Krizz Kaliko Opens Up About His New Album ‘Go,’ Mental Illness and Travis Scott’s Music
It’s been almost eight years since Krizz Kaliko dropped his first album, Vitiligo, and made a name for himself in the hip-hop underground. That LP featured Krizz using his rapid-fire flow to sprint across head-nodding tracks as he exorcised his personal demons -- a few of which were brought on by his experiences growing up with the skin disease, vitiligo. Now, years later and showcasing a musical growth, he continues his personal exorcism with his newest and most musically dynamic album, GO. Laced with funk, pop, soul and hip-hop, the majority of the new project finds Krizz abandoning his typically ferocious flow in order to showcase the smooth vocals that make him one of the rap game’s best duel threats.
GO is more of gospel-tinged funk project than it is a rap album. It’s a tour de force of musical ingenuity featuring bits and pieces of Krizz’s typical bars mixed in with appearances from Strange Music co-founder Tech N9ne and Strange Music all stars Wrekonize, Stevie Stone, CES Cru and JL B. Hood for good measure.
The new album has its fair share of bars, but make no mistake, it's pretty much a showcase for Krizz's awesome vocals. Longtime fans already know he's got some pipes, but even they might be surprised by the potency of his singing voice -- even if the talented rapper has actually been singing his whole life.
That’s just one of the things we learned when the Kansas City wordsmith sat down to chop it up with XXL. During the course of the interview, Krizz discusses his new album, his ongoing tour and the perils of unattended mental illness. Peep our conversation below.
XXL: How’s the tour going?
Kris Kaliko: It’s going good. This tour has been selling better than ever. I think we are just trying to constantly evolve so it’s going really good. Every show has been sold out almost. I think I want to say almost every night. Fans super pumped and the feedback I'm getting on my new album is helping to fuel it, because I'm getting nothing but good feedback.
Why do you feel like this tour is selling better than years past?
You know, it’s been awhile since we've done the US. We are able to get, where we'll wear them out. Every few months we were going back to these cities. So I think they are excited, they miss us. Tech had a new album out, I just dropped a new album. You know plus, this will be the first time that we do Strange Music, only Strange Music artists on a tour in a couple of years. So I get a chance to see myself and Ritz and of course Tech N9ne.
And we’re just pumped. I don’t know. I'd love to think my album is really helping us but we are getting tremendous feedback. And I was a little worried because I am primarily the singer for this one. And some of the stuff that are R&B and pop, so I don’t know how they are going to be receiving it. Our fans, you know, they'll tell their friend about us. They don’t want you to find it on the radio. They want to be like, I told my friends. Yeah, you know what I’m saying? So but they are receiving it really, really, well and they seem to be super pumped about it. By the time I get on stage, they are like crying.
Has there been a moment on tour so far that's more memorable than the rest?
Not yet, I mean we are in the seventh week in. So not really, it's like Groundhog Day. Boom, same day. Different city.
I know you're doing things differently because it's a new album, but what is the biggest difference for you in terms of what you're doing for this tour?
Well, we don’t have a band. Some weird things happened and we had to fire the band and I’m a band guy. So without the band, the thing about it is ¡Mayday!, they're kind of a band, they have a percussion and a bass guitar, so now I have them when it's my section of the show, because Tech N9ne and myself perform together. I have them come play behind me because I love the live sound and the music I'm doing on this new project really requires that.
This album, it's definitely refreshing and it's definitely different for you. Why?
Well, you know the good thing about my label and the good thing about us being independent is that we can do whatever we want. So we can experiment with music. And I’ve been doing that in every album, anyway. I said it in a song in the "Strange Music Box," I said I’m just playing with music, which I am.
Travis, who is our label head, was asking me to do an entire singing album for years. Because that’s what makes me stand out about everybody else that's on our label, it is that they have a label full of elite rappers that I was one of the elite rappers who actually can sing too. So I figured I’d try it and I would ask the fans every night on tour, "If I do an all singing album, are you all still going to buy this?" They were like "Yeah!" I’m like okay, and so far they have been doing it. And I’m really pleased. I was nervous about it. I was nervous about it cause I’m taking a chance doing types of sound, types of music that I haven’t done. And I’ve always kind of ran the gamut around the music genres in my albums. But think particular one I think I went.
I didn’t want them to think I was trying to go mainstream, even though a lot of my music sounds like it could fit the mainstream format, I was just making music that I liked and the byproduct of that is that it would probably work for mainstream radio.
There's a quote, you refer to yourself as an overweight dude with mental health issues. Is that correct?
Can you expand on that?
I think that everybody feels like this at some time or another. There’s millions and millions of people who feel like this at one time or another. The difference for me is not that I’m just crazier than anybody else or that I thought about suicide and nobody else did, it’s that I said it. People don’t talk about this in music. You know, I have noticed a lot of people talking about it lately. A lot of stars, Ronda Rousey with, I was just saying earlier today, Iggy Azalea, you know I hear them talking about it. How this life is getting to them and they are having suicidal thoughts.
And then when I talk about it, I did a song called "Stop the World" where I talk about that. That’s where I talk about it, stop the world, let me off of the world. It’s like, I want to die. And all of the comments, if you look at it, just a bunch of comments on there about [people writing] "I felt like this before when my mom died," "This happened when I lost a baby." Or you know, "I had PTSD from the war." All these people just tell me all these stories when they come to me at the meet and greets. Or at the merchandise booth after the show and they just are crying, you said what I never heard anybody say that.
They like the party songs and I got party songs as well. Half of the album is probably party songs, but people tend to gravitate towards my songs when I talk about mental health issues. Like I said, there’s millions of people that have them. I feel like I am brave enough to talk about it in my music and not be scared that people will be turned away. They will turn to it. They will identify with it and I feel like it’s going to create more hard core fans and more longevity for me.
Why do you think there's a stigma about talking about mental health issues?
In hip-hop everybody is rich and everybody’s got it together and balling and plenty of women and plenty of everything. Partying every night. I got plenty of women, I’ve got plenty of money. How are you going to have that much money from your first album. You have to recoup that money first! I don’t know, maybe I’m just keeping it too real. You know Tech N9ne calls me too real for TV. Because I speak my mind, so maybe I shouldn’t share that, but I probably won’t.
I think that people want to, it’s popular in hip-hop to look like you’ve got it all together and men, especially what I’ve noticed, Black men especially don’t want to look vulnerable. We don’t. We want to look like, well, if you run up on me, I'm gonna hit you with some of these hot ones and hollow shells and I can scrap. Of course that can happen, that can happen to me! But that’s not really my life. I’m not really about that life. I’m not really gangster. I’m a musician. I’m a real dude. I’ve got a real feelings, just like these dudes do, I just express my and I come off as a vulnerable person.
Which I think is okay. It’s okay. I don’t teach my sons not to cry. Dude, If there is a reason to cry, you cry. You get that out. And so I feel like I’m brave enough to talk about things that in hip hop, most dudes don't. And I’ve got booty-shaking songs. Songs where I’ve expressed that I’m making bread now. And stuff like that. But that’s just not, those songs, what I noticed, the people who are my fans or that even find out about me, they don’t attach to those songs. They attach to "Stop the World," "Hello Walls" and "Created a Monster." They attach to those songs. Songs about anxiety and bipolar and things like that, they are attached to those songs. I feel like I have a family member that feels like that. It’s more the real organic stuff that they want to hear from me.
The suicidal thoughts that you had, can you speak a little bit about what got you to that point?
Just life. Life in general. Just the traumatic things I've been through in my life, from my childhood, from being abused by my stepfather to being bullied and picked on because of my face and jumped in school. Just the ups and downs, even my relationships, this is my wife right here. Just going through what you go through. If you're in a relationship where you've been together, we've been together almost 20 years, you're gonna go up and down and you're gonna have these times -- even when when she was pregnant with my last son, it threw me into a depression because I didn't want to have another kid. I was like, I'm gonna be gone, I don't want to go through the infancy stage because men, we don't identify with the crying blob of skin you just feed. We don't identify with that.
We identify with more of a person. Then, I would feel guilty for all these feelings that I had about this. I had feelings of I just want to get up and walk out of here and walk away from my family when I know that's not the type of person that I am. So, I would feel horrible about that and it would plague me, that guilt would eat me up every day. So, along with everything else that went along in my life, and my career not being where I wanted it to be, plus, health issues that I had gone through and being on this medication or that medication for mental health stuff. I'm like, man there is no other escape, and you'll feel like that. But I say all the time, this is seasonal. It's seasonal. It doesn't stay forever. Even know - i'm going through stuff right now, but I know that it's temporary. And you also have to have that support system, you have to have someone who checks you.
This one here [his wife] checks me and I don't mean you better be home at 10 p.m., I mean check you like, "You're tripping and you need to understand that this is..." It's an encouraging check. Plus, I have the responsibility of saying these things in my music and helping the fans with that. I really do feel like I help the fans. I come from the church and church folks will say, you using that gift in the world! Especially coming from a Christian background. If you think about it, Jesus wasn't walking amongst other Christians, he was amongst the crooks and thieves, prostitutes and everything else. So I feel like I'm in this environment for a reason. I’m here to help people. That makes me feel responsible for them. I feel like there's no way I can leave this place, I feel responsible for my children. I lost my father at a young age, I feel like I was robbed, cheated out of having a father to grow up with. I lost him at 15.
I could never do that to my sons, they need their father. They love their daddy. I'm not a regular rock star daddy. I really do parent them, I'm really raising them. I make my time count when I'm home, I’m at little league basketball games. There's a program at my son's school, which is called The Watch Dogs where the dogs come in and help read. I can't do that all the time, I've only done it once. I really feel responsible for people, my family, my fans. I can't leave. It's not an option.
Are you familiar with Charles Hamilton? He's a rapper who in recent years, came out and he had manic depression. It was a public thing. But it was almost a backlash towards him and it really hurt his career. It's unfortunate, the way the fans, even though he was upfront about it, it kind of backfired for him. That shows sometimes, negative aspects, we as a society react, even when you try and come out and say, "This is what I'm going through," and only within the last year, now he's putting out great music. He's taking meds.
It's unfortunate he can't be real like that and not be well-received because I don’t know how to be anything but me, and I'm a pretty transparent person. I'm very outspoken, I'll say what I feel. I always say I got lightweight Turrets [syndrome] because it'll just come out. But I don't mind doing that because I don’t know how to be any other way. I have to be this guy because the experiences of my life have gotten me to this point, good or bad. And I've learned even though my mind does evil things to me, I've learned to appreciate the good and bad in my brain because they make me, me. They make me make that kind of music. So, I appreciate it. I'm gonna be this way.
What song do you think people might gravitate towards more?
It depends on what type of person you are and what mood you're in. People are like, I see messages on social media like, I like this one. And then they hit me the next day, nah, I like this one. Oh, you know what? I had a bad day today. On my way home from work I was playing "Stop the World." So it's like, it just depends on how they're feeling at the time. I feel that the radio is going to let people know who I am and then once they get my album, they'll gravitate towards the more serious songs I think but I think they gonna love - I don't have a favorite on there. I think they're gonna love "Talk up on It."
I think that's going to put them on to Krizz Kaliko. Then, I think when we come with another single, weather that be "Didn't Wanna Wake You"... I think that they'll love that too. To add a line that has a real '80s feel to it. There's just something about every song where they're like, that's not just me trying to market myself or boasting, I really do believe it.
When you were recording in the studio, any one of the songs, is there maybe a moment in the studio for one that you are like, this is it. This is that song, maybe more so than the rest of them?
I feel that way about "Talk Up on It" before I even recorded it. I had that beat in my head and I was walking through the mall and heard it. I heard it going like more of a house-sounding beat. I told Michael, who was my producer, about it like here's how the beats will go and he didn't get back to me and I was like eh, no. It needs to feel live. That guitar needs to feel real funk sounding. Then once we actually made it, I knew people were comparing it to -- even though I wasn't shooting for that -- I know people were comparing to Maroon 5 or Bruno Mars. I knew they'd compare it to that, just because it has that funky feeling. So I think people will gravitate to that first because that will be the first, if you don't know about Strange Music already, Krizz Kaliko, I think that'll be their first listen because we'll have that on the radio. Then once they dig a little deeper, they'll get to the rest.
The album title, Go, can you give a little background?
A couple of different meetings. The first name was God's Order. My producer said you should call it God's Order. I didn't put God's Order on the front because I didn't want people to think it was a gospel album, even though I really feel like it's God's Order for me to do that music. I'm supposed to be this guy. I'm supposed to sacrifice all of this, kind of torture ourselves, which is what we do. I'm speaking for all in entertainment, we're away from our wives and loved ones and our children and our everything to be out here in the public. We put our lives on display for everyone but this is - you wouldn't be here if you weren't supposed to be here, and that's God's order. That's why the name is that and everything we're doing there is just going forward, everything we're doing at Strange Music is just going forward.
We're not supposed to get to this age and keep going up. We're getting older, but we're getting younger at the same time and better and every year we're in the Forbes top earners, we're on the Forbes top earners for record labels, period. Every year we're selling hundreds of thousands of records without radio, we were doing that. Of course, XXL was one of the first to holla at us, to come to the compound and actually see what we do and actually show the world these dudes are really doing it without, kinda under the radar. We'll just continue to build and go forward and that's what I wanted to reiterate with my album title.
You mentioned the age thing, you're in your 40s. A lot of artists now coming up should learn from the mistakes of artists that came before them. Can you give some advice?
You do need to be an LLC. You as an entertainer are an entity. So you need to be in business. You need to form your business and I learned this actually from our CEO that runs the company. He tells me, "Hey, you gotta get your business in order and help me get this together so I can get publishing checks." Educate yourself about publishing. Know what you're supposed to be getting. Also, I hear people about they got a 360 deal. 360 has become a bad word, it's really not. You could have no deal at all. It's not really that bad, the label is going to look after you to get you out there. I just say take it all in stride and educate yourself so you know exactly what you should be getting because if not, you'll be doing this and you'll be famous and poor. Ain't nobody in it for that. People like, I'm in this for my heart and soul. Yes it's my heart and soul and I'm looking to get paid.
Did you see yourself getting to this point?
Yes. Always. I always saw myself. Jim Carrey said it years ago and I identified with it so much. Someone asked him, "Did you ever expect to do this?" He said, "Yes! Of course, I've been waiting for this moment my whole life." I concur completely. I've been singing, rapping, dancing since I was in the fourth grade, 8, 9 years old. My whole life, and I feel like not only did I expect to be here but people who grew up with me and saw me friends and family expected me to do something big too. I've always been kind of a popular dude in my city, skating or playing ball back in the day. Roller skating was real big, even just a few years ago. It's actually still popular there now.
You used to roller skate?
Oh yeah! Like, Roll Bounce. I probably would do it if I didn't tear my meniscus on stage because we're pretty rowdy on stage.
Can you skate backwards?
Oh yeah! Backwards, split and this was when I was 350 pounds too. I've always been somewhat of a ham, I always wanted to show off. I always had cars, back when it wasn't popular to have big wheels on your car. I had candy paint, always was a hot dog of a dude... I actually grew a big afro and dyed it blonde. Like, hey! Look at me! I've got something to say. I expected to be in this place. This is just the beginning for me, even being in my 40s. This is not, this is the beginning for us and it doesn't even matter at this point because people want something real. Good music will find its way.
Especially now with the newer sound on this album. Politics is a huge thing this year of course. What are your thoughts on what's going on?
Man, I've been trying to avoid it because I have an opinion that I don't want -- if I have one of the candidates followers that are -- I don't want to turn them off of me. So I'm playing a political game myself. But I'll say this, being careful. I think Bernie Sanders seems like the most honest.
Are you big on politics in general?
Yeah, I just try not to speak about it too much. What most people think, is what I think. The funny thing is, Donald Trump is the reality show of the candidacy. Reality shows, being so popular, he is that of the candidacy. He is like a clown, but some of the things he says I agree with, but not the things that he says -- negative comments about women and immigrants. I have my own thought about that too. I think it's hard, if you're from the hood, for you to get a loan and start a business. But if you're an immigrant you can come in and get credit right off the bat. I don't agree with that kind of stuff. I don't think that illegally you should be able to come to the country, because I can illegally go to another country.
So I agree with the idea of not having illegal immigrants, but I don't believe you should shut everybody out. This is a great place to live. I've traveled to other countries and when I go I'm like, man, I'm a spoiled American because this is not crackin' like America. When I got to Europe, there's no air conditioning, there's no ice in the drinks. Man, I gotta get back home! So I agree with some of the stuff he says, but I don't agree that there's just mayhem every time he speaks, there's violence. Imagine he makes it in as president, I'm scared of that. I don’t know much about [Hillary] Clinton, she seems to be the most politic-sounding of the politicians, it reminds me of, have you ever seen The Campaign with Will Ferrell? She reminds me of his characters. I'll vote for Bernie, man.
New artists, who is on your radar? Who are you listening to?
I listen to everything, I listen to everybody. I'll be listening to '80s funk and then all of a sudden, I just started listening to Travi$ Scott a lot. Before, I was like, Eh I don’t want to hear it but now I'm like, Eh I'm listening. I just started working out again before this tour, and I was playing Travi$ Scott's channel on Pandora. I'll play that and then I'll play Rage Against The Machine, Johnny Cash... I listen to everything. That's because, you want your rap music to be hardcore? Listen to stuff that's not rap. Listen to something that's not rap influenced, and then come back and watch how different your rap sounds. It'll sound like you're making your music to travel, which is what I do. I take influences from everywhere and I'm listening to everyday, whoever the new whatever is, I'm checking it.
What attracted you to Travi$ Scott's music?
It’s just weird. I think it's the weirdness of it. It's trap, but it's weird in all these different effects that he's using, I didn't get it at first. I was like, What is this? Then I'm like, I like this. I started liking it. I was arguing with some of our security cats, 'cause they older dudes and they were saying how they hate Future. I'm like, dude, you can't deny it! I can't deny those repetitive hooks and beats. You cannot deny those things.
That's how the vibe is now for a lot of, especially the younger kids. That's just what they are gravitating towards.
I hear some of the older dudes talking about the new stuff is like, maybe it's just simple and dumb. There's always been simple songs that have won from doing the twist back in the day to doing the butt in the '80s to, I mean, whatever the new thing was in the '90s to Soulja Boy in the 2000s. There's always been simple songs. I know Rick Rubin told Kanye, "You need to make your songs simple because that's what's going to make them bigger." Simplicity sells. I need to make a song you can sing, you remember. “Talk Up on It,” it's a very simple song. You can sing that in the shower or the car. If you don't remember nothing else, you remember that. Simplicity sells and it's been that way since the beginning of music. So, I do it in my music too, I just do it my way.
Lastly, for people who may not be familiar with Krizz, what do you want them to get from this album?
I’ve been hearing I'm the most slept on artist in music. But why would they say that? Because they must feel like the music is great, so I want people to feel like, I want them to see someone's comments saying this dude's the most slept on artist in music. So that will make them search me and I know I got you. The proof is in the pudding, I can talk all day about what I do, how it sounds but the proof is in the pudding. If you listen to it, it's gonna affect you.