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kari faux
Kari Faux

How Kari Faux got lost in LA and found her new sound

The Arkansas-born rapper is taking on the bright lights - we spoke to her about hitting the big city, making shit talk profound and lyrically taking no prisoners

Little Rock alum, self-dubbed ‘Rap Game Daria’ and accidental poet: Kari Faux is ready to show another side of her we don’t yet know. Setting ripples through the southern rap scene before hitting up LA, the rapper cemented herself as the deadpan, drawling MC taking no lyrical prisoners. She first popped up online with a Tumblr kid-esque, Clipart-heavy video calling out the lame keyboard heroes for “On the Internet”. Childish Gambino-remixed “No Small Talk” was another reblog-worthy track from her first mixtape Laugh Now, Die Later telling you, nah, you aren’t gonna ever catch her on the phone.

Now Kari Faux is back with her album Lost En Los Angeles, bringing about her own renaissance with track after track championing that same take-no-shit attitude, but with a more vulnerable, personal vibe. The inquisitive, straight-talking lens that permeated Laugh Now, Die Later has been turned on herself: “Fantasy” dismisses the male gaze’s imposition on her, and slow jam “Nothing 2 Lose” explains the method to her recklessness in the face of society’s shit. Think Foxy Brown and Khia with the skills and spit, paired with Erykah Badu and Mary J. Blige's self-dissecting lyrical prowess. She’s still working with her long-time collaborator Black Party, and now she’s questioning herself and her relationships, losing herself in a city she doesn’t quite trust to see how it spits her out.

Ahead of her album release, we spoke to Faux about finding her self-awareness, small town psyche and how Andre 3000 is her gold standard.

What was it like for you growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas?

Kari Faux: I mean growing up here was cool, it’s not a place where you see a lot of glamorous things or whatever, so you kind of have to use your imagination and create your own fun, and not necessarily get sucked into all the crazy things that happen here. I mean, it’s kind of a depressing place, but if you know that you want you can get it. I had like a normal childhood, played outside, played sports in school.

Was art school at all helpful getting you out of the small town psyche?

Kari Faux: It was a learning experience — anything that happens to me, especially things that don’t work, I just look at it like ‘okay this didn’t work’. I always feel like I walked away with knowledge about myself, or a new way of looking at things. So yeah, I hated college a lot, but I definitely met some really cool people and made a lot of like connections with people when I went there.

Did it make you more creative growing up there, rather than in an artsy hub like LA or New York?

Kari Faux: Definitely, because you have to create what you want. Me and my co-producer Black Party kind of fostered the scene there, along with a handful of other people. There is a music scene here, and there are other talented artists, but there are no resources and there are no outlets for these people to be seen and heard. We took it upon ourselves to change it, and moving forward we just want to continue to make that stronger and bigger, so it’s like more people would start to notice what we’re doing, help other people and get their name out.

When did you first get started in music?

Kari Faux: I started making music when I was 15. I was recording music but it was just for fun, it was just something me and my friends used to do after school, you know just like playing around, putting our music on Facebook. I stopped making music when I went to college, because I was kind of over it, like nobody is ever gonna care about me, I’m just this little black girl from Arkansas, like nobody is ever going to care what I have to say. And then when I dropped out of school I moved back to Little Rock, that’s when I linked back up with Black Party. There was something else always pulling at me going make music, make music, make music. This thing I can’t explain, so I agreed to collab with him. I was 19 when I started taking it seriously. I’ve been on this since 2011, so this is going to be my fifth year taking music seriously.

The album is called Lost En Los Angeles – did you really get lost?

Kari Faux: I was having a conversation with my manager Fam and I was just saying like these random things, like I’ll always say shit and he’ll be like, wow that was really profound or deep or whatever, and I’m always just like really?! I’m always just talking shit. And I said something dumb like I feel so lost here, I just feel like I’m lost in Los Angeles, and then that’s where it came from. I thought, if I can make something out of feeling lost, then I can do anything I feel like.

And in that sense, how does that level of vulnerability translate onto the album?

Kari Faux: A lot! In my previous work, I was never vulnerable, I was singing about the Internet and other stuff in my life. Not about real feelings or love or anything. I just wanted to take the time to let people know that I feel this way sometimes. But I think showing vulnerability is a good thing, because you let other people know that they are not necessarily alone in how they feel.

The video for This Right Here is out now, and it’s about partying, knowing who you are and not caring who’s judging you at the party. How self-aware is this album?

Kari Faux: It’s super important because I feel like I’m way more aware of myself than I used to be. Living in LA, I would definitely change my accent or try to sound different so people wouldn’t ask me where I’m from, or people would be talking about things and I’d be like yeah, yeah, I totally know what you’re talking about, because I didn’t want to be that one weird person who hadn’t seen this one movie that everybody else has saw. And I just realised that was stupid, and shouldn’t take myself so seriously.

So how have you progressed since your very first mixtape?

Kari Faux: Laugh Now, Die Later wasn’t the first thing I did but it’s the first one that everyone kind of knows. I wasn’t putting in too much thought into the message with it. I have a stronger message about how I handle relationships and people now.

Sound-wise, it’s still me and Black Party, and then we brought in a few friends and musicians. We’re just growing musically, because we’ve never had resources or access to real instruments or synths. Now that we do we’re discovering we like different things now. So yeah, I’m just growing with the music and I’m happy with it.

“I think showing vulnerability is a good thing, because you let other people know that they are not necessarily alone in how they feel” – Kari Faux

And what’s your creative process like, say for writing and producing one song? What’s the timeframe and how do you work?

Kari Faux: It depends, sometimes I’ll write something in one go, and other times I’ll just have a phrase in my head. I’ll go to Malik and not even explain that much to him, come back and he’ll have the exact beat I want. It’s like telepathy. The album took about 16 months. We were cool with a lot of the songs for a long time before going back over them and making big changes. Our managers, on the last day we had, were like ‘What the fuck are y’all doing, like stop making shit!’

"Fantasy" definitely took a bunch of – it changed a whole lot. It started out as a poem that I wrote, and then I made this shitty beat in Logic. I don’t write poems, even though rap is considered poetry, I don’t sit and write poems. But I felt that kind of way for a poem there and then. Other people helped me create the sound I wanted, because I had like an upright bass and all these things in Logic. I needed everything to sound real so I replaced all the stock sounds I had found on Logic. There were so many people involved and so many different versions, I wanted everyone to be happy with it.

What are your main musical influences?

Kari Faux: I really love Andre 3000 a lot. Like, the Love Below album. I heard it in maybe fifth grade, I was really young when I heard that album and I played it until my portable CD player broke. He wasn’t just a rapper: he’s like singing, talking about love, talking about being scared to love somebody, all these different things that you don’t hear rappers say, and it just kind of stuck with me for a long time to the day I still listen to that album, and I’m like I want to create that perfect album which is my Love Below.

I love Erykah Badu a lot. Growing up, my cousins and aunties would play that all the time, and when I got older and I was in college and kind of hating everything, I started listening to her a lot, her music definitely made me feel good about myself because she was very vulnerable and self-aware about her music and she’ll point out what people would consider her flaws I feel like if you can point out your flaws nobody can really hurt you because it’s like yeah, I already know that about me. “Clever” is one of my favourite songs.

And what has the support been like from your fanbase?

Kari Faux: The fanbase has been growing and their voices are cool. They like me for me, it’s not like I have to figure out what my aesthetic should be, or what’s going to make people care - I don’t have to think about those things. I can’t always tweet everybody back, then when people talk shit about me I just press retweet and I’m like yeah, go and get ‘em.

And you’re playing SXSW?

Kari Faux: Yeah, I’m excited about the shows and seeing my friends and stuff that I haven’t seen in a while. I love performing, like I’ve always felt like a performer long before I even was one. I call SXSW rapper’s spring break, so you can see all your friends that you haven’t seen all year long and everybody just comes together. I want to see Lil Yachty, Kamaiyah from Oakland, and I really want to see Cousin Stizz

What else is next?

I’m working on a mixtape for the summer. I have other things that I’m trying to do outside of music, let’s just say I like sketch comedy as well, but I’ll just let that happen when it happens. I won’t necessarily put a time stamp on it though. I just wanna tour and do tour support for someone cool.

Lost En Los Angeles is out 8 April, and is available to pre-order here