In 2011, as a college student counting down the last few days until graduation, I searched for a musical kindred spirit that would be the exit music to my bildungsroman movie. Thankfully, I found it in the floating vocals of a then 20-year-old Kilo Kish on “Want You Still.” While going down the Odd Future roster, I came across the song while playing The Jet Age of Tomorrow’s sophomore album, The Journey to the 5th Echelon. Matt Martians (of The Internet) and Pyramid Vritra’s intergalactic hip-hop album was the perfect introduction for her understated cadence and cheeky honesty.
In the years that have followed, Lakisha Robinson, now 25, has translated her controlled intensity into her K+ mixtape, 3 EPs, art shows, a capsule collection with Maison Kitsuné, and most recently her debut album, Reflections in Real Time. Following the February release of her most vulnerable work to date, Saint Heron chatted with the multi-talented musician, designer and artist. In an era where success is often quantified in social media likes, Kish discussed her decision to occasionally step away from the overly curated internet to create and appreciate art defined by honesty and total freedom. During the open conversation, Kish discussed identity politics, her lifestyle brands Kisha and and luxury line Lakisha, genre classifications, her band Mtn Neverist, and her quest to push culture forward.
Let’s jump in and discuss your new debut album, Reflections in Real Time. It’s a record that ponders on themes of social media dependency, coming of age and overall confidence – all issues that are foreseen during the peak age bracket of 21 to 25. Being 25, what motivated you most to create this project at this point in your life and career?
I wanted to make an album that sells myself. I wanted my personality to shine through on the record. All the other music that I’ve done in the past is just a fraction of my personality, and not the whole thing. I wanted something that sounded like all of the factors of who I am. So, I tried really hard to go through my notebook and came up with different concepts in the beginning. Then, I just filled in the concepts with different notes, voice notes and things from my cellphone. From there I saw all that I had, which is funny to look at because it’s actually what I think about. It’s as honest as it could be because it’s stuff that people would never see or hear. I was trying to be just as honest as possible, and that’s what kind of came up. It became all of these insecurities, random existential thoughts, how I felt about the internet, how I felt about being an artist and how I felt about being a girlfriend. All of these different things over the course of being 21 to 25, and that’s just kind of how it came out.
As we know, digital and social media have changed the world as we know it. As an artist and creative, how are you able to separate your personal life from the existence and following that you hold on the internet?
At this point, I don’t really post personally anymore. Anything that I do on social media is for somebody’s sake. When I’m at a concert I don’t think to take pictures. That’s just what kind of person I am. That’s why I am never really posting like that because I’m just in the moment. It’s usually my manager Justin like “You need to remember to post.” I just don’t think about it. I look on social media because I find it amazing and hilarious. I’ll look at memes, Worldstar and stuff like that because it’s just funny. I look at outfits and make-up on Instagram, but I don’t really care to post. Now, when I post it’s mostly just for the sake of promoting whatever I’m working on.
I have kind of a problem with the framework that your life has to be such a curated thing. It’s somewhat bothersome to me because if I don’t curate it, you’re going to think that I don’t know how to curate it and if I do then I’m just boxing myself in with someones perceived idea of who I should be. I get kind of rebellious in those kinds of scenarios. It’s either some things I love posting or I delete all of my pictures. So, I’m very torn with the internet. I think it’s an amazing place that you can have all the visibility when you want the visibility. I also think that it’s a free place, but it’s so boxed in. You can tell the look everybody is going for. It just gets boring, and that’s why I feel kind of torn about it.
“Hello, Lakisha” explores your given name and how it has affected job searches and the way you are perceived. As a woman of color, why do you think names within the African American culture are often synonymous with being a “joke” or labeled stereotypically as a “Black name”?
I don’t even know to be honest. I think a lot of parents in the ’90s thought Kisha names were cool. It’s like a trendy name to give people. Then a lot of us grew up and had a similar name, so it is what it is. My dad’s name is Lakostia, and it was kind of a play on that. For me, I don’t know why it matters. Me and my cousin were the only two black people in our entire elementary school, so I’ve always kind of been the only black person. But, I’ve had a strange relationship with it because to have such a perceived black name then to also grew up in a predominately white neighborhood it’s been so strange of me. I’ve heard the craziest shit. People would say “you have such a ghetto name,” and I don’t understand how a name can be perceived as one thing or another. I think people are people, and your name isn’t even something that has to do with you really. But I did find that jobs would judge me off of my name when I would write my full name on my resume when I was younger. I think people should just be allowed to be how they are and whatever name you have is whatever name you have.
I don’t wake up thinking of my life through the lens of a woman or a black woman. I wake up like I’m Lakisha Robinson, I’m an individual, and this is how I’m going to go through the day. I don’t think about it like I’m a young woman or I’m an artist going through the world. I’m just one human, and that’s the way I go through life. So, when people have all of these hang-ups and all of these barriers when it comes to such small differences, it literally makes no sense to me.
You have a product line that you curated and designed named KISHA. Can you touch on your collection and the inspiration behind the brand?
Yes, I’m beginning a brand called KISHA which will be a super basic French meets Japanese inspired line of home products and apparel. I wanted to call it KISHA for people to see it as a high end entity as opposed to whatever else people will be thinking of it as. I think there’s so many facets to people, to names – it’s just endless. I think that the more people can see other facets, it’s easier for them to have a broader idea or concept of what a name can be or what a brand can be or what a human can be. That’s what I’m trying to do with KISHA. The luxury line of the brand is actually called LAKISHA, which will be the most expensive things I create. It’s a play on the concept of Lakisha being perceived as a name that comes from low beginnings or whatever else.
Is there a piece from your brand that excites you the most?
Well, right now I’m trying my best to produce the entire product side. That’s really the hardest part. Making dishware – it’s like, how do I even get this made? But I think overtime I’m going to have fun doing the clothing side more because for right now we’ve mostly been doing t-shirts and basics. I think overtime I want to grow LAKISHA into a nice cut and sew label that can just grow. I’m actually hoping that it can become a fashion house where it expands over hundreds of years. It would be so funny to see in two hundred years what a brand like that would be. Then it gets to have its own brand ambassadors and it’s own influencers. I’m just excited to start that journey.
Last year you also designed a capsule collection with Maison Kitsuné. What was your inspiration behind the vintage inspired line, and what was one key lesson you learned while working on the project?
I learned that fashion moves very fast, and it’s very random. I found that the actual production of getting pieces created is like “hurry up and wait”, now “work super hard,” then “hurry up and wait”. There were times when I’d be like, “I need this in 16 hours” or like right now, finished. It was really cool. I worked with one of the image directors at Kitsuné. Her name is Clara, and we worked really closely together. The inspiration for it was basically a mixture of ’70s, French sailor styles with American colors, which are also French colors, with a little bit of American flare to it. Just a lot of basic stripped t-shirts with an American element.
When Americans go on vacations they’re also getting commemorative t-shirts, so on one of the t-shirts we had a bunch of text on the back with all of those iron on letters. It was similar to how you get those t-shirts made when you’re on a trip or when you have a family reunion. For the textiles and patterns, I drew them out very simply. For example, I made the pattern for the phone case that is apart of the collection. It was really just a play on colors and the playfulness of Kitsuné as a brand. It was just really fun creating with them because it wasn’t like I could just make anything that I wanted to. I couldn’t just make it all black with gold sparkles on everything. It was great to fit my style into their aesthetic because I love the way they do everything. It was fun to make something super, super preppy.
I would love to work with them again. It was really cool because a lot of the time everything is really all about me, especially being a solo artist. You’re constantly talking about yourself, explaining why you do things the way you do, and it’s really fun for artists to use their creative brains towards completely different projects that don’t really have anything to do with them. Brands should do this a lot more often. I always want to see what it would be like if you have completely different artists in different arenas at a round table for an inventor or in a think tank for technology things. So for me, it was fun to fit myself into their world of design.
Many people know you as Kilo Kish, the music artist, but like you said, you’re a multi-medium creative. You’re a graduate from New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, a part time DJ and visual artist all in one. With that said, do you ever feel pressure to choose between these trades? Does one hold more relevance than the others?
From other people, yes. I get a lot of pressure to pick one at least for awhile and then focus on that. A lot of people would say that you have to have a very clear vision of what you want to do to be able to achieve it, and you need to have a plan and go forward with that one specific plan because that’s the easier way to be successful. But for me, all of the plans are kind of intertwined into each other. It’s one big plan that ends up taking so much longer because there are so many steps I want to hit along the way for each one. When I’m working on a music project it doesn’t mean that I’m not going to think of some conceptual idea of an installation that goes with the album. It kind of all starts going together. But at the same time, the clothes that I would wear as Kilo Kish, or say I started a different band that made completely different music like EDM, that wouldn’t be the same kind of clothing that I would wear to a show that I would want to make for KISHA. It’s a lot more simple and basic. Where as simple and basic a lot of the times doesn’t work for performance. A lot of times people need a little more glitz and glam to know that they’re at a show. It’s funny because it’s like they’re all separate brands. Even to me, Kilo Kish is a project. I don’t see myself as Kilo Kish. I wake up and I’m Kish or Lakisha Robinson and I go to work for whatever project I have.
I think at heart I’m a designer because even the way that I approach music is in a design sense. I come up with a concept first and then I go to work. I’m not really like a vibes person. I don’t just make whatever. I always have a purpose and something that I’m specifically trying to achieve. For me, I’m always working at the balance in my work and trying to make sure everything is fitting perfectly. I develop the design aesthetic of the album art and I do the same with the videos. I kind of think of it that way, which is another reason why I don’t perform that often. The most fun part about being a creative is just the creative part. The actual entertainment part isn’t as rewarding for me, so I didn’t do it for a long time. But now since I’m putting out this album I definitely feel the need because it feels so much like myself. I think it’s the perfect project to perform. Also, I’m having fun with the design challenges and figuring out how to best express this record visually and conceptually to the point that makes sense and it resonates with the listener when you’re watching the show. I actually have an interest in creating a different world in performing, and then it becomes performance art. So, it’s starting to intertwine. I think I see myself more as a conceptual artist and designer as opposed to a full fledged musician. I think when I’m actually gone, the things that I will have achieved in life will be more leaning towards design or conceptual art.
In the past you have shared that the French painter Egon Schiele is one of your favorite artists. Have you noticed a connection between his intense, unique self-portraits and the development of your songwriting?
People would say he’s kind of the inventor or God father of fashion illustration just because he creates all of these gaunt pictures and it’s always kind of not right, but it’s so right. His self portraits recognized his body and postures, even the circles under his eyes, in such a gestural way. I really like his paintings and his drawings just because they’re so real, but so surreal at the same time. I don’t know that it directly correlates with the way that I try to do things, but I definitely love honesty in art. Even though they’re not perfectly drawn or the exact proportions of anyone’s body, he really plays with his own insecurities and his own human, his own self by really highlighting those parts that are not always beautiful or perceivably beautiful. I think what I want more out of art, especially in 2016, is that. That’s what I’m hoping to do for myself.
The things that stress you out, the things you don’t like about yourself, the things that you love about yourself, the things that worry you, all of those things are what makes you..you. If you’re this perfectly airbrushed version of yourself then that’s not you. That’s only part of you, and its a part that you’re trying to achieve that isn’t really you. So for me, the beauty in people is that. I’m not necessarily the best singer, and I don’t play any instruments. I don’t really produce that well, but the thing that I found the best out of my art is just the straight forwardness of what it is and the tenacity of what I’m trying to achieve and the openness of that and the lack of fear or even the exposing of my actual fears. Everybody knows what I’m afraid of now, and I think that’s so great because it brings this lightness to myself and the only thing that I really, really want in life is just getting to this place of 100% total freedom in art. I don’t know that anybody really gets there, but it’s a lifetime goal to try to keep breaking off these parts that keep you bound up. The things that keep you bound up are society obviously, the way that you feel about yourself, any fears you have, and any insecurities you have. I think that the internet has helped to make people more open in a way, but also feel way more afraid because then you have this fear of missing out on, this fear that you’re not interesting enough because you have these quantifiable results constantly. It’s like if you get 100 likes on a picture today and you get 97 tomorrow, you did worse today then you did yesterday, and that’s a quantifiable fact. It’s sad that it’s so up and down like that and that you’re constantly trying to achieve these measures of society.
What I’m trying to do for myself is just forget about all of that and just let everything be open. I think the more open that we all are then the more open other people are, and it’s great. I’ve had so many more interesting conversations and so many more interesting talks since I’ve created this record compared to any other music I’ve made. All of my interviews are a thousand times more fun and more deep, and it’s the conversations that I want to have with people because it’s true, actual, genuine connections. That’s what I want.
From early on in your musical career you’ve stayed true to being creatively inclined and collaborating with like-minded artists like The Internet, Childish Gambino, SBTRKT, and so many more. If you could team up to create a song with anyone, who would it be and why?
Björk, maybe. I’m not really sure. It’s crazy because I’m such a control freak over my art that whenever anyone is on any of my projects it’s literally me yelling at them, telling them how to do it. It’s so funny because whenever I did a song with Donald (Childish Gambino), I would just be like, “ok, this part you’re going to be arguing with me, so say it like this.” It’s literally me directing. It’s crazy because they look at me like I’m nuts, which I am [laughs] But they just do it, and it’s so funny because I don’t often put myself in the other position where it’s somebody else’s vision. I’m too rebellious for other peoples visions. The only other time that I’ve done that recently was with Vince Staples and his record. Obviously when it’s an artist that I love and respect, I’m always there to facilitate someone’s vision, and with him it’s really fun.
I love collaborating on conceptual things, and she’s a really cool artist, so I would say Björk. Also, Kanye West. I think anyone that is really working towards expressing a concept or really getting to the heart of an idea. But, I’m also down to make random shit as well because sometimes it doesn’t need to be that serious. Recently I did a track with A$AP Twelvyy and literally I’m just mumbling in the background with mad auto-tune. It’s very Lil’ Wayne style circa 2004, and it’s amazing. I’m actually starting a band with my boyfriend. So it’ll be one of the first times that I’m genuinely collaborating where I’m not bossing everyone around.
Will it be an Indie Rock or more soulful band?
I have no idea to be honest. I’m really trying to get to the thing I was talking about before about total freedom. Part of being free is not being a control freak and allowing things to happen as they do. This project that I’m doing with him will be equally his part and mine, so I’m down to just sing stuff or whatever the music becomes we’ll see what happens. He just started working on some of the beats for us. He’s on tour still, so when he comes back I’ll be better able to explain what kind of music it’s going to be. The group is called Mt Neverist, so I’m excited to make like a little EP over the summertime.
I was recently thinking about artists that are really honest to the core, especially people of color. We need music like that.
Yeah! Being a black woman or any black artist, making something that’s not so set in genres associated with Black art is so hard because it’s either blogs usually don’t write about it, don’t get it or they judge it super harshly. Where as if I made only trap music then it would be this weird fetishized thing where it’s like “oh this is amazing because it’s fit specifically in this genre.” If I make total soul music or if I make very classic R&B music then it’s like all of these things are acceptable for who you perceive me to be. Then the moment that you step slightly out of the box or slightly into another genre, it starts getting weird where people are like, “I don’t really know how I feel about this,” and they don’t get it or they don’t like it or they don’t understand it. But you know the reason why it doesn’t make sense to them is because its a different experience with a different genre of music. I think artists like Santigold and M.I.A. probably had to go through this over 100 times or more. I think there should be more artists that are comfortable with taking the longer road or having to be okay with constantly explaining themselves and validating themselves as artist in their genre. It only opens up doors for more people, so I’m always okay with that. But yeah, it’s pretty weird in the music industry for black girls right now.
In your opinion, how has the music industry evolved since the early days of your career and what are you most excited about for it’s future?
I think since I’ve started making music, around that time and a little earlier, was a very big time for DIY and making music in your bedroom. I think that it worked for me and a lot of other girl artists during that time. It opened up the flood gates of a million other girl artists doing similar kinds of music. I think that’s great because it allows for anybody to have expression. Its so funny even to this day – I’ll see people on Twitter saying “I want to make music,” or “I want to rap, but I just don’t know what to do” and then their friend will be like “Oh, you can just make some Kilo Kish type music.” The music industry is so crazy right now because the turn around time of making music is so much quicker, so if I put out a song today and someone hears it then a bigger artist can literally put out a song tomorrow exactly the same or very similar to my song and you would never know the original song existed. It’s like ownership of ideas and concepts in 2016 is so, so blurred. So, a lot of people would say nothing is new and nothing can be invented at this point and everything is borrowed, which is true. Influence is not always on purpose, but then I do think at the same time that a Tumblr culture of just reposting and reblogging gets boring because it’s just the same thing over and over. I think in music its kind of the same way where you just get music from this similar artist then you can listen to all the similar artists that sound exactly the same as the last artist that you just listened to. That’s cool for a listener, but where is the pushing forward of culture? That’s what I worry about. I don’t want us to keep pulling from the past. You have to pull from the past, of course, but you also have to move forward. I think a lot of times, even in fashion, people will be like “this is inspired by an old Nike tee” or whatever. But it’ll be the exact same font, the exact same color way and the exact same thing. You can’t just say its inspired by something in the past that’s not in production anymore and just copy it. That’s literally just copying something that literally existed that doesn’t exist anymore.
I wonder where we go from here because we have a wonderful opportunity because we have so much reference. The internet is just all reference. But, I wonder what we do with that reference going forward and how will we evolve into something different going into 2020 or 2030. I think that part of it has to do with technology, but I think the rest of it has to do with just stepping outside of the internet for awhile and seeing how we actually feel. When I’m working and on the internet constantly and when I listen to a lot of new music, I can’t think. I literally can’t come up with new ideas. I’m just going to do what I already see. That’s another reason, my friends know, I don’t listen to a lot of new music. Whenever my friends are telling me about someone I’m like, “who is this?” and they’re like “this came out forever ago.” A lot of people would say that that’s being a bad artist, but a lot of times I just don’t listen to it because I don’t want the influence – even unbeknownst to me. I just want my brain to spit out whatever it’s going to spit out because I definitely will take a melody on accident, and I think a lot of people do that as well. It’s not on purpose, but you listen to this genre so much or you listen to trap so much or you listen to EDM so much or you know exactly the way that it works or the way that it’s supposed to go – it’s so easy to just do the same thing and have people like you too. I think we all have much more to offer than that creatively. That’s why I hope and I’m optimistic that things will move forward in the right way.
Photography: Emmanuel Olunkwa