Interview: Khori⁴

Khori⁴ is a dynamic and versatile artist and if you don’t know him yet, get familiar here. He’s lyrical, has great musicality, many different flows and makes excellent songs. I’ve been a fan since I first heard him on a couple tracks with Hurt Everybody. My son, producer Noah Sims and I met up with Khori⁴ at Lou Malnati’s for pizza and conversation. He’s a warm and sincere person, but also serious and soft spoken. He’s got a lot to say and does it most naturally over a good beat. Khori⁴grew up in St. Louis and still spends about half of his time there. He became passionate about rapping around the age of 12 largely because of Nelly’s Country Grammar. Khori⁴ makes all his music here in Chicago, where one of his first contacts was Alex Cruz at The Jungle Audio Engineering. Cruz was offering a good price on recording sessions and it’s been a home away from home ever since. Khori⁴ records and engineers his own music at The Jungle where he also works as an engineer. He’s the vocalist in a hip hop rock band called Lovers and Killers who have recorded tracks with DMC. He’s played in London and was on an MTV reality show and both of those happened in just over a week during the summer of 2013.

Khori⁴ is getting everything lined up to drop his Paradox EP at the end of the year. The Smoking Section just premiered his video single from Paradox titled “Used To It” with Hurt Everybody’s Supa Bwe. It’s directed by Austin Veseley who recently won a MTV Woodie Award for Best Video for Chance’s “Everybody’s Somebody’s Everything.” Eden Colley produced the track. Khori⁴ said Austin got an idea from an old French film and that the video is “simple but real intricate.”

What’s your approach to releasing music?
I try not to just throw things out because I have a plan. This song “Used To It”, we made that at the beginning of the year but we had’t released it, if we would have, it would have done some numbers. Holding on to certain tracks like that, getting Austin to shoot the video and then releasing it in a more major way. There are certain records that I feel can generate money or a big following, I want to put those out strategically. I wanted to premiere that one in a big way. PR can help, but people have to like the music, you can throw money into it, but people have to like the music is what it comes down to.

I’ve also got someone I work with in the UK. I did a show there with Brenda Edwards, she was the runner up on X factor. Her son Jamal Edwards, is like the Russell Simmons of the UK. I think he got an $11,000,000 deal with Sony. I’m working with a guy Tony Fennel, he does a lot of TV and jingles. I ended up featuring on Brenda’s record, it’s a song produced by Mark Ronson called “Man Enough.” I went out there and it was crazy. It was dope. It wasn’t really my crowd – she’s a soul singer, but it was fun! I got to see London for the first time and got entertained. London was an important show, it wasn’t my biggest but it was Brenda Edwards’ listening party so there were dignitaries, actors and news people. She invited top celebrities and they treated me like I was Kanye or something, being American and a rapper, it was crazy. (laughs) We played The Freedom Bar in Soho.

How’d you get into engineering?
Well back in St. Louis I was paying about $65 an hour to record and it got too expensive. I ended up doing a reality show with DMC of Run DMC and I got a little money from that. That’s when I invested in my own equipment. I just started talking to engineers to learn a little bit and kept going from there.

What was the show with DMC?
It was in 2011 and it was a reality show. It was supposed to be a hip hop competition and 10 artists came and we made songs. Whoever made the best song was gonna move forward. They ended up keeping everybody and it was supposed to be on BET but somebody started playing with money. Then BET said there were too many artists so they narrowed it down to me and 2 others. By that time the investors were gone. I’ve had some fun, wish I could relive some of the moments. I was in London on a buddy pass and ended up stuck there, so everybody’s trying to do nice things. I flew to Amsterdam and got stuck there for a week. It was a whole experience.

How did the MTV reality show thing happen?
Soon as I got back from London this girl that I record hit me up and she was like can I book some time and have MTV come through for a reality show? I did a little interview and they wanted me to come back and they threw me in the midst of the show. It was crazy! They threw me in this relationship show and she was doing music and her boyfriend was from a different state and they were trying to see if they would stay together and they threw me in the middle and tried to make it seem like she was messing around with me. Same week I got back from London I was on MTV.

What’s your writing process? Beat first or a topic that inspires you?
Mainly I get the beat, I vibe to the beat, lately then I just start mumbling a few words to start. Then usually my songs start off with that as an intro saying and from there I come off the head with everything else and just piece it together. It’ll usually form into the full scope and the topic and everything else comes around it. It’s kind of weird, I don’t write, haven’t in a couple years. I put it together in my head and basically let the beat tell me what to do.

How about topics?
Sometimes I struggle with topics. That’s why I’m real picky with beat production. If it’s a good beat, it’ll have the full scope of everything in it already, I eventually want to get into beat making myself so I’ll have full control over what I’m creating otherwise I’m going off what the producer makes and I try to fully blend myself to what they are doing. I make my lyrics and vocals another instrument and it’s a full collaboration. So I’m fully inspired by the beat – topic wise I try to be creative, I’ll start off with one topic and eventually it’ll turn and loop and come around. I wouldn’t say it’s freestyle or just go in there and say whatever, but since I’m in the studio I have the time. I can just build off my head and go in the booth, have it end up being raw instead of me reading.

Any go to producers?
Eden Colley & Bill C Da Don, I’ve been working with them for about 7 years. Eden produced “Used To It”, and Bill’s got a few on Paradox. Eden is one of the dopest producers, people don’t see him but he’s dope. Bill’s doing well, he raps too. He’s on tour now with Ab Soul and Schoolboy Q.

What are your 5 favorite rap albums?
Lupe Fiasco – The Cool
Nelly – Country Grammar
Eminem – Marshall Mathers LP
Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid Mad City
Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

What was it like when Nelly got really big in St. Louis?
Man when that happened – cause my grandfather was his coach, they had this team called the Souljas in softball, so I was always around them and I didn’t even know they rapped. When the video came out everybody was in it, I saw all these people I knew, I knew all those guys! I’d been dibbling and dabbling with it, so when he actually blew up it just made me feel like if this happened in St. Louis, I can do this too. When he came out he just went so strong! He came out with Country Grammar, then Nellyville, kept going, then commercials. It was real big in St. Louis.

Anything you’d tell young artists to prepare for a session?
Rehearse it, then deliver and get it exactly how you want to hear it, like if it was your favorite artist, do it how you’d want them to. Commit to every inflection of voice, know what you’re doing to make it sound as natural as possible, make it come out dope as you can, That’s how I do it, I go in and record one line over and over until I get that line and every syllable to sound exactly how I want it.

“Khori has the tenacity that is necessary to compete in today’s music industry. His ability to do everything himself is what will set him apart from the rest of the competition. He is basically a one-man “Hurt Everybody”. -Supa Bwe

How did you connect with Hurt Everybody?
At The Jungle, we were all just there. I think the first song we did might have been “Used To It.” Me and Supa were doing shows together at Sub T. We knew each other a little but not really. Alex Cruz said y’all should do a song together, we were in the studio and I pulled up a beat, and we just did “Used To It”, and then “Wicker Park Girls” and started knocking out songs together. One night we did seven songs and all of them aren’t released yet.
Hurt Everybody is abstract and real dope, they’ve been doing some great things, I think Brother Tree was their first record together. I like doing music with Supa, he just does him – he completely does him and then I do me and it works together. On “Used To It” we’ve got 2 completely different beats in that one beat. It’s a rock style beat and then it switches up from my part and then what Supa does works.

How about your songs with Carl?
We just put music on and came up with “One Way Ticket” and did 3 other songs that night. It’s weird how they come up with their songs, they are so abstract. They think of a name and put on music. They make a beat and they don’t think of a topic together. Supa does his thing, then Qari does his thing and they put it together. In the songs I’ve done with them, I kind of play a linear role and tie things together in the song.

Your songs sound fully developed.
It’s how I always do my music, how I write songs. I find it hard to be abstract. All of my songs have an underlying meaning. It comes from somewhere, it’s just how I put my stuff together. The song “Who Are You,” I don’t even remember writing that down. I heard the beat, and I’m like, where did that come from? When I was making songs around the time of “Who Are You”, from that era, they were mainly for me. A lot of music I was writing was based off my experiences and stuff I was going through. I had a fan base, but now I’ve started making music to get to people, with Paradox I’m thinking about that. It’s still personal. If you listen to it, if you read the lyrics, you’ll know exactly everything I’ve been through this past year, every aspect of my life. It sounds good. There is a cohesive vibe to it that comes through. Underneath it all is the full story of my past year.

What does Paradox mean to you?
To me Paradox means the contradictions of everything, the world we live in, I see a lot of things in paradox, some of the stuff I talk about in certain songs is a paradox, the way I say things and what I stand for. Sometimes there’s sarcasm. I see paradoxes in everything.