It’s the day after Growth is released and Daniel Kema is ecstatic.
Between balancing a full-time job and completing a 3-month long project, it’s hard to figure out how he finds time to do it all. As we sit on the waterfront at Brookfield Place, the energy he exudes is impressionable and inspiring, making a very personal project relatable to the masses.
On a sunny Saturday afternoon, Daniel and I talk about our passions, Jay-Z’s influence on rap music and what ultimately drives us to be better people within a city full of people just trying to make it.
Saturday School: When did you first start rapping?
Daniel Kema: I probably started rapping in 3rd grade, it was because of the video game NBA Live 2003. They had this great soundtrack and I kept hearing this one song and I memorized it and I would go to school and rap it. People would ask “Is that you?!” and I think I lied sometimes and said it was [laughs]. After that people would be like “rap about this” so I wanted to learn how to freestyle since people were impressed by it.
SS: So when did you realize you were good at rapping [laughs]?
DK: I don’t know if I’ve even realized that now but I do it because it feels good. It’s something that comes to me more naturally than a lot of other things. My friends and family are very enthusiastic about me making this kind of music and their enthusiasm makes me want to keep doing it.
SS: I really like the title of your project, what made you name it Growth?
DK: That’s a good question, the first project was called Youth that was about capturing the nostalgia of college and being under 23 and not having to pay bills and rent. It was about capturing how that felt in auditory form and Growth is about the next iteration. Growth in contrast to Youth is about is about making harder decisions and hopefully how you’re going to get you closer to your goals.
SS: That makes a lot of sense, so talk me through your creative process and how you made the album.
DK: I made a concept sheet of things I wanted to touch on that were relevant to the stage I’m in in life. So I started high level and then I got more granular. Coming up with the titles of the songs really helps me a lot too. I initially think of titles, pair them with concepts and then I start writing.
SS: In comparison to your first project, how have you changed or grown as an artist?
DK: I grew because I took more time with this. I made Youth in five days. With Growth I was methodical, even down to the order of the tracks. I thought about how I wanted it to progress as a concept.
SS: I could definitely see that in the order of the tracklist. I’m curious, who or what were some of the influences for the project?
DK: My family, my brother and sister, some of my best friends; Juice, Cash and Crystal. My girlfriend Taylor, my roommates... so many people! The thing about my life is that I really care about friendships and family and you’ll never see me make a project that’s void of that. So those are the people that influenced me the most.
SS: I feel like on a project like this you have to have a strong support system, especially being so vulnerable! I know you’ve been living in New York for a while, how has the city helped or hindered you?
DK: The city has helped me because there is so much stimuli and when you’re a writer or when you’re creating something, you’re constantly looking for influences. Even the song "Kinfolk". Yes, it’s a place but it’s about the camaraderie that New York has offered me.
SS: We kind of touched on this earlier, but Growth is a very personal project. Did you have any hesitations about being so vulnerable?
DK: Yeah for sure! With “This Time” it’s the last track and I was very vulnerable. I was even singing a little bit but the actual content is about my current relationship and that put me in a very vulnerable place. So I hesitated for sure, but I thought it would be more powerful and it would make people think “oh he said that?!”
SS: That’s interesting because it got me thinking about Jay-Z’s “4:44” and he got super vulnerable on his album. Do you feel like he paved the way for black men in hip-hop becoming more vulnerable in their music?
DK: I think some people in the space, currently and in the past, have been helpful for creating a space for that. R&B artists like Boyz II Men or Jodeci have done it but in the rap space it’s fascinating to see the likes of Drake and other rappers that made it a space where it was fine.
SS: What made you choose to release Growth now?
DK: I wanted to originally release it September 29th but I didn’t want it to rush it like I did with Youth. Which is cool sometimes for art, because art is never really finished but I wanted to put in a little more work and put my friends on there as well.
SS: So what was your favorite song on the album? If you have one [laughs].
DK: My favorite song right now is “This Time” because I made it so recently. I haven’t even memorized the lyrics yet so I feel like another person listening to it which is exciting! I also like Outlet a lot because I harnessed a lot of emotions that I don’t always share in general.
SS: That’s so true because when I listened to Outlet I was like “who is this Daniel?!” [laughs]. What was your biggest struggle with the project?
DK: My biggest struggle was trying to get everything mixed and mastered and that’s why I ended up getting all of my own studio equipment. I had a day where I went to Sam Ash and I dropped bread and I didn’t look back or think twice about it. So I had to teach myself some stuff on FL Studio and I spent hours on YouTube but in the end I was happy and I got to do more and make more of the changes I wanted to make.
SS: That’s awesome, I can only imagine how hard that was. For other aspiring creators or anyone trying to produce something, what advice would you give them?
DK: I would say keep creating. It sounds broad or easy but if I were to ask everyone when they were a kid what did they do artistically? Everyone did something, even if it was playing drums on the lunch table, the point is that we all used to do something creative and my advice would be to keep creating and consuming art if you have time. Keep creating no matter the scale of it either. You don’t have to try and be famous, make a song and don’t release it, just to know what it feels like. I never want to stop creating and as long as we can, we should.
SS: Last question, if you could go back in time, what advice would you give high school you?
DK: I would say drop a project. In high school I rapped and had some individual tracks but I never made a mixtape and that carried over into college. That’s why I dropped Youth when I graduated from college. So I would say just drop a project and work on something musical and see what it feels like because today, which is the day after I dropped Growth, is the best day of my life.