influence of the album title come from?
The whole thing comes from the movie Aladdin. It’s my favorite Disney movie and I think it’s the classic story of the brown guy going from the bottom to the top. He looks out his “window” and yearns for greater – and he goes out and gets it. It’s basically the story of anyone with ambition but, it honestly resounds more with me because the characters are brown. Who else has told our story like that? Agrabah is a fictional place of course, but to me, it’s our world. It is the brown person’s struggle to make something of themselves – amidst all the things trying to tear us down. Each track of the project is influenced by a character or scene from the movie and each one is my “letter” back to the audience – I am sending them from my Agrabah.
If there was a way to give a wake up call to your fans and critics, the track “Welcome” was just that and more. Your producer flipped a classic song from the Bollywood movie Taal, what was the intention behind your message in that track?
It’s funny because this track was recorded probably 2 years ago and had an entirely different beat. Had certain circumstances not arisen, I wouldn’t have had to change the beat, and I wouldn’t have ended up with the phenomenal version you have now. My intention was always to instantly grab people. I wasn’t trying to be soft or melodic – on purpose. Sometimes you just need that abrasive, jarring thing to grab your attention. As much as I was influenced by Aladdin, I wanted to remind people of the reality of where we come from. We might be doctors and engineers over here, but a majority of our people live in the slums out there. This is their world.
The beat from Taal was actually a long time in the making, mainly because everybody I gave it to told me they couldn’t make anything out of it. I mean for YEARS I asked people to loop this beat. Turns out all I had to do was ask my boy Supakou and he laced that in about 30 minutes. I already had the verse in my head so the rest was easy. I did it all at one go, the entire verse at one time. And if I remember correctly, the engineer on that session actually stopped everything and made me do it again because he wanted to record me doing it. Pause.
I saw visuals of Gods and symbols from Hinduism. Can we peg you as a religious man? Any specific reasons why you chose those symbols for your video?
Well, again, I wanted to show people our world. Me and you, we’re surrounded by this symbolism all the time; other people, not so much. It’s just amazing when you think we’ve come so far, but there are still so many ignorant people out there. Whether innocently ignorant or not. So I wanted them to be intrigued.
I wouldn’t say I’m religious, I’m spiritual. I definitely believe some higher power exists, but I don’t even pretend to think I’d be able to understand it. These people out here referring to books and this and that are just plain crazy to me. You don’t know sh*t about God, and neither do I. Just do right.
I’ve seen you making the trip across the pond and working with artists from the UK. Can we expect to see RKZ and other artists like him on your new project?
Man, I love those guys. And the UK has such a better scene for this type of music than out here. They actually cultivate creativity out there! Over here, cats are too busy trying to be #1 – forgetting you can only be that if there’s a #2, 3, 4, and 5. Anyways, those are my peoples man. Unfortunately, there is only one feature on this project (an amazing one), but nobody from the UK. Me and Rax had a track that I was going to put on it, but it didn’t make the final cut, so maybe that’ll see the light of day one day.
You’ve come a long from Flight & Rebel With A Cause, did you happen to see a positive response from fans/critics to those projects?
Absolutely! I’m the only one who hates all my stuff haha. I think people understand I have talent and they’ve seen that I grow from project to project. People definitely doubt me, but once they hear me they’re always supporters. My problem has always been maximizing that feeling. I need the whole world to understand!
There’s one track from the Rebel With A Cause project that truly stood out to me. Your track “Demons” really had me feelin some type of way. What was your influence behind that song?
I’m glad you liked that song man. Creating that song was a great experience; my man Seawood was handling production duties, and we brought in my guy Tom Etts to play the guitar and sing. I came in with the concept, and I actually sang a totally different hook than the one you hear. Me and Seawood actually had a few hour long conversations about what I say when the track starts – about Angels and Demons. Those conversations are what developed into this track. Hand to God, I wrote that entire thing in 12 minutes. That’s precisely how you know it’s real – it just came right out of me. And every single thing I say on it is true. It’s amazing because people have literally are in disbelief that I could go through anything difficult in my life. Really? Why? Because I smile when you see me? You see what I choose to let you see. And I think there’s a lot of people that do that out there. This song is to tell them not to let their demons control them.
I do pay attention to you on Facebook and Twitter, a while back you had an image outside of Bad Boy Records. Have you been approached about signing to any specific label? Is there a label you’d love to be signed to?
You wouldn’t believe it man, I’ve had a few pretty crazy opportunities come by my way. Unfortunately, the risk involved with backing an “Indian rapper” is just too much for some people I guess. Either way, I keep at it because I knew it wouldn’t be easy when I started. As far as labels I’d want to sign to – probably Dreamville. Maybe TDE.
I’ve always felt every artist creates their own individual footprint with the influences they experience in their lives. Is there someone or a group of people that influence your style?
Honestly, I can’t even tell you who specifically influences me. I never have anyone in mind when I’m writing or recording or what have you. I just write what I feel and hope that it matches the production and that I don’t sound like a dying alligator.
Along with the artist, there’s that one sound engineer or producer that makes that journey with you. We’ve seen SupaKou produce quite a few tracks for you. Tell us a bit more about him and how you guys paired up.
That’s my guy! I was introduced to him a number of years ago, after I stumbled upon his production partner’s studio. I had decided, after a long hiatus, to record The Flight, and I needed somewhere to record it that was close to home. Kou and me just get along really well – as you can tell by the music we put out. I give him a concept and he completely knocks it out the park every time on the first go. I sit there and kind of co-produce with him and just start humming to myself or scribbling lyrics and boom, history gets made.
I’ve found more often than not, a lot of artists are under the influence of something when they’re behind the mic to create a persona or they work hard to create a new persona to project than what they really are (i.e. Rick Ross and his drug dealer persona). Do you feel like that’s essential in being a successful artist?
You know, like much of the game, I think a lot of that “under the influence” sh*t is a lie. These guys (meaning, artists) know the aura of “cool” they get when people think they do crazy drugs or drink all the time, etc. And most of the time – the reality is totally different. 50 Cent doesn’t drink or smoke, I don’t think Jay-Z does either. So, take that for what it’s worth. As far as people being under the influence when they record; whatever it takes to be creative. I’ve never had to. I don’t think it’s essential at all to being a successful artist.
Who’s in your top 5 of all time?
That’s tough. 2pac is my GOAT if you’re asking. So he’s definitely one of them. I love Killer Mike. T.I. DMX. Nas. New age guys? I like ASAP Rocky, Action Bronson, Nipsey Hussle. Honestly, I’m going to need more time to think about my top five haha.
Coming from a South Asian descent, I can’t imagine the amount of looks or comments you’ve gotten regarding your career choice. After all the bullshit, what keeps you motivated to continue to grind?
To be completely frank, the fact that people are f*cking idiots. Especially Indian people. And I can say that because I’m Indian. I used to care a lot what people, especially Indian people thought, and now I really don’t give a f*ck. People rarely know what it is they need until you give it to them, so I don’t expect them to understand what I’m doing – yet. But one day, it’ll hit like a bag of bricks. So I continue on because I know what I’m doing this for and I know how good I am. And I know how important it is that young Indian people see that we can do whatever the f*ck we want to. No one can put us in a box without our permission.
Being Gujarati, I just had to ask. Pauv Bhaji or Chole Channa?
Man. I hate Gujarati food so much. This would be a whole ‘nother interview if you started with this question first. Isn’t Chole Punjabi anyways? That would mean by default I have to pick Pauv Bhaji. That ridiculous mash of gruel and porridge. But I do like it, more so than 99% of our dishes.