Thanks to the likes of Drake and Abel Tesfaye (The Weeknd), 2011 was the year music aficionados started thinking of Toronto as a flash point for solid hip-hop, R&B, and rap. And in a few short months, the listening public might be adding 19-year-old rapper/wunderkind Kody Ervin to that list of Toronto notables.
It’s always rewarding when you get a chance to speak to a musician who’s just beginning a promising career -- especially when the young musician in question is remarkably perceptive and driven. Recently, Epitonic caught up with Kody to discuss his forthcoming album, Asher Roth's career advice, and how one learns to do a standing back flip.
You’re in the studio even as we speak. Are you working on an album?
Right now, we are actually just trying to finish up a mixtape. Probably about a 12-song mixtape, but I have been working on an album for the past six years now [called] The Voice of the Youth. We are just wrapping up the mixtape first. We want to release that first, and then hit them with the album.
Do you have a title for the mixtape yet?
Not sure yet. I was thinking of doing a little play on my name, maybe Kode-4-5 or something.
One of the things I wanted to talk to you about is Toronto’s music scene. It’s been a pretty eventful couple of years with the likes of the Weeknd, Drake, and others. I’d like to hear your take on Toronto’s rap scene, and whether or not you’ve found it supportive.
Oh, most definitely. Toronto provides a great creative platform for me to build off of, and to get inspiration from. There is a lot of positive momentum going on in the music industry, and I respect artists like Drake and the Weeknd for what they do and have done for the city. It really makes it easier for up and coming artists like myself to get recognized. They make great music and have set the bar high.
Any plans for collaborations with any Toronto musicians?
I would like to do a song with Drake; that would be an awesome opportunity! But I’m just kind of doing myself right now.
Do you intend to stay in the city, or do you think at some point do you think you’ll be ready to move to New York, LA, or a more “traditional” music city?
Toronto is my hometown so I want to spend as much time as I can here, but if I had the opportunity to move to Miami or something I would definitely take it.
Have industry veterans been offering you lot of career advice lately, or are you being encouraged to follow your own path and make your own creative decisions?
I actually had the chance to chat with Asher Roth at an event in Florida last month and he gave me some really great advice. He said having the right people around you, and a good team collectively making decisions is fairly important. And also, there are a lot of parties and appearances involved, so [Roth advised me to] keep it under control as much as possible!
So who is your collective team?
I have a very small group of people. I always thought doing it that way was the best. I have my manager, who is actually my older brother. I also have two new people who are part of the management team: Harvey Lord and Kevin Ash. I also have my hypeman, Nov. That pretty much makes up my team. [They] keep the car moving.
Is that Nov in the video with you where you do your own verse over [Jay-Z and Kanye West’s] “Otis”? Yeah, that was him.
That’s kind of related to what I wanted to discuss with you next. You got your start by getting into a SoundClick contest, and you’ve posted a lot of great YouTube videos of your own – like the one of your own verse over “Otis”. How do you think your career might have played out differently without social networking?
Things would be a lot different -- and much more difficult without it. The web has provided great opportunities and has given people in other counties the chance to listen to my music. It’s always cool when I get a shout out from someone in Australia or the UK saying they’re a fan and that they enjoy my music.
How involved are you in the production process for your songs?
I like to be in complete control when I work on a project. I want to make sure it sounds like -- and is -- me. I usually have an idea or concept for a song -- or even some lyrics I would like to make into a song -- and I just bounce [the ideas] off the producer I’m working with. Sure enough, the creative juices start flowing and it’s history from there.
Who are your favorite producers to work with?
Well, I have my two main producers: Grips and Harvey Lord. They’re the main guys I work with, but I have gotten to work with a couple other local producers and they’ve all been great helping me reach my specific sound that I want.
One thing that strikes me about your lyrics is your ability to write in a way that speaks to the situations that teenagers face without necessarily sounding like a teenager. It’s apparent even in the songs you did when you were 14 or 15 years old. I’m interested to hear a little more about your writing process, and how it has changed as you’ve gotten older.
I was always the quiet guy in high school. I did a lot of listening and thinking while others were talking, so I was always absorbing everyone’s conversations. It [gave me the opportunity to experience] and tell a lot of the stories and situations that I talk about in my songs.
Do you feel like your process has changed since you’ve gotten older? There’s a huge difference between someone who’s 14 and someone who’s 19.
I definitely think I’ve matured as a writer, and I’ve learned a lot of tricks of the trade on how to write music. I’ve been given a lot of tips from people, and I’ve learned [by listening to] other artists’ music.
What do you think is the most valuable tip you have gotten?
You always want to have your own sound, because you’re not going to make it in this industry trying to sound like someone else.
Where do you envision yourself at the end of 2012?
Doing what I love, and making music on a bigger scale. Making teenagers feel like they are a part of something real and fun. Who knows what opportunities could come my way? I hope to have the respect of my country, and on an even bigger scale, the younger generation.
Do you think you’ll be able to release your album at some point next year?
I actually plan to release it a bit after Christmas; we are still trying to wrap things up. We have been working on it for a long, long time, but we’re [nearing] the finish.
Are these unreleased songs, or more like a compilation of your work to date?
It [spans] from when I was 14 to now. I just wanted to have a whole perspective throughout my teenage years. I just wanted to tell all the stories that I’ve lived.
One last thing I’ve got to ask—I’ve seen you do a standing back flip in a couple videos. How long did it take you to learn how to do that, and how on earth do you learn how to do something like that without breaking your neck?
Ha, right! I actually taught myself how to do it when I was a kid, and I guess it is just something that stuck. I like to surprise people at the shows that I do, so definitely watch out for it!
How did you learn how to do it?
I started in my basement with a mattress. I was really energetic as a kid, so I was determined to teach myself how to do it. Eventually I did and then, boom!
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