“Being from Chicago shapes my sound because people don’t realize what they’re experiencing when they hear this album.”
The music industry is about perfect timing, an area of expertise for Chicago’s Kayo. At only 23 years old, it feels as if Kayo has already begun growing into his greatness.
I was introduced to Kayo’s discography last year with his vulnerable single, “Talk.” In 2023, he miraculously found a way to recapture the same magic with his debut album, “It Was Fun While It Lasted.” This is perfect timing because this is fresh off his viral “Life Of The Party” freestyle. Seeing him strike while the iron is hot is amazing because that’s what it is all about in this industry.
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to sit down with the talented Kayo and delve into his background and creative journey. During our conversation, we covered topics such as his childhood, his innovative approach to music-making, and the significance of the Chicago music scene in his life. It was truly a privilege to glimpse this rising star’s mind, so check out the full interview below and stream “It Was Fun While It Lasted.”
Congrats on the new release. On the day we were recording this, you just posted that you hit 10K streams. Big W. How are you feeling one week in?
It feels good. We are probably going to double that, if not triple, by next week. Because the momentum was picking up more toward the end of the week, those first couple of days were the highest, but it’s been picking up more these last few days. So yeah, I’m feeling good. I’m hopeful that this is going to be one of them ones, and it really takes off in the next couple of months.
Can you expand on the concept of “It Was Fun While It Lasted” and why you chose it for your debut album?
I wrote the album around a lot of mental things. A lot of upbringing. A lot of stories from my childhood and from my life. Whether it be traumatic stories or positive things, I got the title because it came to me one day. Whether something good or bad is happening, usually, the best response you can have to anything is, “it was fun while it lasted.” Not really dwelling on the negative and always looking to move forward. One thing I didn’t want to do was make a depressing album that had no resolve. So I feel like that second half of the album is the resolution once you pass “No Way Home.” It gives the idea that sh*t was bad. But everything was fun while it lasted. That concept was to go through life and start dark. But slowly resolve and show people that the other side is always better than the initial upset.
We recently discovered that Elijah LeFlore is your sibling. He’s also a talented artist who has been highlighted on Swidlife. Could you share more about your upbringing? Were you both raised in a musical family?
Not so much musically. We were musical. We both got put in violin at a young age. [Elijah LeFlore] was in one of the highest classes that you could be in. I was in violin class for some time, but I was self-taught for the most part. From there, I always had the initiative to take it further. So I ended up self-teaching myself more than I learned in class. The family wasn’t musical per se. But we did have a lot of writers in our family. My mom is a writer. She writes books and poetry. My dad is a writer as well. My uncle and cousin were both rappers. Our family had a lot of writers and spoken word performers. A lot of them were really shifty and creative with their words. Our upbringing was surrounded by great music and being surrounded by classics. We don’t have old parents, but we have parents who stopped listening to music in the early 2000s. So we were on Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Billy Joel, and sh*t like that. It gave us the balance needed to make us what we are today.
How does the brother dynamic play into making music together? Because it was very dope to see you featured him on two tracks on this project.
It’s actually weird. I’m not going to lie to you. We’re close, but we’re not close in a “showy” sense. I’m not the person to call and say, “yo bro, I need you on this project” I’m not like that. And he’s not like that. It’s almost like reluctant love. Like you’re going to look out, but you don’t want to make it obvious that’s your big bro or little bro. It’s more like you send a song and say, “yo, hop on this.” It’s weird. We definitely don’t just be cooking up together. But it’s like you will always look out for the other. We don’t have that much competition because we work in different genres. There’s no sibling rivalry.
It’s more like y’all in the same room, just in two different corners, and can easily turn around and help the other if needed.
Exactly, that’s the best way to put it.
With this being your debut album, did that add more pressure while making it?
What’s crazy is it didn’t. I felt the pressure the week before dropping. And the reason being is nobody knew we were working on this album. I tell my brother all the time. The best part about making wack music is nobody knows because the sh*t was bad. So it goes nowhere. So I wasn’t dropping wack music. I was dropping music. But the logic itself still stands. Nobody knows who you are, so there is no pressure. So if it’s bad, nobody will ever know. I was smooth. I was cooling and sh*t. I felt no pressure until “The Life of The Party” freestyle went crazy. At that point, n*ggas asked for a project, not knowing we were about to announce one. Then I announced the release party, on some Ye sh*t, by announcing the release party before even announcing the album. And that sh*t sold out immediately. In 24 hours, we were 3/4 to capacity. That was one of those moments where I was like, “oh sh*t! The entire city of Chicago is banking on me. Now I got to go hard.” That’s when the pressure hit. But while making the album, we were cooling, like I was literally laid back in sessions—no type of pressure whatsoever.
Do you plan to keep this same approach with future projects, or would you instead build anticipation in the future?
For future projects, those will be different. Just because now, people are expecting a lot. The current reception for this project has been incredible. But it’s been one of those things that adds pressure. Because now n*ggas are expecting to come even harder the next time. We are at a disadvantage as independent artists. Because we have to be more consistent, too. I damn near got to get back to work—like now. With the next one, we will build anticipation, and I will have to do little tricks to make it bigger than this one because it has to be more significant. But I can be cool and announce this one, and it just happens to go crazy and do 10K the first week. But with the next one, I can’t even play like that. Because you’ll look insane if the next one drops, and not only is it not as good, but it does 5K the first week. You have to do little tricks, so at the very least, it’s bigger.
I’ve always felt you had a very versatile yet unique rapping ability. Who are a couple of your top musical influences?
I got the regular ones. Jay-Z in terms of my rapping ability. Jay-Z, all the way. I’m, of course, a child of Kanye West, creatively. I’ll throw Stevie Wonder in there. Just sonically, his textures. A dream that my brother and I share is to have him featured. I wouldn’t even have him on no singing sh*t, but playing instruments—his ability to find certain pockets and certain textures and sounds. So Stevie, Ye, Hov, and that’s it. Like I could go down a list of people that inspire me—oh, Frank Ocean for sure! Heavy on Frank Ocean.
How do you feel being from Chicago has affected your sound?
Not going to lie; I think Chicago has one of the most unique sounds in the entire world. People don’t realize our sound because our sh*t is taken so often. We have one of those ever-evolving sounds. So when we do some sh*t, it becomes “that thing.” I could be tweaking with timelines, but a lot of the current stuff, like Lil Uzi’s “I Wanna Rock,” is Jersey sh*t. But also, by that same token, Chicago has million-in-one songs like that. Even going back to “house” or “juke music,” we have always been ahead of the curve. Or, at the very least, with it. Being from Chicago shapes my sound because people don’t realize what they’re experiencing when they hear this album. They’re probably like, “damn, this sounds refreshing,” or “this sh*t sounds good.” But you are hearing a sound that nine times out of ten will be the wave within a couple of months. We are always just a few months ahead of sh*t or sometimes a few years ahead of sh*t, even down to Chance The Rapper and “Acid Rap.” We always are ahead of sh*t. So being from Chicago, of course, there’s pressure.
Since it’s so early in the year, what else can fans look forward to in 2023?
So much more, bro. We got merch, and it’s insane, like absolutely insane. We got visuals. I actually got to get on a visual call right after I get off the phone with you. We got crazy visuals coming—a lot of shows. I’m trying to do damn near a hundred shows this year. So shows, merch, and visuals. More music, absolutely, within the next few months. And another project.