400 miles away, chilling in a bedroom somewhere in the heart of Frankfurt is rapper Kelvyn Colt and his younger brother. When asked to describe himself, he hands the phone over to his brother for a second opinion. Pausing his Nintendo Switch game, Kelvyn’s sibling thinks carefully for a moment and shares: “He is very giving, but he’s always stressed because of work - always focused on work. He’s a very loving person: he takes care of others and always puts his family first”. The sincerity in his response travels down the phone line and zips through the air to London in a way only an unshakeable family bond can do.
The 25-year-old artist from Wiesbaden, a small town in Germany, left a mark on 2018 with six singles and his sophomore EP Mind of Colt, Pt.1 at the end of the year after he released his debut album LH914 only a year before. Kelvyn is not slowing down; he is building momentum, as evidenced by the five new singles he has already dropped this year, including his latest release Savage. This new track is accompanied by a gorgeously shot music video in Havana, written and directed by the bilingual rapper himself, and has inspired a collaboration between Kelvyn and Havana Club to create his very own limited-edition bottle.
Kelvyn’s silky skin is highlighted in every frame photographer Dovile Sermokas shoots as troubled clouds quickly interrupt and invade the pristine cobalt sky. Stylist Lisa Filippini layers him in clothes upon clothes but refuses to hide the stunning symmetry of his face or the kindness in his deep brown eyes. With all the craziness and excitement going on around him, Kelvyn takes a week off to visit his family in calm south-west Germany when we speak to him. With muted anime playing in the background, the rapper dives into conversation with us about everything from music and masculinity to mental health and deep fakes. Soon after, he returns to his bustling life based between the cities of London and Berlin to continue his work, including a project with Louis Vuitton, a capsule collection with Reebok, and some new tracks with international talent. Kelvyn Colt’s velocity is accelerating rapidly; who can afford not to pay attention?
Who is Kelvyn?
I don’t know how simple that is to answer. I’m a musician, first and foremost, but I create - not just in music. You know what? I bring people together. That’s what I do. I bring people together through my music. For example, if you’re somebody who likes my music and comes to the shows, you meet other people, and the chances are very high that they’re likeminded. On the digital space, we do things to connect people. A friend of mine, designer Mona Thomas, I’m helping to connect her with other artists. It’s just all about connecting people, and music happens to be the vehicle that I can reach the most people and connect the most people.
What makes you happy?
To a certain extent, if I could make other people happy without completely getting lost in myself. Good food, I love good food. I’m a schnitzel connoisseur! I love anime. I love things that challenge my mind. It’s not very easy to stimulate my brain. I like to read. I’m very curious, and I enjoy gathering new knowledge, picking people’s brain, and discovering new things. I love details. For example, I love anime and appreciate the beautiful cinematography with a lot of attention to detail. Anything that keeps my mind occupied makes me happy.
Do you think those things help you create music?
Yeah definitely, because I find inspiration in them. When I create music, I don’t just think, ‘okay, I want to make a song’. I create a soundtrack to something and I’m not even sure yet what it is. Then I’m already thinking about the video concept, the styling of it, the shots, the lights, the mood, the concert and how it can be performed, and all the productional aspects. It’s expressing myself. Music is the key element of it, but everything else is still going on around it.
How did you get into music?
I was always writing poems when I was younger. It helped me develop a love and appreciation of words. Finding different ways to express something - to express feelings, emotions, memories, and ideas. I started rapping when I was around 14. I was listening to a lot of Kid Cudi, Kanye, and Eminem, but also a lot of old East Coast hip hop like Gang Starr and stuff like that. The music of Kid Cudi, Kanye, and Eminem helped me when I was depressive and dealing with a lot of things. I said to myself that I want my music to one day help people the same way their music helped me. That’s how I got really serious about making music.
Being born in Germany, how do you think this environment has shaped your music?
How it shaped me was that my musical education took place at home, in terms of the music my father or the people around me were listening to, who are mainly Nigerian or American. That was the sort of music I was listening to - a lot of old Motown, old hip hop music, reggae, and also almost folk music like Tracy Chapman. My classmates would listen to German hip hop and EDM music, which I wasn't really into, so I spent a lot of time alone and on the internet, just finding new music. I was downloading mixed tapes and consuming as much music as I could find. Through the internet, I found more likeminded people in my area who I started making music with from my garage.
Your lyrics tend to be in English rather than German, why is that?
I grew up bilingual and was speaking as much English as German. All the music I consumed was in English, and a lot of poems I was writing when I was younger were in English. So, to me, it was never a question of who do I want to grab or create music for or do I express myself in German or English? It was always in English. English is more universal, and you reach more people but that wasn’t necessarily the reason.
Is there anything you would change about the music industry?
The better question is: what wouldn’t I change? Because there’s so much to change. I think one of the key things is, I wouldn’t make numbers public anymore, so artists and the teams around them don’t feel the pressure to perform on the numbers side, other than performing for themselves. Another thing is, I would make it mandatory that if you reach a certain level or sign a major record deal, you get some form of training and schooling on finances and a bit of contract law, so you know what you’re doing. We’re not sending soldiers to war without training. It feels like every profession you do, you’re required to have some form of basic knowledge, and I feel like a lot of people don’t have that in the music industry and that’s why so many artists get fucked over all the time. That’s definitely something. And obviously, the whole sexism and pressure that any kind of minority faces. I count women into that as well, because if I look backstage at festivals and so on, there’s hardly ever any females on the business side, for example. I think it’s as difficult for people with different sexuality too - the list goes on. I would make everything a bit more transparent and fairer opportunities.
What are you experiences with traditional notions of masculinity within the music industry?
I guess it’s as much in the music industry as it is everywhere else in the world. I think the issue with the music industry we have, is you can exercise your macho tendencies or whatever negative traits you have even more because you have more power and lines are more blurred. Especially within hip hop, if you don’t fit a certain narrative, you’re very easily not part of the cool clique anymore and then all of a sudden, you become irrelevant or you become a joke. I guess that can be very tough on people if they think they need to be part of the mainstream conversation. Based on my life experience, I’ve always been a lone wolf with the crew that I’ve built around me, and that’s how my team navigate and how we run. So, on a personal level, I don’t encounter it as much, but my manager Lina for example - she’s a woman and I see she deals with it all the time. Sometimes my dad travels with us as my security and people think he’s the manager. To them, it is such an impossible idea that a woman could be my manager. Even women would come and be like, ‘very nice to meet you’ to my dad, and I’d be like, ‘Nah that’s my security, that’s my dad, and this is my manager’. So, it’s as much in the music industry as anywhere else in the world, but here people can exercise it even more. But I think artists like myself and my amazing team are here to change that.
Your debut EP is named LH914 after your flight to London to study business and focus on your music career. Can you tell me why that flight is so significant?
Because it was a big step at the time. I had no money in Germany and I had dropped out of a scholarship at a law school programme over here at a very prestigious university. I said to myself: ‘if I’m going to be broke, I might as well be broke in a different country where I have more opportunities for the music I want to do’. I knew nobody over there. I have a few family members and family friends in London, but other than that I had no money, I knew nobody. It was like starting from scratch. At the time it was a scary move but at the same time, it was a very important move. In retrospect, it was probably one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.
What pushed you to make that decision?
Because I felt people weren’t taking me seriously over here because I was rapping in a different language. Germans have that thing where unless somebody else from the outside says it’s cool, they’re not going to champion it. It was only when I started doing shows in London and doing stuff in the UK that Germany all of a sudden was like: ‘how come we don’t know about this kid but he’s German and he’s doing stuff in the UK?’. It’s really interesting - when you do something and come from a certain environment, your community will in most cases only start championing you once another community says what you do is cool. Then your community’s like, ‘yeah, yeah, yeah - I knew him from way back’ and I was like, ‘Nah you don’t’. There are a lot of people who think they’re cool when they act like they don’t care but that is to me, the un-coolest thing. The coolest thing, in my opinion, is if you care when or before anybody else cares.
You have a lot of support in the UK and now you’ve got it back home as well, how does that feel?
Yeah, it’s cool. I also have my community in Paris and some people in LA. The other day we played a show in Prague with 300 people and it was on a boat - it was super dope! Every time the mosh pit was going on, it was jumping and you could feel it if you were standing somewhere because the boat would tilt and it was crazy. We’re planning a show in Moscow for early next year, and in China with a small tour. It’s very beautiful to see that it doesn’t matter where I go, I have people there who love and support what I do because it gives something to them and adds value to their lives. It’s an amazing feeling, thinking back to when I was 16 and feeling like I’m alone and I want to die. Now to see that what helped me, is helping other people, and they’re giving me the love back. That’s the craziest feeling ever.
You performed on a boat, but you also did a live performance on an aeroplane over the Atlantic Ocean. How did that come about?
That was because the flight that I had back then was a Lufthansa flight and Lufthansa was aware of that. They were looking for a way to collaborate with me and the team started talking and for the first time they had for a direct flight from Frankfurt to Austin for South by Southwest. They said, ‘why don’t we have a performance on an aeroplane?’, I said, ‘hell yeah, let’s get it!’. The passengers had no idea I was going to rap mid-flight and it was cool because everyone on the plane could live stream the performance. It was insane. That’s sparked the desire in me to perform in unusual places. We had the aeroplane, we had a boat, the next step is all sorts of other forms of transport: trains, buses, and hopefully one day SpaceX or something: “commercial flight to the moon – some live entertainment by Kelvyn Colt”. I would love to perform on a submarine or a big boat like an aircraft carrier or in a massive cargo ship. That would be insane.
Can you describe what it feels like for you when you’re performing?
It doesn’t make a difference in the energy when I perform if it’s five, 5000, or 50,000 people. It’s always the same feeling for me. I want to you give you my all at that point because I feel like you could’ve been anywhere right now. You could be at home watching Netflix, you could be at somebody else’s concert, you could’ve been getting high or wasted somewhere else, but you chose to come to this room. You chose to be here, listen to me, and watch me perform. Therefore, I need to give my best to get close to the feeling you get of orgasm because you could’ve done that instead. I really appreciate people’s time and attention, it’s the best feeling in the world! It’s not just the shows, it’s not just me running around rapping and singing - I also talk a lot. We laugh together, we cry together, we jump around together. It’s like a ceremony, and this is where I feel music comes from.
You’ve recently received a lot of success including VEVO DSCVR ARTIST for 2019, YouTube Artist to Watch for 2019, and a sold-out European Debut Headline Tour in 2018 and early 2019. How does that feel?
The accolades you get from third parties are always great, and being included on those sorts of lists are amazing - I think we have the Forbes list coming out next month where I’m Forbes 30 under 30 - but it’s going on tour and getting to know the people, what you do, and what the music does for them that’s the most rewarding thing. Somebody might tell you: ‘I didn’t commit suicide because of your music’ or ‘you encouraged me to pull through with my university and graduate’ – that’s a message I received this morning on Twitter and I’m like wow! The words I say have so much power that I can positively impact somebody else’s life. That goes beyond any list. For a long time, the media and all these outlets didn’t care for me because they didn’t believe what I was doing was relevant or realistic, and now because I have a strong following, they’re like, ‘oh, okay, he’s relevant now’. If I make a list or not, it doesn’t bother me too much. But I’m very grateful for it because there are people there who could’ve chosen anybody in the world to put into that list and they chose me, and my team essentially – obviously, because it’s not just me working on it. That is always nice to hear – to get some recognition.
You also created an interactive billboard campaign. Why do you think it was so successful?
Because usually when you look at billboards with ads, somebody is selling something to you - it’s a one-way form of communication. We turned that billboard into a dialogue. Everybody loves to talk, especially about themselves. These days a lot of people feel like nobody listens when they talk, especially when our generation voices their fears and their dreams. The billboard encouraged them to communicate. It was a great chance to give a voice to a lot of people who usually don’t have a voice or get listened to, or whose parents would tell them ‘fuck you dream’ or ‘do something realistic, do something safe’. Now they have a big public platform where they can say ‘no, I want to be a football player’ or ‘I just want to be happy’ or whatever their dream is.
Your latest EP Mind of Colt Pt.1 is very open about mental health. How do you think music can contribute to the discussion around mental health?
I think it’s one of the best ways to communicate about the topic because music hits you on a very different level. Lyrics are a part of it, but music goes beyond your language capabilities. That’s why people who don’t speak Spanish listen to Spanish music and whatnot. It is the vibrations in music. The different frequencies affect our bodies in different ways and it can be therapeutic. Some people have anxiety disorders or mental handicaps and they listen to whale sounds to put them in a meditative state to calm them, for example. Not only can you raise awareness of the topic by speaking about it, but you can do something for somebody or their body. Music can be a key player in that. Music is what saved me.
You mentioned earlier about fans messaging you thanking you for helping them with your music, who do you make music for?
I don’t necessarily sit there and say: ‘I want to make music for dreamers who think that they can’t achieve their dreams or for depressive people or teenagers or whatever’. I just create music. And me being aware of what’s going on in the world and people, is what makes my music resonate with people. If you come to my shows, you have everything there; you have mothers and fathers coming with their kids, you have the teeny girls in the first row shouting around, you have the hipsters and fashion editors and other artists. It’s a very, very broad mix which makes me happy because it means my music reaches more people than the people who I would think of in the first place who listen to hip hop music and that’s cool because I don’t want to limit myself.
Why do you think talking about mental health is important?
On the one hand, it was a very taboo topic in our society for a very long time because people would get ridiculed for it. Nowadays the discussion is a lot more public, it’s a lot bigger. Why is it important to speak about it? Because we all experience it. We all go through it, so I want to make sure nobody feels that they’re alone - their idols have experienced it. That’s why we have celebrities and people we would consider happy taking their own lives.
What do you think we can achieve by talking about mental health?
We can raise awareness of it and make people aware that other people are going through this and make them a bit more sensitive towards potential signs. On the other hand, for those who are experiencing it, make them know you are not alone with it. Other people have gone through it - people like myself, that they may look up to and let them know that it’s a phase. Even if it’s a 10-year phase, it is a phase. You can get over it. You can get through it just like I did, and just as other people did. You just have to keep fighting, and it’s important that you speak to people about it.
What kind of impact do you think the Internet has on our generation and the kids of today?
That’s a very big one! Again, the numbers – I think they put a lot of people under pressure because they feel like they have to perform. They feel like they have to have followers, they need to have likes and comments, otherwise, their social currency is not high enough and they start feeling irrelevant. Because all of a sudden, the cool kids are not just in your school. The cool kids are seen everywhere, and you want to be part of the cool kids. If you don’t have a blue tick, if your feed doesn’t look organised, if your ass is not big enough, if your car is not nice enough, you feel like you’re not part of the cool clique anymore. However, it sort of simulates that we are all connected but we’re more alone than ever before.
If we look at it statistically, everything is at an all-time high. There’s a great book about it by Nir Eyal called Hooked, where he describes how the majority of the platforms and applications we use are designed to make us addicted to them - to trigger endorphins coming out when we use them and so on. It is a form of manipulation, and I feel our society hasn’t adapted yet to the speed of technology advancing. If you look at Moore’s law and how exponentially the speed and power of technology are growing, as a society, we haven’t kept up with it. However, on the positive side of things, we connect. The majority of my fans - of my community - have probably discovered me on social media. A lot of the artists and designers, and people that I know or that I’m working with and I’m very good friends with, I met on social media. I think the key here is to use social media the way it is intended to, which is to communicate and share things that add value to people’s lives. Don’t misuse it to give you something that you’re lacking in your life because then the platform will end up using you and the device.
As a society, are we using technologies correctly?
We’re definitely misusing them, and more importantly, they’re misusing us. There’s not enough regulation around it, and I’m all for freedom of speech and being anonymous on the net and all these sorts of things, however, how should I word this correctly? Social media has a real impact on our lives, for example, in elections. A lot of people were denying that, and then you had Brexit and Trump. Now you have all the right-wing parties back in the EU parliament and so on. That is the result of them utilising these platforms to manipulate us. Especially people that are not that tech-savvy, who go on Facebook and see a video of two hooligan groups in Russia fighting but they will label it ‘migrants attacking British people’ or whatever. That’s what I mean by regulation. People are not held accountable enough. A great example of that was that video that was out recently where they used some form of AI to manipulate what a politician was saying in her video, and it was circulating. Facebook said that they wouldn’t take it down, even though she said ‘I never said that’ and they showed the original footage. Then a digital artist got together with an ad agency to create a similar video of Mark Zuckerberg, and that video then manipulated his words, and Facebook took down that video.
I think they’re called ‘deep fakes’.
Yeah! That’s what I mean with who’s holding them accountable? They’re doing things at random, and considering the power they have - some of these companies have a greater turnover in terms of GDP than Austria has as a country annually, so who is holding them accountable? If you think about a lot of these people who are putting together the guidelines and writing the code, they’re not necessarily the most skilled people on a social level. If you make it active with real-life humans, and you think about it, they are sort of setting the foundations of our communication as a species – people who can’t communicate in real life. That is such a paradox. It’s a conscious decision that we make to use these platforms but how are you going to navigate society without using them?
What do you do on your days off?
If I ever have a day off! Right now, I’m just chilling in bed watching anime. My brother is laying here as well, playing Nintendo Switch, and we just hang out. We went to the museum the day before – the Natural History Museum in Frankfurt. We just relax the brain. Go out in nature and hang out with the dogs.
How do you envision your future?
If we’re talking about the future that’s far away - like when I retire, I see myself owning a very big piece of land and I’ll have a farm and probably be working with some local farmers somewhere in Africa. Maybe back in Nigeria or on an island. It would be completely independent with solar energy and producing its food and all that sort of stuff. It would also be a retreat for creators to go there and create music and maybe it would have an orphanage there as well, and just do something for the community. I’d like to give back to the world.