Killy’s Isolation Helped Him Craft ‘Surrender Your Soul’ Project
Two years ago KILLY was an unknown face in a sea of artists hoping to carve out a space in Toronto hip-hop. Now, he's officially a burgeoning rap star with millions of SoundCloud streams and his own world tour. Success hasn't come overnight, but the 20-year-old rapper acknowledges that his glow-up has been a swift one.
"I dropped my first song ever [on] like, Jan. 1, 2016, and that was on some SoundCloud shit," KILLY admits during a trip to XXL's Manhattan office. "A year later I dropped 'Killamonjaro.' Now we're a year later after that, so it's all been pretty fast with very minimal moves."
Following in the tradition of today's Auto-Tune-wielding artists, KILLY's raps rely on melody and outright feeling more than anything else. He doesn't rap as much as he embeds himself in the crevices of production that can range from eerie ("Killamonjaro") to electric pop ("No Sad No Bad"). Using a vocal modulator to generate his warped vocals, the Canadian artist uses the elasticity of his voice to its fullest effect as he makes an endless stream of slappers. With his new tour in full effect and the momentum of his debut project, the rapper isn't slowing up any time soon.
Just before dropping off his debut project, Surrender Your Soul, KILLY stopped by XXL to talk about his rise, plans for 2018 and even a little bit about the Japanese manga series Naruto.
XXL: You've done so much in just a year. What's next for you in 2018?
KILLY: This is just the beginning of the beginning, you know? I spent this whole last year just sorta setting the foundation for what I'm about to do. And take the world by storm—that's what I see myself doing in the next year.
What does taking the world by storm look like for you?
By the end of the year, I just wanna be someone that can shift and change culture. If I'm able to do that, I feel like that's taking the world by storm.
You said you're more into working with your friends than anyone else. How open are you to collaborating with a lot of other artists?
I am open to collaborating with artists, it's just there's a lot of artists right now in the music industry that aren't doing anything in my opinion that I can't do. So I work with a lot of artists that, play instruments, can sing—you know—because these are things that I'm unable to do. Overall, I'm open to working with an artist if you're lit and you're live—you sound sick.
That's understandable. Your rise has been so fast. What does the title of Surrender Your Soul mean?
Surrender Your Soul is a good way to summarize what this is for me, I guess. Like they say, your first album is your best album. It's not an album, it's a project. I guess that doesn't even matter anymore—fucking mixtape, project, album—whatever. I really put my soul into it. I put all that I have into this. I compromised a lot in every aspect of life so this could come to fruition. I surrendered a lot. I really had to go through the lows to experience the highs that are coming from this. So that's what Surrender Your Soul kinda means to me.
You've given your soul to your art and this lifestyle.
Basically, yeah. This lifestyle, this art, everything, the world. This is me giving it all, giving up what I have.
What were some of the lows you've dealt with in the past and some of the highs?
My whole life I've just been a underdog. No one would've seen me and expected me to do what I'm doing right now. Guarantee. I used to tell people I'd make music. It'd go over their heads—they didn't care. I had to go through so much, like, getting boxed out.
I would justify shit. "Oh, this girl doesn't wanna fuck with me?" I'm in grade 10 I'm like, "Yo don't give a fuck, 'cause like one day, this just gonna be like..." Real shit, that's how I'd justify things from when I was young. Like, "Oh, I didn't get invited to that party"—I was in grade fuckin' nine, eight—"yo, honestly, in a year that won't matter."
A massive low point for me was being alone for a long time. If I didn't go through that low, I wouldn't have been able to make what I've made. I had to go through that to be able to talk about it and translate it so well. And that's what people like.
I have this one line—it's not even on the album—it's like, "Isolation made it me against the greatest." And it's just like, I'm literally alone and the person I'm idolizing is literally the future me. I'm not idolizing no other artist. There's no one I'm looking up to other than me, two-years-down-the-line-type shit.
On social media you go by the name Hood Hokage, which is a reference to the popular anime, Naruto. The Surrender Your Soul cover looks like the nine-tailed fox from Naruto [laughs].
Surrender Your Soul is like a self-depicting body of work. You can see me surrendering my soul to me, I guess. I guess [the cover] represents me and shit.
Maybe Naruto leaked into your ideas when you guys were putting together the cover.
Naruto is literally my life story, bro. Being the new kid, being the outcast, being alone, not having no one. You know, that's why I call myself the Hood Hokage. That's deadass; we have the same type of life. Always being the underdog to being the last hope. Most of my life, I'm just sitting fucking angry—not angry, I wasn't an angry kid—but at the back of my mind always frustrated because I know I shouldn't be working in this fucking grocery store. I know I shouldn't even be in this grade 10 math class. I been known. I can't even explain it. It's like a feeling. It's frustrating when no one else can even understand that feeling. And it now—finally—people are like, "Oh, okay, I see the..." But even then, I'm still getting boxed into fucking, "Oh, he wears Supreme, he has braids—came up off SoundCloud, SoundCloud rapper."
So you've been through a lot. Do you think that helps you relate to your fans?
I've also lived in all types of environments. I've lived in White suburbia, I've lived in the hood. Both sides of the country. I have friends all across the board. Some of my friends shoot guns, some of my friends play Pokémon. It doesn't matter. So, me being able to maneuver with all these types of people has just allowed me to connect to a greater amount of people faster, 'cause, like, I've worn your shoes. I've seen through your glasses. I've walked that path before. And it just gets to a point where the majority of people can relate to me somehow. My music—it's not like, one-dimensional. As you heard, there's different instruments—different themes, styles. Somewhere, someone can connect to at least one thing.
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