Fresh off of the release of his new album, “Why Not?”, Toronto’s Kofi details the process behind his new album, conversations with Drake, transitioning from Team Canada athlete to music, and the current state of Toronto’s rap scene.
From a promising athlete for Team Canada to one of Toronto’s most exciting new artists, Kofi’s transition to music initially seemed ambitious. When he abandoned his promising future in sports, the people closest to him were uncertain how it would pan out. There was a safety net in playing volleyball at a high level. Still, his heart wasn’t entirely into it.
“When I told everyone, ‘nah, I want to do music, I don’t want to do this,’ everyone was like, ‘I don’t know. You are kinda throwing something away. What are you doing? Why are you doing that?’” He recalled during a Zoom call with HNHH. His response? “Why not?”
“If there is something you want to spend your life doing, don’t listen to anybody else,” he continued.
Over the past three years, Kofi’s channeled the doubt he’s faced to challenge himself even further. Three years after the release of Story Of My Life via Red Bull Records, his sophomore album, Why Not? captures his maturity and progression as an artist. He’s worked meticulously on the 12-song effort, and the growth is evident. Songs like “Bé Bé” dive even deeper into his pop sensibilities but it’s songs like “DJ” and “On Me” that offer some of his most potent songwriting to date.
“I just hold myself to a high standard,” he said. “When you are new to it and seeing some success, you just think you are the best. I was big-headed at the beginning. I am saying all this stuff and I am thinking it’s cool, but in the later songs like “DJ”, and “On Me,” I am speaking in metaphors and those are the ones I think you can see the real growth. I guess that’s the biggest theme of this body of work. Basically, just growth. You can see the evolution of writing, of production, of everything.
Kofi’s emerging at the forefront of Toronto’s explosive music scene, which has gained even more prominence in the past few years. While artists like Kardinal Offishall, Drake, The Weeknd, and Tory Lanez have played a significant role in amplifying voices in Toronto, Kofi’s part of a new class of artists carrying the torch.
We caught up with Kofi ahead of the release of Why Not? to discuss the project, growth, the impact of The Weeknd, Drake, Tory Lanez, and more.
[This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity]
HNHH: What’s the significance of the album title?
Kofi: So, my background – I have been doing music my whole life but what people knew me for is [that] I used to play volleyball at a high level. I played at UCLA, and played on Team Canada. When I told everyone, ‘nah, I want to do music, I don’t want to do this,’ everyone’s like, ‘I don’t know. You are kinda throwing something away. What are you doing? Why are you doing that?’ You know, Why Not. Always challenge the status quo. If there is something you want to spend your life doing, don’t listen to anybody else.
What parallels do you see in the doubts you’ve faced as an athlete and as a musician?
I mean, I just try to work through them. I am definitely a lot newer to this music stuff than I was in volleyball. I am still trying to work through them. Still trying to figure them out. There are a lot of the things with the work ethic and the discipline that comes with being an athlete, that helps. Those skills are super transferable.
One point where they are different is, sports is objective. It’s either good or bad. You win or you lose. The music is all subjective. It’s all up to the listener. It’s not as black and white.
What do you think is the key to overcoming those voices who are doubting you?
I think it’s just to stay focused on where I want to go. There are always going to be distractions. There are always going to be doubters but if I know I have to work to get my music where I want it, and I am happy with the product, I really could care less about what people who don’t support me are saying.
The production sounds a lot more vibrant than on Story Of My Life. Could you tell me how the production reflects where you are at in your life right now?
I have been working on it for the last 3 years, so you can definitely tell the progression in the production from songs that I have made years ago to the songs from now. I don’t know. The songs now, I think it’s definitely a lot cleaner. I’m pretty sure I produced more than half of the songs on the albums. Its a story of where I was and a journey to where I am
For your last project, did you produce the bulk of it yourself as well?
Usually, it ends up being around 50/50. I don’t aim to produce stuff myself or vice versa but usually, it just ends up around 50/50.
That might be my favorite way to work. I know basically where I want to start. If I am going to work with a producer, it does not really make sense to me unless they are going to bring something to the table that I can’t do myself. There are a lot of things I can’t do myself when it comes to production or I know it will be better if somebody else does it so I like collaborating. So for “On Me”, I started the idea, and then Catch22 produced it and then made it into a full song.
There’s a huge Afrobeats influence on your music and it shows even more on this project. Where does that influence come from for you?
I am Ghanaian. Growing up my dad is always playing Ghanaian music. Afrobeats, the way it is now, that’s kind of a new thing. He was always playing the old GOATs like Fela and all those guys. Then I guess, my introduction to music was classical music. I was playing piano. I kinda got out of that. When I came back around to music there were just free drumming classes put on by the city. Like African drumming. Djembe. Taught by this guy named Kenneth. I learned all of the basics and the building blocks of what’s now Afrobeats, the rhythms. From there, I kinda draw from there. I had to go tell him, ‘Look, this is what I am doing now and I appreciate all the free lessons you give me.’
How do they react to the direction you’re going in musically?
I think it’s still a bit earlier. I think I am going to start surprising a lot of people. There are a lot of people that don’t know I was classically trained [in] reading and writing music before I was just rapping. So, I am going to start drawing a lot more on that and add some real musicality into the music, which I did a bit on this album, on “DJ”, on “On Me.” I hope they like it.
The penmanship is just on par with the musicality. Where did your writing skills come from?
I think my writing is just….I don’t know. I was always terrible in English class. I just hold myself to a high standard. There are a lot of times I will write a song or I will do sessions with producers and I’m struggling to write because I can write something, it will be cool but if it’s not of that level that’s going to make me be like, ‘wow.’ The song has to make perfect sense. I can’t just say a bunch of stuff. There has to be a reason and point to which I am speaking. I try to hold myself to a higher standard that way and I guess it comes across in the writing.
How do you think that speaks to the quality of this project in particular?
Well so, this project is actually me finding that. I don’t think that I was always that amazing – not saying that I am amazing at it. I don’t think I was always that good at having that high of a standard. It’s like anything. When you are new to it and seeing some success, you just think you are the best. I was big-headed at the beginning. I am saying all this stuff and I am thinking it’s cool, but the later songs like “DJ”, and “On Me,” I am speaking in metaphors and those are the ones I think you can see the real growth. I guess that’s the biggest theme of this body of work. Basically, just growth. You can see the evolution of writing, of production, of everything.
You talk a lot about growth and maturity on this project. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome in the past three years of making this project?
Oh man, there’s been a lot. It’s been a rocky road. Ups and downs. Holding a project for three years is not easy for any artist. Adjusting to life after college is not easy for any artist. Transitioning from everything being taken care of for you – ‘cause I was an athlete, everything was paid for. To, you know, finding your own way. There is definitely been a lot and I have a lot to talk about. That kinda comes across in “Story Of My Life 2.”
How did “Story Of My Life 2” come about?
So, that song. For some reason, I kept hearing a piano loop in my head. So then I just sat down at a piano one day and I was just like, ‘alright, let me record this.’ Played the piano and then just started writing, spilling about my life, growing up, and where I think I am now.
Toronto’s sound is thriving beyond Canada. How do you think Why Not contributes to the sonic growth of Toronto when all eyes are on the city?
I think it definitely expands the notion that a hood rapper is a hood rapper. Last year, I was doing a lot of stuff in that space. This year, I am popping out with full R&B songs. Well-produced R’n’B songs. Full, well-produced Afrobeats songs. Even pop songs, I guess, with “Bé Bé.” I hope it shows people like, don’t be put in a box. Continue to do what you do and if you love it, and you love spending your time doing it, it’s going to come across and connect with your fans.
What are your personal thoughts on Toronto’s scene right now?
I mean, being from Toronto and, a proud Torontonian I guess, I love it. I think what the last generation of artists did for the city is amazing. What Drake, Tory Lanez, and The Weeknd continue to do. It’s just building on the steps that [Kardinal Offishall] did back in the days. So yeah, I am excited to see the next evolution of it.
What’s your favorite song on Why Not?
That’s a good one. I love the way “On Me” sounds and I love the piano breakdown in it. But I also love “DJ” from a [lyrical] perspective.
Could you tell me a little more about that? From the lyricist side of things. Why do you like that song so much?
I’ve always liked songs where you are talking about one thing the whole song but the song is clearly not about what you are talking about. So it’s definitely a deeper meaning. That whole song, I am talking about a DJ at a party but I am not really talking about a DJ at a party if you really read into it. I am talking more so about a girl and basically, give me a chance type of thing, without saying it.
Was that a challenging song for you to write?
Sometimes when I get the idea, it just flows. Usually, if I am forcing it, it’s not gonna be where I want it to be. It’s not gonna be of the level I want it to be. That song kinda just flowed. Once I got the idea, I am just like, ‘oh ok, that’s easy. I just write this story and it’s not gonna be about that.’
Why Not includes features from Noodah05 and Pisceze. You just worked with 2KBaby but Pisceze is the only Toronto feature on there if I am not mistaken. Why was it important to reach beyond collaborators from Toronto?
Because as much as Toronto is a great place for music, they don’t really mess with you until people outside of the city mess with you when it comes to R&B. If it’s hood street rap, they mess with you if you are on the Jane and they know the insider gossip. When it comes to R&B and what I am trying to do, it’s not really my market. So I am trying to build outside of the city and I am definitely going to try and build in the city.
I read an interview where you mentioned that Drake left you on read. Has Drake ever responded to the DM since then?
The funny thing about Drake is he answers every time I don’t talk to him about music. But if it’s about music, he will never answer. Actually, he answered me one time about music. I was like, ‘I will give you 100 bands US cash right now. I will drop it at your door for a feature.’ And he’s just like ‘no’ [laughs].He’s like I don’t take money for features.
How does it feel to get that recognition from the top dogs in the city?
I mean, it’s cool. It’s definitely cool. I try not to look for handouts, though, or look for co-signs as much as to focus on my fan base and focus on what I am doing though. That’s the only way to build respect, to build yourself, you know what I mean?
Final question, what do you have planned for the rest of 2022 after this project drops?
Well, my next album is like, done. So maybe another project. A couple of singles, and then another project but yeah, I am ready to go.