poet, princess, rapper: introducing kimchi princi
Kimchi Princi on saying no, dreaming big and being celibate for the hell of it.
Kimchi Princi calls herself an underdog — "but I think people like that about me" — though she's doing more than alright for an artist who started playing last year. The Sydney rapper makes songs about everyday things: her friends, men that piss her off, going out, looking good. Through a mix of likability and relentless work, she gets to perform those songs on a near-weekly basis around her city. "I send a million emails," she says, but her boundless energy onstage certainly helps too.
Just this weekend, she played at a very good festival called BAD, which she curated with friend Greta Balog and sister Danielle Karlikoff. The weekend before that, she played Canberra's premiere music showcase: the ANU Art School Ball. We sat her down to talk about day jobs, tokenism and getting paid.
What are you tired of talking about?
The internet — people consider me an internet artist, from looking at my early work. That's not really the case. People also often interpret Luxe as some sort of commentary on consumer culture — it's not. It's a very sincere song, I wasn't making fun of anything. I really did want all the things I sang about at the time.
What are your new songs about?
I have a new song called Boys Boys Boys, which I wrote after seeing some of my female friends get booked for major shows just for the sake of filling a quota. When the posters came out, their names were buried at the bottom in fine print.
Do you think you get booked for that reason sometimes?
It's definitely happened. Even when I'm booked to DJ, I've been approached while playing and asked to change the music I've got on — to play a different genre, or something. Those bookings feel very tokenistic, 'cause clearlythey don't really like what I'm doing. I think a lot of promoters do it just so they can say "Look — we've got some girls on the lineup, we've booked a trans person."
I read something the other day that said "the Australian music scene is so small a man has been put on the same lineup twice." There really was a festival that had booked an artist's main project and his side project.
That definitely happens. When I look at those lineups I kind of think, "why aren't I there? There's a place for me." I think it comes down to having a fierce manager, or a manager with good relationships — someone who will fight for their artists, and fill an entire festival with their artists. I don't have a manager.
Do you want one?
No, it makes me want to hustle harder. If I see a show I wanna play, I'll find the promoter and see if I can fill the support slot. It feels good to push for myself. Sometimes people I haven't seen in a while will approach me and say, "you're blowing up, you're killing it," but I've just been chipping away. I send a million emails, I try and get in touch with so many people. There's a great network of people putting on parties in Sydney that I get to play, too.
What are some crucial parties?
My friends Cass, Cache One, and Nellie, Chanel, started a night called Friday Lite last year before Goodgod closed down. That night was so seminal in making space for a really fun club sound in Sydney. I played my best early show there — I actually got the one year memory on Facebook last week. That night felt so important for me. I would go every week, and get to see people dancing to Naafi and Staycore, that kind of thing. It was really cool that Nellie and Cass were play that, and putting new rap music forward — instead of playing throwback hip-hop tracks, or techno.
When you played that show, was the Kimchi Princi persona as fully-formed as it is today?
I think so. I've always known what I wanted. I'm still wearing the same clothes as I did then. Kimchi Princi is just an extension of me — a more outgoing version, maybe. That being said, there's definitely heavier, personal stuff in the lyrics, especially of late. They deal with heavier memories or traumas, but because they're being paired with a club beat you wouldn't notice, and I can still have fun with those songs. So Kimchi Princi, in a sense, is a way to connect with those things in an outgoing way.
So new Kimchi is getting real. What else has changed over the past few months?
I've changed a lot in the past year, not outwardly, but internally I've changed a lot: I've come to understand who I am better. My ideas are different. When I started, I was still trying to grasp who I was — writing was a way to do that. I don't relate to some of my songs now. I've also written some really cute songs about people who I used to really care about. Now I think "I hate this person, I don't wanna have to go and sing a song about them." I've also gotten better at saying "no." There's a real art to it. I want to do everything, but sometimes I just can't, and something saying no is the healthiest thing to do. I've found that as soon as you start doing something, people start to want things from you — even people you know and like. It switches up. I'm ruthless these days. I pride myself on it.
I think it's great for women to be "rude."
Yeah, I think so too. People often expect me to be something because of the way I look, or what I wear, and I like to surprise them — I never take shit. I always chase my money, I enjoy making sure I get paid. You can be a hot bitch and a boss bitch at the same time.
You bring that take-no-shit attitude to shows, too.
Yeah — people can get really rowdy at gigs and start heckling thing like "get your tits out," or running up on stage. I love telling them off. I think the people behaving like that just have too much energy: it needs to be channelled in a more positive direction. You need to say to them, "You've got a lot of energy, give me that energy but don't say things like 'take your top off' — be cool." Then they'll be the best people at shows, they always when know to applaud, when to shout. Just don't talk over me.
Where do you wanna go next, as Kimchi Princi?
I'd like to be seen as one of the best rappers in Australia. It's time. I wouldn't have known that a few months ago, but I can see it now. There a lot of work to do, but I think I'll get there. There's so much fresh Aussie hip-hop right now: Slim Set, Sampa the Great, Tkay. I wanna be part of that. I care about the Australian music scene.
What else do you do during the day?
I study Creative Writing at university, I nanny, and I teach piano. My sister [jeweller Danielle Karlikoff] and I were essentially classical pianists, our parents forced us to learn for a long time. When I was 14 I came to love it. Playing was really therapeutic through highschool, I would play for hours. But it's why I'm obsessed with acrylic nails — I was never allowed to have them, because it made playing difficult.
Do your parents get into Kimchi Princi?
They don't know much about it. My sister and I are pretty detached from them, emotionally. It's part of the reason she and I are so close. As they learn more and more about Kimchi Princi, I'm surprised by how much they want to support it.
You're performing a lot — Kimchi Princi is only a year old. Why's that?
I think it's something new. A lot of people will approach me and say they haven't heard anything like it before. But doesn't everyone think their shit is new and cool? Probably.
Photography Ellen Virgona