(June 24, 2020). Sometimes journalists and bloggers are so busy covering established superstars and people in the music biz they’re never gonna meet that they fail to see talent when it’s right there in their own family. (See folks, it is possible yo use “they’re,” “their” and “there” in the same sentence…but I digress.)
Take this blogger for instance, yours truly.
I’ve written just over 500 articles since the beginning of 2015 about artists and their concerts, new releases, album anniversaries, lives, deaths and various chart feats, and didn’t realize that some amazing talent was developing right here in my own bloodline.
The talent I’m speaking of lies in my older brother’s only son, a gifted young man born Dwayne J Roberts, II in Rochester, NY in 1997 and who now goes by the stage name Kngdom…a name he acknowledges carries with it a lot of power and responsibility. Kngdom is a budding hip-hop artist who happens to share both my and my brother’s initials – DJR – and who recently dropped an album on streaming platforms everywhere.
I had the opportunity to listen to the album, interestingly called Tides, and was thoroughly impressed…not just because he’s my nephew and I’m biased (I am), but because the album is actually…well, it’s fire!
Tides is seven tracks – just enough to qualify it as an album and not an EP – that total just under 24 minutes in length. The album’s mood is dark – not surprising in this part of the millennium – with melodious minor keys dominating most of the tracks. Each tune is sung from the perspective of a young man who’s only recently come of age and who’s quickly become aware of the tough, complex world in which he lives.
Whether it’s on the opening track, where Young Kngdom laments the current state of affairs in his community and questions “Who Can I Call?” when he can’t trust anyone to have his back – whether it’s the men in uniform policing his neighborhood or his own homies – or on the song ”Need to Give,” where he’s cleverly macking over a female and leaving little doubt what his intentions are, Kngdom is clearly a man of his generation – a generation where introspection runs rampant and fun and games (at least in music) are largely things of the past.
None of the songs on Tides clocks at 4 minutes or greater, they’re all 3:59 or less. But that doesn’t mean they lack complexity.
For instance, on the penultimate track, “Entropy,” young DJ – oops, I mean Kngdom – employs a mid-tempo shuffle beat and a layered vocal arrangement with distorted voices for added effect. At some points in the track, he uses a call-and-response exchange (with himself) in a point-counterpoint dialogue that illlustrates the conflict from which he’s emerging. Yet it’s hard to know whether the battle is within him or with someone else with conflicting lines like: “Baby, I’ll go and find someone (you ain’t gonna never find nobody, I’ll promise you that!).”
The album’s best track may very well be the third one, “War,” in which Kngdom raps about his inner-city upbringing in Rochester and the Glendale Park street where he witnessed at age ten a body being gunned down. As he describes the fear in his momma’s eyes, I can’t help but recall the story myself – as told to me by his dad – shortly after it occurred.
He also raps about how his “cuzzo” – another of my nephews – got locked up without bail…a fact that, when coupled with the other traumatic life-altering events he describes in “War,” could have either: 1) significantly stunted his growth, or 2) it could have forced him to grow to adulthood before he really wanted to.
Thankfully, it did neither (much kudos to his parents…more on that in a moment).
So, after giving Kngdom’s album a few listens, I gave him a call to get more insights into the man behind the music…not DJ Roberts II, my nephew – but Kngdom, the artist who is clearly on the rise and who had a few things to say about who he is today and to what – or whom – he owes his inspiration.
DJROBBLOG: So first Neph, tell me about the name Kngdom and where that came from?
KNGDOM: When I was younger, I used to go by the name “Prince.” Don’t know where it came from, but ever since I was a little kid, that’s what I went by…it just felt right.
DJROBBLOG: Yeah, that’s probably because your dad believes he is a king. We’ll talk more about him later. But go on…
KNGDOM: (laughing) Yeah, as I got older, “Prince” felt like a kid’s name. So it became “King.” My name went through various iterations…once I spelled it with three I’s, and then it was just “Kng.” Then I settled on “Kngdom.” The thing about my name is…where I’m trying to go and where I’m headed is a place with a lot of responsibility. And I think a king and a kingdom as a whole have a lot of responsibility to serve others, to be a staple. There’s a lot of power in a kingdom, and that’s what I’m trying to get across.
DJROBBLOG: Okay, Neph. So who are your musical influences – new and old school?
KNGDOM: Currently, it’s J. Cole, Drake, Kendrick Lamar. On more of the R&B tip it’s Frank Ocean, Chris Brown. I would add Kanye West, but he’s more of a “tweener” (between new and old school), along with André 3000 (of OutKast). André 3000 because of how eclectic he is, which drew me to him. I like things like that…things that are out of the ordinary.
Then, for old-school – of course – it’s 2Pac, Biggie and Nas, whose first album I know front and back.
DJROBBLOG: Yeah, that’s an impressive list, but I can’t give you props for listing 2Pac before Biggie. But I have love for both (now). As for André 3000, yeah it’s a shame that OutKast didn’t last longer than they did, especially with the Atlanta rap scene now dominating hip-hop…they were clearly pioneers.
So talk more about your album, when did it drop, who produced it?
KNGDOM: The project is called Tides, it dropped around the top of the year/end of 2019.
DJROBBLOG: What was the inspiration behind Tides?
KNGDOM: Basically (when I recorded it), I was at a time in my life where I wasn’t too sure of myself, to be honest. So, I was just making songs and my best friend (Jordan) and I were talking about how artists are always trying to emulate someone, and I decided that I just needed to be myself, and those seven songs are just me…and what I was feeling at the time.
DJROBBLOG: Did you produce it?
KNGDOM: A lot of the beats we got off YouTube and we leased them. I mixed the songs myself using Logic Pro or Logic Pro X. (Editor’s Note: Logic Pro X is Apple’s “ridiculously powerful, seriously creative” music-production software that allows musicians to create their jams right from their Mac computers).
DJROBBLOG: So tell me more about how that works, the whole leasing thing and YouTube? Aren’t there legal ramifications? Copyright issues?
KNGDOM: There can be if you don’t take the right precautions. When you use a beat and place your song on streaming platforms, you have to lease the beat. The cost depends on the beat’s original creator but for the most part it’s about $20 to $30. But you might have to upgrade your leases if your song starts to get more streams.
DJROBBLOG: So let’s help that cause: for the readers out there, which streaming platforms are your songs available on?
KNGDOM: Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, YouTube now has a streaming service…all the standard ones.
DJROBBLOG: So I really dug the album and found many of the tracks to be very personal sounding. So what is it that drives Kngdom? Are you in it for the love of the art, or are you looking for the fame and fortune and Billboard chart toppers?
KNGDOM: I’m in it for the art. I’ve always loved art ever since I was a kid, whether it was music, film, fashion…I just love art. I’ve never been a person to be able to do things for the look of it, or “just because.” I’ve always had to love what it is I’m doing. It has to be real and genuine.
DJROBBLOG: Yeah, I remember you had that same passion for hoops growing up.
KNGDOM: Yep, I didn’t understand what it meant to work hard with basketball. When you’re doing something like that every single day, the progression might not be immediate, but over time you can look back and see how much better you’ve become. As an adult, I can say that I’m really, really focused on this (music), and it’s showing.
DJROBBLOG: Yep, I can see the maturity in you…the thought process that goes into these answers definitely shows how much you’ve grown as a young man. I’ve always considered you to be one of my shy nephews, somewhat introverted (like me) and not one to talk a lot. But when I listen to the album, I get a totally different vibe from you…all this energy comes out. Where does that come from?
KNGDOM: I think that when I’m alone in the studio, just me and the mic, that’s when the truest form of myself exists. If I’m in a group of people, I may just shy away…not wanting to be too boisterous or whatever. But when I’m in the studio or anywhere alone, that’s where I’m most comfortable. That’s why I love music, because I can really express myself (in it) and if I decide to let people hear that, then I can. If I don’t want to, then I don’t have to, but it’s my choice, you know?
DJROBBLOG: Yep, I get it. So let’s probe the album some more. Which track meant the most to you?
KNGDOM: The first one, “Who Can I Call?” That one means the most because I express myself honestly on it. It’s about how I grew up and the things I saw as a kid. The hook alone kind of ties into what’s going on right now. If I can’t trust anybody, especially the police or even my own people (who are killing each other) who are supposed to have my best interests at heart, then who can I call to protect me when there’s no one there?
DJROBBLOG: Yeah, I feel you on that, Neph. And you’re right, your messages couldn’t be more timely. This interview is being conducted on June 4, just ten days after the George Floyd murder. It hurts to witness what we saw happen in Minneapolis (and later in Atlanta), but it’s great to see the outpouring of support for the movement. And it’s your generation that I’m most worried about. Your dad and all of us and aunts and uncles are in our 50s-plus and we’ve had our fun. We still have a ways to go, God willing, but your generation is going to have to live this for the foreseeable future.
Which brings me to my last topic, and that is our family. You and your sister grew up with both parents in the home and, as a result, you don’t have some of the same circumstances that many others in the Black community do. Tell me how your situation affected you?
KNGDOM: When I look around me, it helped tremendously because there were many people who weren’t afforded the luxury of being comfortable as a kid, like not having to worry about adult things. So, as a kid, I was able to be a kid, to play and learn without distraction, and try different things without being told that something wasn’t right for me. Whatever I attempted to do, my parents were both very supportive.
It led me to my dream now as a musician and an artist and they just accepted it.
Definitely, growing up with a father present – both as a man and a black man at that – showed me that there are many things that you have to do as a black man that are important, like providing (for your family), being strong, bring firm, having pride, being yourself, and not being a follower. So, I think things like that were taught from an early age and they just stuck with me.
DJROBBLOG: Amen, and enough said.
Following that interview, I had a discussion with KNGDOM’s father – my older brother Dwayne – who had the following things to say about his son:
“I made sure that my kids were taught values and life lessons very early because I didn’t want my kids to go through anything I went through as a youngster (details of which were omitted to protect the innocent).
“As for his music, DJ is a perfectionist. He is his worst enemy. He is his biggest critic. He will spend hours upon hours trying to perfect one line of lyric.
“He probably has 100 songs that he won’t release because HE doesn’t like them.”
And regarding the parenting of his son, Dwayne stated:
“If it was not for the fact that his mother is my rock, none of us would exist. And, by the way, I am his No. 1 fan, he is the best rapper/singer I’ve heard of.”
Again, enough said.
Check out KNGDOM’s genre-bending album Tides on any streaming service. Plus, below is a Spotify link to his latest single, “Trouble,” released in March 2020.
DJRob is an African-American freelance blogger from Chicago who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.
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This article is dedicated to my nephew Demetris Aron Fowler who lost his life after a brief heart ailment on Saturday, June 20, 2020. He was 24.