RESPECT. Interview: This Is Keffaleng. Toronto’s Creatively Emerging Enigma

Photo via @_mnsxn

This is Keffaleng. Toronto’s creatively emerging enigma. Saying that it’s increasingly more difficult to follow the musical incursion of every new artist would be a monumental understatement. However, when artists like Keffaleng leap from obscurity to the conversation, it’s hard to turn away. The 21-year old rapper/singer/songwriter (or the “hybrid” artist I so aptly enjoy covering) is a Toronto native (by way or Ethiopia and back to TO) who’s projects Still Shanti EP and his most recently released Not So Famous have proverbially turned the light in his direction. Keff’s mixture of moody crooning and generationally attentive rhymes create a design of emotional highs and lows, allowing his craft to maintain a successive chronology. Keffaleng’s artistic vulnerability develops a cohesive connection where his sonic’s revive pure moments of his evolving journey. RESPECT. caught up with Keffaleng to discuss Canada, Still Shanti, and how a foreshadowing title like Not So Famous is poised to be a lasting piece of art. Just make sure to remember the name.

RESPECT.: I want to start with your inception as an artist.

Keffaleng: “It’s been close to three years now of me really taking music seriously since going into my first studio session, recording my first record, etc. Really just been developing a catalogue, building up music, and what not. Before that I was just releasing singles and doing shows in the city. Took a break from all that because I really just wanted to stack content. In November of last year I dropped my debut Still Shanti which was a 5-track EP. A couple months after that I dropped Not So Famous.

RESPECT.: Being a Canadian native, how has that region shaped you?

Keffaleng: “I always go off the mood when I make music. I feel like Canada allows for those moody colors. With such big stars from Canada brining Hip-Hop to a Pop demographic has introduced the region a platform for artists that weren’t making Pop or Rock music. Canada allows you to step into a lane and create your own sound.”

RESPECT.: Before we get into Not So Famous, let’s talk about the Still Shanti EP. Was that sort of your coming out party?

Keffaleng: “Yea yeah. Not So Famous had a much bigger rollout and more for the fans. Still Shanti was more personal.”

RESPECT.: What’s been the maturation and growth between projects?

Keffaleng: “I felt like I had an identity crisis before Still Shanti. I was really just trying to figure out a sound, figure out a style, and break out of this shell I was in. Still Shanti allowed me to break from that and explore different sounds and sonics of music. That lead to Not So Famous which was much more moody and much colorful. I really describe my music through colors. Still Shanti is more black, white, and grey while NSF is all over the spectrum.”

RESPECT.: Talk about how Not So Famous came together conceptually.

Keffaleng: “I actually started working at a studio downtown called 669. I was truly just making a bunch of different pieces of music, reference tracks, etc. My inspiration came from being in that studio, I was there day and night. Basically lived there during the process. Going out, taking in the night life of the city since I havn’t experienced much from living in Ethiopia for two years prior to coming back to Toronto. So Not So Famous came from the feelings of those experiences while locking myself in the studio.

RESPECT.: You only went with one feature on NSF with Amir Obe. How did that collab come to be?

Keffaleng: “I actually heard Amir in the studio while someone was playing his music. I was just like “Yo this dude’s dope.” Really started to look him up and check for his music and got a great feel. He’s actually one of my favorite artists out to be honest. Followed him on Twitter, hit his DM’s, (Laughs) and he told me to send him the record and if he liked it he’d hope on it. Guess he like it (Laughs) and that’s how the track came to be. Originally that song wasn’t how it sounds at all right now, it was a totally different record. He layed down his verse and found a moment in the production where he took it in a whole different direction. I just built my verse around that. It was way more R&B than laid back Hip-Hop which was the final cut.”

RESPECT.: For me, “Cross My Mind” is a major standout. What’s a personal and impactful record for you?

Keffaleng: “I was actually going to say “Cross My Mind” (Laughs) I really just feel that’s where my mental state is right now, just so focused on my music. Whereas you listen to a track like “Not So Famous” is a concept based around an encounter where a girl sees the potential of my career, but not necessarily who I am. The whole EP was a roller coaster of emotion and “Cross My Mind” just seizes my moment back and stops the roller coaster. It’s a great representation of how people react to heartbreak, and that heartbreak was recent for me. After that, I started making more music than ever. It just focused my grind and “Cross My Mind” embodies that.”

RESPECT.: Your projects all thematically have a chronological feel, is that by design?

Keffaleng: “Thematically it really does have a chronological feel to it if you look at it from that perspective. Still Shanti is like sitting on a rooftop, by yourself in the dark and Not So Famous is like watching the sunrise. It’s like the Butterfly effect.”

RESPECT.: How do you successfully navigate between rapping, singing, and songwriting?

Keffaleng: “I always go off beat selection. When it doesn’t speak to me I can’t hop on it or do anything with it. When it comes to songwriting I really just get in a zone in my own mood with the production and find little spots to work from. I’d definitely say I’m stronger on the singing side. Some people agree, some think I rap better (Laughs) or my songwriting is better than my artistry, but singing is where I’m strongest.”

RESPECT.: What does the future hold for Keffaleng?

Keffaleng: “Really been doing shows right now. Just had a show in L.A. Working on a couple music videos and trying to finish up DPXND which we’re trying to put out in September. It’ll have a chronological feel to the other three, but will be my best yet.”