Ian Kamau is a musician living in Toronto who rose to prominence in the city’s rap circles since he was a 21-year old who released his debut album First in 2003—five full years before the world had heard So Far Gone. He began rapping at 16, honing his dexterity in public freestyle battles, like the one where he came in second during a competition at an HMV in 2001. He began taking recording music seriously after his University went on strike, forcing him into the studio to help cope with the boredom. He met up with Toronto rapper K-Os through a mutual friend who sent Kamau’s music along. “He went to one of my shows and he pulled me over after and explained to me he had some deal related to artist development and wanted to help me make music.” After performing and making music for the better part of the decade, both within the city and beyond it while on tour under K-Os’s wing, Kamau saw the successes that could come from taking music seriously. “That was the time when you could do a show with 500 people and you could sell 50-100 CDs. I would go and just burn up a bunch of CDs, bring them to my shows, and rock the fuck out of the show. I would sell like 80 CDs at the end of the night. So, I wasn’t getting paid but I could still make $800 a night.” He went across Canada three times and even performed with The Roots in Europe, but something didn’t feel right.
“I didn’t really understand what they were doing. They were setting me up to work together and be the next up. I just wanted to make music, I wasn’t even thinking about business or any of that stuff. I never had a music dream, I didn’t want to be famous or anything like that, I just liked to make music. So when I got the opportunity I left. I think the business was scary to me because I didn’t understand what I was dealing with. And I think it’s fun if you understand what it is that you’re dealing with, but if you don’t then it’s very dangerous. If you think you’re dealing with a kitten but it’s a lion, you’re going to be in trouble.”
Now 35, Kamau is studying environmental studies at the same University that went on strike 12 years ago. This time he’s laser focused in what he wants to achieve with his time at the school. “I want to change the world. In school we speak about this upstream/downstream philosophy and a lot of problems we see are addressed downstream instead of looking upstream to see the foundation of the issue.” He’s balancing his time between school and music, applying academic rigor to his craft this time. He studied violin, trumpet and piano, and has been expanding his artistry by learning how to sing. As part of his path to self-improvement, Kamau visited a number of countries in Africa in 2012, stopping by Namibia, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Rwanda on his trip. The night before he was scheduled to leave for Africa, Kamau performed his last show, where he opened for an artist he had just become a fan of—Georgia Anne Muldrow.
Georgia Anne Muldrow is also a musician, and has been surrounded by musicians her entire life. She was born to a father who was a jazz guitarist and a mother who served as the musical director for a church. When Mos Def was asked to put together a jazz playlist for the New York Times, he included Muldrow’s music, saying: “She’s like religion. It’s heavy, vibrational music. I’ve never heard a human being sing like this. Her voice is wildly, finely expressive. If people love Amy Winehouse, they’re going to get their minds blown when they hear Georgia Anne Muldrow.” Read More…