As much as Tech N9ne or producer Seven, Krizz Kaliko has made himself into a crucial aspect of the Strange Music sound. With his penchant for killer verses, unforgettable hooks and mad sonic wizardry, The Genius has grown into a niche that only he could possess.
We talked to Krizz Kaliko about his contributions to Tech N9ne Collabos – Strangeulation Vol. II. From his intricate patterns to his co-writing duties, his stamp is all over the latest installment in the much-heralded Collabos series.
Obviously this is about Strangeulation Vol. II. What was the mission going into this compilation? Did you and Tech have a discussion about it or touch on anything before going into this?
We always do. We pretty much talk about where we want to go next, musically, no matter what project, way before we get into it. I tend to write pretty early. I write my verses early. As soon as we talk about it and I get that vibe, I usually kind of run with it right there.
With this Strangeulation, I waited more for Tech to kind of get rolling on the vibe of the album, and get rolling on what types of songs he wanted and how he wanted to do it. Sometimes we’ll want to use live instruments or he’ll want to go more electronic on this one. I usually try to get a head start on songs. I’ll have him send me the beats and I’ll try to write hooks to them. Either that, or I’ll wait for him to say something like, “Hey I want this song to be like this”. That’s a common way for us to work.
He’ll say, “Hey man, I wanna do a song with a hook that sounds like this [sings “Wake and Bake” hook],” and he’s like, “I just don’t know what to put in the middle of the [“Wake and Bake” hooks].” And I’m like, alright, let me call you back in 10 minutes. Then I call him back and say, “What about this [sings rest of the hook]?”
And I’m like, “Dude, don’t be scared of that ‘my nigga’ part. You’re going to say I’m crazy, but when we perform that song, [sings hook] the whole crowd is gonna say ‘my nigga.'” I said, “Trust me,” and it sounds like something we should perform.
Those are some examples of the way we do it.
That’s very proactive of you.
I try to be that way. I want to be super artistic as far as the creative part, but a lot of times, as artists, I don’t know if we consider the business as much. So, that’s me also trying to think business wise. If I have it written early, if I got this idea, all I have to do is go into the studio and knock it. I don’t have to spend a lot of the album’s budget writing or creating. I’ll do that on my time alone. So I try to be like that and think business: half business and half artist.
Hats off to you. Most of the time if you’re a creative, it’s really difficult to get stuff off until you have to.
I don’t like to do it. I just do it because I have to practice for my album. I don’t want my budget to get out of hand just being at the studio. So there’s no partying at the studio with me. It’s all business. We party, but it just doesn’t happen at the studio. I try to do that and I force myself to do that. I’m a pretty creative dude, so I don’t like to do that either.
To me, this compilation really reflects the elite level of lyricism and skill that goes into being an artist on the Strange roster. Do you feel like you guys are recognized as you should be for the quality you bring to the music game?
I absolutely do, and I think that we already are. For the people that are aware of Strange Music, I think that’s a common thought about Strange Music: these dudes are elite emcees. You can’t even be part of that roster if you’re not.
I really think that people commonly know us as a group of elite emcees and just musicians period, because I don’t consider myself just an emcee. There was an argument with me and our security in Canada, our homie Chuck – Frisco Chuck. We had an argument: “What do you see Krizz Kaliko as? A rapper that sings? Or a singer that raps?”
We asked several people. I told them what they were going to say, some people will say both, but most people will say singer that raps. So I did it in Denver, I got the whole crowd involved. I said, “Chuck says I’m a rapper that sings. Make some noise if that’s what Krizz Kaliko is.” [imitates crowd cheering] “Now make some noise if Krizz Kaliko is a singer that raps.” [imitates louder cheering] I’m like, “Case closed.”
I’m on the “singer that raps” category.
Absolutely, because that’s where I come from. I’m generally modest even though I know what I can do. I don’t think there are a lot of dudes that can out-rap me, but I rap because I can, because I really am a singer.
Speaking of the rap ability you have, on this record I noticed even more than before, just how intricate and difficult your patterns are. I remember you saying you’re a fan of Biggie and one thing I remember about Biggie is that he’ll be able to switch up the rhyme scheme in the middle of two bars.
My two favorite rappers: Biggie Smalls and Tech N9ne. I learn from the best. I learn to be a showman. When I rap, it isn’t just about “Can you rap and can you rhyme?”, it’s also about your voice inflection, your pitch, your patterns. So it’s easy for me to be like [raps without inflection] but it’s different if I say [raps with inflection]. There’s a difference. It makes it more exciting. I think that’s what people have grown to know Strange Music for. I believe they expect us to be elite.
Do you see a lot of innovations that you guys have done over the years starting to be implemented into the mainstream?
Oh yeah man. We’ve been saying that forever. It’s funny that I started quoting “Slow To Me” because I said that in that song. I said “We were choppin’ like this when we first got to poppin’ and people were dissin’ it”. That flow – we were doing that 10 years ago.
Maybe others got it from us, but they say, when you have an idea, there’s somebody on the other side of something – the city, country, planet – that has that same idea. So, maybe these dudes just had the same idea? Maybe they’ve never heard of us. I see some of our DNA in the mainstream. With the popularity Strange Music has at this point, why not?
Because there are other artists’ DNA in my music. I’m influenced by a lot of artists. I’m influenced by Biggie Smalls, CeeLo, Al Green, Outkast, Rick James, John Legend, Marvin Gaye, all types of people. You’ll hear their DNA in my music. That doesn’t mean I’m bitin’, that just means that I’m inspired by them. Music is supposed to inspire and it does. If someone does a dope song, it inspires me to go, “Oh, I gotta do something even doper than that. I love that vibe.”
We got this song, “Muah”, which is a fun, lighthearted song. What experiences did you pull from when you’re penning your verse? I know you’re a married man now, but I’m sure back in the day you guys had some fun touring the country.
I toured for years before I was even married. Me and my girlfriend, who is now my wife, broke up, which allowed me to have lots of fun [laughs]. There’s not one experience I can say that I pulled from for that particular song.
I would say, it’s kind of like the same mindset of: music “So Dope” that someone would give their body to you. They want to be pleasured by you or pleasure you because those songs, that talent, that power is an aphrodisiac.
I was going to ask, do you remember the first time that started happening?
I remember the exact first time I ever had a sexual encounter from being good at music, and it wasn’t even a fan, it was a stripper in San Francisco. She said, “What do you do?” We put this on a CD sampler we made. I said, “I’m a singer.” She said, “What are you doing here? Are you singing here?” I said, “Yeah.” She’s like, “Let me hear you sing.” I just sang Luther Vandross. And she’s like, “Oh my god” and she started kissing me on my neck. I remember my dude telling me years ago, “Whenever you get to touring and you want a sexual encounter with one of these women, pull your dick out.” So I did. When she started, I stopped singing. When she stopped sucking, I started singing. We cracked that joke on the sampler, but that’s really what happened.
That let me know how powerful and what an unfair advantage that this can be. You don’t even have to be a singer. You can play the maracas, you can be a horn player, a drummer – anything. Being up there and a lot of people loving you is a turn on for an individual. The popular quarterback in high school – or just a popular guy or popular girl – that is an aphrodisiac. “Everybody else wants you, so I do too.”
It reminds me of a song I got on my new album, called “Wallflower”. This song is for people who weren’t necessarily the most popular. This is somebody that played the wall at a high school dance. There’s this popular guy who’s got everybody and everything, and seemingly has it made, but then there’s me, and I don’t do none of that. I’m just a person that observes. I’m not the prettiest person in the world. I’m not the most popular person. I’m a wallflower. So I wrote a song from their perspective. Me and Tech. It’s beautiful.
I can’t wait to hear your new shit. I wanna move onto your cypher verse. Were you at all hesitant to spit over a beat you’ve already spit on?
Only that one. I’m not hesitant of the idea of spitting over a beat that I’ve spit over already, but I am of that particular one, because that was really tough.
That’s already a classic Krizz Kaliko verse. When I think about your verses that I remember and ones that really stick out, that’s definitely one of them.
That’s why I started like that: “I guess I’m back at it again!” That’s the first thing I thought when he said “I want you to do “Midwest Choppers” again,” and I knew I had to top that one. I’m like “Because they know I write the back out of a pen.” That’s why he chose me. I’ll blow a pen up.
Did chopping always come naturally to you? When you’re around Tech N9ne, you’re going to try it out I’m sure.
Yeah, you’ll try it out, but it’s always been kind of a Midwest thing. I always just rapped for the hell of it. I chopped back in the day just playing around, but like you said, being around the Midwest Chopper, The Worldwide Chopper, Tech N9ne, how can you not? Especially when you got to say his lyrics on stage. So it was just a natural progression for my rhyme style, for me to just start chopping. It came really naturally for me, but music comes really easy to me. The hard part is trying to figure out how I want to put it together in an intricate way. But music is the easiest thing in my life. I’m going through therapy now, I’m on anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medication, but nothing makes me feel better than doing music because it comes so naturally.
I have to give you props when you first did that verse on the MLK compilation. You put your own little twist on it. That really did stand out. It was very musical. It was very cool.
I had to figure out how to do that. Because everybody was chopping. Everybody sounds great, how can I stick out? The best way was for me to sing it.
What’s the line about the Ninja Turtle talking to Splinter? What did you mean by that?
Well [laughs], people who are not as dope as us with chopping – when you’re chopping, whatever you’re saying to me in those songs, it’s like talking to the master. If you feel like you’re one of the elite choppers, that means that everybody else chopping is a student, talking to the teacher. Because Master Splinter was the Ninja Turtles’ master. He showed them how to fight and use whatever martial arts style they used, I’m not sure what style they used, but he showed them how to do that. That means, you are the student, talking to the teacher.
I want to talk about Mackenzie’s song and your involvement in it. I know you kind of co-wrote the hook, right?
What do you think about her as a singer and an artist?
She’s got it. Some people have it and some people don’t. I say there are two types of people in music: there are people who are doing music and people that are trying to do music. She’s definitely a can-doer.
She brought that song to me. She already had it written. When her and Seven brought it to me, I was like, “Well, if you change a few words, and then change the melody of the hook, I think it’ll sound better.” Because the hooks are my thing – that’s my bag. When I heard it, I thought that it’ll be really big. I don’t remember how it sounded at first. I was like, “Add these couple of words, change these words to this, change this to that, and change the melody to [sings “Acting Like You Know” melody]. That melody sounds like people will sing that with you or will want to sing that with you.”
There’s actually a formula to hook writing. There might be a good hook, but there’s a certain chord progression that you can use that is scientifically proven to be more pleasant, more pleasing to people, and makes them want to sing it with you. For some reason, I never knew that I was doing that, but after I had a conversation with people who do this, I figured out the reasons people like my hooks is because I used that formula without even knowing what it was. So I was trying to use that with her. Like, “Now change it to this. This will make people really love it with your beautiful voice.”
It came together. I stood in the booth with her, because she’s had a lot of really formal training. My training is really guerrilla style: just going in and doing it like this, breathe like this when you come off of this note, and crescendo this piece. Some of it is formula stuff, but a lot of it is what I just learned going into the booth and what works and what doesn’t. I put that all together with her and what she wrote, and it came out beautiful.
Speaking of the new faces on Strangeulation Vol. II, how do you like the new artists on Strangeulation? You got JL, Darrein, and Mackenzie.
Actually, I’m partial to JL and Mackenzie, because I’ve known them forever. I’ve known Mackenzie since she was one years old. I’ve seen her develop forever. I’m still getting familiar with Darrein. I think he’s a talented dude. I think he’s a talented writer, he’s a talented singer, but I’m still getting familiar with him at this point.
With Mackenzie, I’ve seen her develop, from not knowing any words to singing. Talking to singing, watching her grow up in this. We were just talking about it at the signing, about how she almost didn’t have a choice because she’s been around it so much.
JL, I actually asked him to be my hype man before Irv was my hype man. I knew JL was talented years ago and I asked him to be on stage, but he was moving to Vegas at the time and he wanted to be his own artist. He is a killer though. Lyrically, that boy is ridiculous.
He just demolished his shit on the record. How do you like how the project came out?
Great. What everybody did – everybody murdered it, including Darrein too. Like I said, I’m still getting familiar with him, but what he did on this album is really good. He reminds me a lot of the really successful mainstream artists that are poppin’ right now. I think that he’ll fit more into that vein, because our fans look for that raw underground sound. I don’t know how to describe it, but I think our style is kind of raw – and the mainstream has to come to us for us to work. With Darrein, I believe he’s going to fit right into the mainstream, right off the bat.
Definitely. He writes with that “now” polish.
The “now.” Yeah, he’s got that “now” sound.
Anything else you want to say about the project?
I just think that, with each project, we get better and better. It’s hard when people say, “What’s your favorite Strange album?” Man, come on. That’s like saying, “What’s my favorite color M&M?” When you strip all the colors off them, they all taste the same. It’s all good.
I think that this is an elite project. I think that everybody brought their A-game and they continue to get a new A-game with every release. And I think I’m kind of primal with my next release, because my album is nothing that I’ve ever done before. There are only hints of things that I’ve done before. This album is so different, and I know I’ve been driving Seven and Ben crazy, because I’m trying to make it so good.