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rising rapper kari faux on the books she's reading and debbie harry

The Arkansas rapper’s conversational lyricism and cool-as-a-cucumber style have made fans, friends, and collaborators out of Donald Glover and ‘Insecure’ creator Issa Rae. Get to know Faux as she readies her next record.

Emily Manning

Photography Daniel Regan

Earlier this month, Donald Glover's Atlanta won two Golden Globe awards. If you've seen the FX series, you'll understand why. Atlanta's humor is located in its honesty, its true-to-life portraits of the everyday. Glover is no doubt stoked on its win, but he wasn't aiming to please, or even connect with members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. "I really only cared if my parents, cousins, and everyone in Atlanta thought it was cool," he told reporters backstage at the ceremony. Kari Faux, the rising rapper who has collaborated with Glover since 2014, has found success similarly. Like many others who have since become hip to Faux's sound, Glover was drawn to her creatively conversational flow and relatable lyrical quips.

Faux grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas. She counts Parliament/Funkadelic and gospel as some of her earliest musical memories, but later developed an ear for pop and Southern rap production. Sonically, her stylings reflect this diversity. Some songs — like the recently released "Perfect Timing," with its old school horn intro and evocative strings, or the bass-laden "Fantasy" — are teeming with funk, soul, and jazzy influences. Others, including "Let's Just Be Friends," play with spacey 80s pop synths. Faux's low-key, observational lends itself to any sound she's feeling. Her lines evoke everyday life, and she executes them with the effortlessness that makes Southern rap so enjoyable: "And if you see me in the whip I bet I'm bumping some Tribe/ Could be bumping 'check the rhime' like a million times/ And if you buying me a drink I want Bud Light with a lime."

She's also contributed to and written original music for Issa Rae's soundtrack for Insecure, another series garnering praise for its realistic (if at times painfully awkward) lens on life today. But when we speak on the phone, Faux says she's actually pretty reserved when it comes to forging partnerships. "I like to have a real, genuine connection with people before I work with them," she explains. "I don't do a lot of collabs or work with people, so when you do see me connect with somebody, it should be an 'Oh, this makes sense. I see why they did this.'"

Regardless of whether she's working across these multi-disciplinary projects or flying solo in the booth, Faux is in control. She's an artist with a strong vision for the future, and plans to achieve it simply by being herself, "no small talk" as she'd have it. As Faux readies her next record — a return to the Southern roots and rhythms that raised her — we called her up to talk about her black lit reading list, how her intuition has gotten stronger, and why Debbie Harry is eternally the shit.

What are some of the things you love most about the South?
I didn't know that I loved the South until I wasn't living there anymore. As a kid, I always felt that it was so slow, and that we don't get all the new music or trends as fast as everyone else, until Atlanta became a really big thing. That's when I started to feel like, "Oh, the South is really cool, we're influencing everybody now." So when I moved to L.A., I started to see that the food was different, and the people weren't as friendly — they didn't seem as genuine. It's a very home kind of vibe in the South. You go there and you feel like you're okay; people will take care of you and look out for their neighbors, it's a communal kind of thing That's something I learned to appreciate as I got older. I want to be in a place where the faces feel familiar. It feels good, it feels real. 

How are you dividing your time now?
Between Little Rock, Atlanta, and L.A., with an occasional trip to New York. know that sounds crazy, but I'm just a person who can't be in one place for too long. I like to find new inspiration, meet new people, see new things, you know? Moving around is actually really good for me.

How do you get inspired and what inspires you?
Everyday living. I've had a lot of people tell me my music is very relatable, as far as the lyrics go, and I think the reason is because it's my life experiences. I'll have a conversation with somebody, say something, write it down, and then it becomes a song — especially if I notice something recurring coming up in my conversations or interactions. So really, just living. I'm getting back into reading a lot more just to broaden my vocabulary.

What have you been reading?
Just like how I move from city to city, I like to jump from book to book; The Alchemist, this book called The Goddess in Every Woman. I also started reading The Souls of Black Folk, by W.E.B. Du Bois. I'm trying to get more into black literature, seeing as it's my culture. And friends have been giving me so many great recommendations when I tell them I'm trying to read more.

If you could form a musical supergroup with anyone, alive or dead, who would you pick?
Me and Debbie Harry should totally form a girl group. She'll sing and I'll rap!

I read you're a Patti Smith fan too, so I'm sure she could be of use to you and Debbie.
They're both so fucking tight to me. They're just so strong. I love Debbie Harry just because she has this confidence about her — you look at her and you know that she knows that she's cool. You don't even have to tell her! I'm trying to reach that level where people just know, but I'm goofy and bubbly so I can't always keep my cool on. Debbie Harry never lost that, and I think that's so dope. Solange is the same way. She knows, she knoooowwwwss [laughs] that she's cool! And you know she's never gonna lose it; she's always gonna be that all-around artist who can do whatever she wants and people will fuck with it. 

Tell me about the record you're releasing this year. When did you begin working on it, and what are some of the guiding ideas behind it?
I technically started working on it in October or November, so really not that long ago. Before then, I'd been writing so much. And I love to write, no matter how philosophical it is, because you never know when you're gonna need that type of stuff. The demos that I've been making have come very easily, because I already have these thoughts down. But the general theme of the album is that I have nothing to fear in regards to who I am as a person and my purpose. It's a lot of fun, I'm getting back to my very Southern roots. I feel like with this one, the people who listen to the kind of Southern music I do will really pick up on where my influences come from. Those who don't, I think, will get hip to the kind of music people in the South listen to. Because I'm definitely going to pay homage to people I grew up listening to that most people wouldn't know about. I'm trying to be true to myself.

Your last album, Lost En Los Angeles, was released in April, so it's a little less than a year between the records. What has this past year taught you  about yourself, the industry, the world?
I've learned to not be so hard on myself for not being what I see, for not being what is presented to me all the time, and being okay with being the way that I am. Because that's the reason I got here; the people who like me like me, and those who don't don't. Down the line they might, but I'm not focusing on trying to cater to them. I'm trying to give the people who do fuck with me what they want. And I've become a bit more spiritual; my intuition is very strong now. I know certain things, I'm not doing that. Some people will be like, "I don't know why you passed up on that opportunity," but down the line, a bigger one, or the right one, comes. I've become more okay with making those decisions, knowing that opportunities are abundant — they're endless and they're everywhere because you create them with your mind.

Credits


Text Emily Manning
Photography Daniel Regan