Citizen Kay might be taking over Aussie hip hop at the moment, but the Canberra local is adamant that he is only one member of a hungry generation of artists who pushing the country’s relatively new presence on the hip hop scene into the international spotlight. Having just released a new single – These Kicks featuring another Canberra local Georgia B. – Kojo Ansah is not planning on slowing down. With whispers of a new album for the end of the year, we can only expect great things. LunchBox sat down to chat through signing with Illy’s label ONETWO, representing his Ghanaian heritage and what it feels like when it all goes to shit on stage.
It’s always exciting when a great artist gets propelled into a new arena, and for Ansah, being signed to artist-run label ONETWO was just this. While it can be a daunting process, Ansah was clear that he knows the decision is the right one for him. “First and foremost it felt really organic, which is something that I’m told didn’t particularly happen in the industry. I was one of [Illy’s] support acts for the tour he did last year and through that, meeting his team and meeting him, that’s how everything started out,” Ansah explains. “Then once things started getting more solid, they were just super keen on me doing me and there was no ‘We want access to the songs’ or ‘We want to change anything’ and that creative freedom is the most important aspect of this all to me.”
If the last year or so has shown us anything, hip hop is the spot to watch for explosive and important acts. Think Tkay Maidza, Sampa The Great, Ivan Ooze and B Wise, with Citizen Kay in the mix, this new generation of artists is showing the world exactly what Australia is capable of. “Right now everyone is going super ham because we fee like we’ve got something to prove,” he muses. “Being from Canberra, I feel like I have something to prove for Canberra, because it’s not somewhere that people usually view as a music spot. And Australia as a whole, especially in the hip hop world, we have to prove something to the rest of the world, the States and the UK. Everyone is really hungry right now… but at the same time, it’s not like everyone is at each other’s throats trying to beat each other. We are a community, everyone is down to support each other and always down to see what everyone else is doing. It’s a friendly competition.”
Within the hip hop scene there is the propensity for being boxed in by your story. For Ansah, his Ghanaian heritage seems to jump to the front of everyone’s minds, and while there’s no denying that his journey has shaped him, the intent behind his work has a larger scope. “With my last album [2015’s ARIA nominated LP With The People] yes, I wanted to tell that story, because that’s who I am and who I’m becoming. It’s just there in the background, it’s not something that I have to think about – it’s just there.
“It’s not something I feel like I need to be talking more about and speaking to directly. With my new stuff I do reference the trip I made back to Ghana… That’s what the music is about, being an artist or a musician, going off your experiences and how you view the world. And so I think I’m going to always be influenced by my background being Ghanaian. It’s always going to be floating around in the essence of what I do.
“Getting into this wasn’t me thinking that I needed to overcome something because of where I’m from; it was more so seeing other people. For example, my older cousin [Miracle], he was signed to Sony when he was 17. Seeing someone from the same background as me doing it, that was inspiration in itself. The more people you see do it, the more other people can think they can. And this attitude extends further to where I’ve seen such a growth in female rappers and female artists, and I think that has a lot to do with seeing people like Sampa and Tkay up there and local girls, Coda Conduct… It only takes a few people to make everyone go: ‘Wait if they can do it, I can do it’, which is exactly what happened to me. It’s so inspiring to hear people say ‘I saw your show and that’s why I’m doing this as well.'”
It seems that the conventional model for releasing music seems to have slipped right by Ansah. “I’ve been hiding away writing my arse off, which has been so good, but These Kicks is just the first of a few tracks – there are a fair few tracks that I have been writing over the past two years. For me it’s not a bold statement coming out with an album, that’s just what I felt like I needed to do. You could put a couple of EPs out, but for me if I have a body of work that I’m really confident with, why not go all out?”
With a focus on quality and his love of touring, a live set from Citizen Kay is filled with idiosyncrasies. While he might not get as nervous as he did in the early days, the down to earth artist says that making mistakes is what it’s all about. “Nerves would come in the sense of ‘Oh, am I going to forget my lyrics?’ I’ve realised now that it’s going to happen, and more likely than not something is going to go wrong. The more shows you do the more you accept that. The more shit goes wrong, you just fix it and keep doing what you’re doing. I think that comes with the more shows you do. Even with the last one in Perth, we had technical issues and in the middle of the new track, it all cut out. Two years ago I would have freaked out but I was just like ‘Yo, let me fix this’, went and fixed it and just went out even harder.”
And that’s what Ansah seems to be about – expressing his truth without taking himself too seriously. “I love to see when people can let go and be themselves and have fun, seeing them get really intimate and emotional. Not being afraid to express what they want to express.” Expect to see Citizen Kay move faster than ever, going turbo for the sake of Australian music, hip hop and Canberra, his music is that which we should be proud to call our own.
17 June, ANU Bar