If you have yet to hear Ian Kamau, prepare to luxuriate in the glow of some seriously soulful, genre-bending music. This past fall marked the release of the deeply intimate and expressive One Day Soon, the independent artist’s first full-length LP. Kamau emerged on the indie hip-hop scene in 2003 with First EP, followed by another EP in 2011, titled Cocoons. He has also made significant mixtapes and podcasts and featured appearances with the likes of K-os and Shad. Born in Toronto to Trinidadian filmmaker parents and raised in the city, the prolific Kamau often refers to his upbringing, parents and community in his lyrics, which contributes to his reputation for soulful, “conscious” lyric-driven music.
Q: One Day Soon took three years to make. How did you know when you were done?
A: I don’t think you’re ever done. … [Sometimes] you have to stop yourself. I recorded a lot while I was in the process of making One Day Soon and released three mixed tapes during that process. Love & Other Struggles was recorded after most of One Day Soon was recorded.
Q: Wasn’t Cocoons as well?
A: There were about 35 songs that I recorded in the process of what I thought would be one album, but some were more repetitive, or more reflective, of an older style of me, so some of those went to Cocoons. I’m a perfectionist and sometimes it’s hard for me to let go of certain songs because I want everything to be perfect.
Q: Do you feel being a perfectionist helps or hinders your creative process?
A: It can do both. … Perfectionist tendencies can be really good if you want to grow. On the other extreme, I could work on a song every day until I was 99, but it’ll never be perfect. There has to be balance.
Q: You refer to your earlier podcast series Sketches as the rough beginnings of a complete piece of work. Besides the departure from a traditional hip-hop sound to something more melodic, what has the evolution from First EP to One Day Soon meant for you?
A: Sketches was literally a lot of things that were unfinished … and [I wasn’t] worried about how people were going to judge it or understand it. It wasn’t finished, it wasn’t done, but I had to get it out so I could move on to something else. At the end of First EP, I was kind of bored with hip hop, not because I didn’t love it, but I just didn’t feel like I was growing. I wanted to do different things. First EP is sample-based, but One Day Soon is all live instruments and synthesizers. Also at the beginning of making One Day Soon, I wasn’t hearing lyrics. I was hearing a lot of melodies, which is why there is a lot more singing on that album.
Q: The emotions that you reveal throughout One Day Soon, as with all of your work, feel and sound intimate, raw and real. Is it important that all of your lyrics be autobiographical?
A: A lot of what I write is autobiographical or somehow related to my own story. "Black Boys" is about a friend of mine, [but with] "Now That I’m Alone", that’s my story. And then there are other songs that are more general, like "The Village." But "Hopes & Dreams" is about my godson, so you know, it’s definitely important for me to talk about what I know, though it doesn’t always have to be autobiographical. I do think that the more you reveal yourself, the more you connect with people.
Ian Kamau’s music can be found here and his writing and other work here. He is performing at CMW this week.