On The Record: Kwalified Emcee
BY KALANI WILHELM / Special to the Star-Advertiser
Kevin Richie Jr. may not have the flashiest ride, the flyest gear or even a hyped-up collection of retro Jordans, but he does have hip-hop. So far, the culture hasn’t let him down.
As one of the undisputed leaders of the current Honolulu hip-hop scene, nothing brings the talented, no-nonsense artist known as Kwalified Emcee more joy than spitting rhymes, freestyle cyphers or listening to good rap music. This creative outlet has been his number one addiction since he penned his first rhyme at the age of 15.
“I love hip-hop, I love the music, I love being a fan, I love performing, I love it all,” he said. “I am my music. I’ve always loved music in general and once I discovered that I was able to make my own music via hip-hop, I was hooked. I couldn’t stop. I can’t.”
Well-thought lyrics are Richie’s specialty. His latest offering, “Listen and Share” (available on iTunes), intends to further prove his loyalty to a culture that has done so much for him. The 13-track album, released via Workhouse, is the follow-up to last year’s Na Hoku Hanohano Award-nominated album, “We Makin Music Doe.”
Binded together by conversational, straightforward wordplay and delivered via tongue-in-cheek sensibility, “Listen and Share” covers everything from weekend shenanigans with the homies, his love for herbal stimulation and the life and times of a struggling hip-hop artist in Hawaii.
“I kind of wanted to tell my story of where I’m at now and just what’s happening in life now,” he said. “It was a little over a year in the making. I was already recording for it when I found out ‘We Makin Music Doe’ was nominated for a Hoku.”
Looking back at the Na Hoku nomination, the recognition by Hawaii’s premiere music awards organization came as a welcome surprise and motivated Richie during the final phase of production on “Listen and Share.” While believing in his abilities on the mic was never in question, the nomination only enhanced what he already knew.
“As an artist, you have to be confident in your own (stuff),” he said. “I was really stoked. The nomination just kind of gave me a sense of validation like that people outside of my circle were recognizing my music and that they felt it was award-worthy. Actually getting the nomination was really dope. I’ma get one of them before it’s all said and done though.”
As far as influences go, 1992 west coast anthem “Nuthin’ But A G Thang” by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg first sparked his interest in hip-hop. Richie credited underground rap artist Pigeon John (formerly of California underground crew L.A Symphony) for making him feel like writing and performing his own rhymes was possible.
“That’s my favorite MC,” he said. “He was far from the type of rappers that I was used to hearing. He was somebody who was interested in stuff like me. Plus, he was dope. (He) Just kills (it). Performance wise too. I’ve gotten to meet him and he even told me he (liked) my music. That was huge to me.”
Besides the notoriety from his rap idol and big time award nominations, Richie’s experiences in Hawaii hip-hop enjoyed another boost of positivity last weekend at NextDoor when he shared the stage with Cookbook of LA Symphony. Cookbook was not only part of the first hip-hop show Richie ever attended, but he is also one of the featured artists on “Listen and Share.”
Richie, a proud member of the Universal Zulu Nation’s Hawaii chapter (a global awareness group founded by hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa), is a firm believer that, given time, Hawaii’s sound will eventually make it’s mark outside of the islands. Until that happens, his loyalty to the scene and his Workhouse crew will remain strong. While the sentiment is common among aspiring island MCs, Richie believes it’s only a matter of time, and if one artist from the 808 makes it big, the entire scene wins.
“We can really blow this place up,” he said. “I feel that we all just have to grind hard. People always speak of unity in the scene. That doesn’t mean that we all have to hang out and all be on each others song, (it) just means that we all have to be unified in our mentality to grind. There are enough dope MCs and crews out here for us to make an impact nationally. We just have to really grind and put out quality products.
“The main responsibility I feel is to my supporters, my family, my crew, and myself. My responsibility is to ensure that their belief isn’t in vain. So that’s what I’m gonna do.”
Kalani Wilhelm covers nightlife and music for the Pulse. Contact him via email or follow him on Twitter.