In the space of a year and a half Oakland rapper Kamaiyah has gone form relative unknown to the XXL Freshman cover and riding in a drop top with Drake.
The first time I noticed Kamaiyah was her 2015 single “How Does It Feel?” in which the Bay Area rapper wonders aloud what it would be like to ball out with no worries.
She asks “How does it feel to be rich?” but more interestingly also says “How does it feel to just live?”
In the video for “How Does It Feel?” Kamaiyah holds a brick phone, plays Nintendo 64, and is dressed in Kriss Kross cosplay, a clear indication of her influences and aesthetic.
Like so many early 90s babies in their mid-20s (Kamaiyah turned 25 in March), Kamaiyah has a not-so-secret nostalgia for 90s hip-hop and R&B.
Kamaiyah is much closer to a Missy Elliott than Nicki Minaj or Cardi B. Her music is full of tales of having fun, a seeming relief of getting out of The Bay, and saying ‘fuck you’ to the haters.
This fuck the haters attitude became the basis for YG, Drake, and Kamaiyah’s smash “Why You Always Hatin?” a throbbing West Coast anthem on which Kamaiyah sings the infectious hook “Pleeeease tell me why you always hatin?”
Why you hating indeed. Kamaiyah’s debut mixtape A Good Night in the Ghetto is a damn party from the jump. The opening track “I’m On” details Kamaiyah’s rise from foster child to successful rapper as she sing-raps triumphantly,
“Remember when I didn’t have shoe strings
Now I pull up, hop out, watch that coup swing
Big money, get money, we do things”.
Kamaiyah has every reason to be resentful, her father was addicted to drugs and in and out of prison and her mother put Kamaiyah in foster care when she was 7, but her music is instead filled with so much joy and unabashed glee that it’s impossible not to want to join in on Kamaiyah’s party.
On her new project Before I Wake, released independently amidst beef with her label, Kamaiyah doubles down on what made A Good Night in the Ghetto so compelling.
The 90s-era beats are bangin’, the boasts are bigger, and Kamaiyah once again, despite the bullshit, is feeling herself as much as ever.
On “Dope Bitch”, a play on N.W.A’s “Dopeman”, Kamaiyah brags “My K Swiss costs more than your weave” in a typically ridiculous but hilarious line.
On “Leave Em”, which samples TLC’s “Creep”, Kamaiyah tells a friend to leave the sorry ass dude she’s with in a sort of homage to Aaliyah and Missy Elliott’s “Best Friend”.
On the 90s influence in Kamaiyah’s music, she told VICE last year about her nostalgia for the era,
“My structure is really similar to the 90s. I am essentially doing the same thing as they were doing but in 2016. I’m taking these old records and flipping them and putting my own style on them. That’s kind of what Puffy and them were doing.”
That’s definitely the case on “Leave Em” which somehow makes “Creep” sound even more 90s by adding some 808s to the instrumentation.
But after triumphantly escaping the streets of Oakland and her traumatic familial past, Kamaiyah is now encountering a whole load of new problems. Her label Interscope has repeatedly delayed the release of her debut album over difficulty clearing samples, this industry bullshit has clearly dampened the never-ending party a little bit.
On the contemplative “Me Against Myself” Kamaiyah raps about fake love:
“You ain’t been through what i been through
Around people who don’t love me but they sure pretend to
Damn, I am who I am build myself up and they break me again”
While Kamaiyah retains a lot of the most enjoyable and life-loving qualities of her debut, it’s clear that she’s disillusioned to a certain extent. In a recent interview with GQ, Kamaiyah did not hold back in her assessment of her label,
“Fuck my label! I can’t do nothing! My label’s terrible. I feel like if you’re not a priority, you’re gonna get shit—sometimes they don’t wanna clear the samples because they’re like, why would we waste money?”
It’s extremely disappointing to see labels interfere with and hold up their own artists’ careers but also comforting that Kamaiyah was able to put out Before I Wake all on her own. She told GQ about releasing Before I Wake without the help of her label,
“I’m going around, y’all. This is my project. I paid for it. At the end of the day, I‘m not gonna let y’all keep me from being where I’m supposed to be. Keep disappointing these people who believe in me.”
Before I Wake isn’t as perfect as A Good Night in the Ghetto, but the project is a wonderful reminder that the Bay Area artist isn’t going anywhere, even if her label is fucking up. Kamaiyah is here to stay.