Michigan, as a region, has been the breeding ground for some of the most vital figures in hip-hop. Many of these producers and emcees from the Wolverine State have actually turned to music just to speak out against the many adversities that Michigan faces. And others, like producer and rapper Kendall Tucker, better known by his alias, 14KT, turned to music because of faith.
KT, who calls Ann Arbor his home, got his start making music as part of the 90’s collective, The Athletic Mic League. Also, his roots with music came in the church where he grew up in the church choir. While in church, 14KT learned the fundamentals of music. Following the release of his new single “Crown” featuring MED and Black Milk, later this month, he will be releasing his album Nickel & Dimed, which is an ode to his spiritual background in a sense. RESPECT. got the chance to speak with the producer about his upcoming release, his faith, and what exactly is Errol Flynn, among other things.
RESPECT: I know you were apart of the Athletic Mic League with Mayer Hawthorne. So since his album just came out, what do you feel about his new album?
14KT: Aw man, I think its dope. I think it’s really, really dope. What I told him when I first heard it was that when he was apart of the Athletic Mic League he was DJ Haircut and what I loved about his new album is I heard a lot of DJ Haircut. It was kind of like he put every single element of what he does or what’s apart of him into the album. Whether he played instruments, whether he produced, whether he sings, whether he puts scratches, or he made beat breaks, all of that stuff is on the album so I thought that was really dope that he incorporated everything that makes him who he is.
Aren’t you guys working on something together?
Me and him, we’ve been working side by side since like the mid-90’s so we’re always working on something. We’re always working on something. We’re definitely working on something.
I’ve heard some of your new album Nickel & Dimed already and what I like about it is that it sounds like you, but it doesn’t sound so much like you that everything stays the same. You have West Coast Elements, there’s Detroit Elements. When you were creating this project, how did you find the creativity?
That’s great. Thanks for that man. That’s perfect because one of the goals when I was making it was to make every track sound different from the other one. That was the only thing that I wanted to do. Of course, there are some tracks that sound like me but, I picked tracks that when you listen to each of them, they all sound unique in their own way. There’s something about it that doesn’t sound like the last one or anything else that is on the album. I tried to make sure that each one had some unique thing in it that was different. When you listen back to all of it, I think I captured that pretty well.
What was the concept behind the way the album was formatted?
The album is 15 tracks… The first song is a song that I rhyme on and then there are 14 instrumentals afterwards. I formatted it that way because I had something to say. I wanted to rap on the first track and I wanted it to be the first thing you heard before I gave you the instrumental album. The vocal verses at the end, I was working on the vocal verses at first, and they weren’t supposed to be apart of the album but they ended up sounding super dope that I was like they’ve got to be on here. It’s pretty much kind of like an EP of vocals. I ended up putting the EP as part of the album, so you get all the instrumentals and vocal verses on one album.
Oh okay. Also, with the first track where you’re rapping, it goes with the title of the album. Like when I thought of Nickel & Dimed I thought of the cliché like how people try to squeeze so much out of you – is that what was your idea with the title?
The one thing that I usually do with my projects, I did a bad job when I was younger of keeping a journal or diary, so when I make projects, I always put the name or something in the project that tells me kind of puts the moment in time of how I’m feeling and being nickel and dimed was the theme of the time while I was working. I was a little frustrated and kind of felt like I doing a lot of work and just frustrated that things weren’t really working out the way I wanted things to work out. When I thought of the theme, it could be taken in two ways. For me, it could be something or somebody that’s really cheap or trying to be really cheap. Or, it could be somebody that’s trying to be expensive and pull everything. When you’re an artist, you go through a lot of that especially when you’re an independent artist. You go through a lot of people always wanting free music from your or not trying to pay and you end up working harder for not that much in return. You also get people that will treat your music or you or your worth a little cheap always trying not to pay as much or do as much to get more. It’s kind of like if you go to a clothing store and you try to find the flyest stuff but you don’t try to pay a lot of money for it. Granted, it’s not about the money, but it’s really about worth and seeing the worth of certain things and seeing the worth of people and seeing worth in a person’s art or an artist seeing the worth in their art. Not really nickeling and diming their art just for the industry or what you have to do or what you feel you have to do to make it as an artist. That’s pretty much where I got the theme.
You said that you’re not necessarily doing music for money; what do you do it for? What’s your motivation?
In the album I wrote a line that said, “The spirit told me peep it, keep your eyes on the greater purpose, go to use your craft to show the weight of what your worth is,” and there’s a deeper meaning to it. I’m a Christian, that’s my faith. My relationship with God is number one. When I was working on this album, I didn’t have a name for it and at the time was I was fasting and that’s when the theme nickel and dime came about. It actually came from a book in the Bible, Ecclesiastes. Solomon who was one of the wisest men in the bible writes it and he said it kind of sarcastically, what is the point of working hard if you’re going to leave all your hard work to a generation of people that are not going to appreciate it later in life. I thought that was pretty deep because the main thing he was saying is there is no point in working hard if you don’t have a purpose or you’re not working in your purpose that God intended you to work with. You could end up working hard on a lot of things and spending a lot of time on things, but if you’re not supposed to do it, you could just waste your time away. I know that I’m supposed to be doing music and I’m supposed to be inspiring people.
You have a deep faith and spiritual understanding. Where does this come from?
I grew up singing in the choir, that was my first impression of music like creating or being apart of it. I was one of the kids where you had to go to church with your mom and dad and you had no choice. They kind of forced you into the choir because you looked cute and they wanted to see you sing and stuff like that. You may not feel like going to church and you may not feel like doing certain things but your parents make you. That’s kind of how I was at first. My turning point was around the time I really fell in love with music it was with hip-hop. I was always listening to music but hip-hop music I could really connect with. It was around like maybe 92’ or 93’ when all these crazy albums were coming out at the same time like: Pete Rock, CL Smooth, Wu-Tang Clan, Souls of Mischief, A Tribe Called Quest, Nas, Biggie, Pac. I was like yo, I want to be apart of this, this is amazing and I really got into creating. Also, around that time, in 96’ I was growing more in my faith and I got baptized right when I was 15. That was around the same time I was really heavy into Hip-Hop music and I wrote a song about this on Athletic Mic League’s first album (here). It was about when my mom asked me if I felt different after I got baptized and I was like no, not really. I got baptized in water, but it just didn’t feel like I have changed. After that happened, that’s when different things would start happening and I realized I have to make more faith-based decisions in terms of how I felt or what I thought was right like in my own mind. When you start making decisions you end up going places you’ve never thought of going because you’re make a decision for you but it’s just a different type of decision.
Where have your faith-based decisions led you in terms of music?
I started doing music when I was in high school, and when I graduated from high school I ended up going to college at FAMU in Tallahassee, Florida. I wanted to get away from Michigan and go to a Black college and be different and while I was there; I was still working on music but I was being a student. But, something led me into thinking, “You need to do music.” I dropped out of college after my first year and I moved to New Jersey because New York was the place to be in the 90’s. I was going against everything. I was going against school. I was going against my parents – they were pissed off, like super pissed at me for doing it like your son tells you they’re going to drop out of college to go rap and go to move to New Jersey. It was like what are you going to, where are you going to work at, what are you going to do with your life, it just didn’t make any sense. But like I said, when you make faith-based decisions, they don’t make sense all the time. I did it. I learned a lot but it didn’t work out how I envisioned. I ended up coming back to Michigan, and I started to get deeper into my faith. I went back to college. It took me a long time to get out but, in 2006 I finally graduated from college so yay.
When I graduated, I was like alright, and what am I going to do with my life. I had never fasted before in my life and around that my church did a church fast where everyone in the church fasted at the same time. It was a 40-day fast. Usually, for a fast you fast from food or something like that. For my church they would teach that fasting is really the act of denying yourself or self-denial so you can spend more time with God. It could be anything that you deny yourself from – it doesn’t have to be food. I was like word, okay, what am I going to do. I prayed about it and God told me you should fast from music. I was like what, how do you fast from music? God told me if you really want to do music, give it up for 40 days and I’ll show you how important what you’re about to do is. So, I said I don’t even know how to do that but okay I’ll do it – it shouldn’t be hard. But man, that was the hardest fast I’ve ever done in my life and I couldn’t explain it to anybody because no one fasts from music. It doesn’t make sense but faith-based decisions don’t always make sense. I did it and I figured out through the 40 days how important music is to our lives even if we don’t see it.
Music is everywhere. Music is in movies, you can’t go to a movie without hearing it. You can’t go to the grocery store. You can’t go to the mall. You can’t go to the club. You can’t have a conversation with friends about music. You can’t drive in your car with the radio on like it’s so much that music is entailed with and I didn’t notice it until I couldn’t listen to it. That let me know if I create music, you never know how it is going to affect somebody or touch somebody. In many ways, it gets into your subconscious because it’s everywhere. I just realized the importance of it and God was like all right if you get into music you have to realize how important what you’re doing is and how it affects people. And during that time I couldn’t work on music and I was getting all these calls and crazy calls about you have to send a track to so and so I’m in the studio, with Dr. Dre, and he needs beats I was getting that. And I couldn’t do anything about it; it was just crazy. That stuff would have probably happened if I didn’t fast and ever since then, every year I fast. And something crazy happens. That’s how I know it’s real because it happens that way, and that’s one of the reasons I started to take music full time because after that fast I realized that’s what I’m going to do and realized how important it is.
That’s really tight. I knew that you had a sense of faith about you just never knew to what level. Going back to your new LP, do you have a favorite song on the album?
I would probably say some of the vocal verses are my favorite because I got to work with a lot of artists that I really always wanted to work with and never got a chance. I reached out and they made it happen so I though that was really great. My favorite moments are probably all the vocal versions on the album. I got to work with Blu and me and Blu been talking about working for years. I hit him up and he just made it happen and I thought that was amazing to me. It just seemed like a lot of that started to happen even with Black Milk. I got to a track with the legendary Kokane from all of the Snoop Dogg joints. I just reached out and people came through. That was my favorite part that I got to work with all these artists on the album.
What about the track “West Coast Errol Flynnin’ ?” How important is Errol Flynn to Michigan? I know it’s a gang and an actor.
Being from Michigan way back in the day there was a gang called The Errol Flynn Gang and they ended up using a dance. There was a dance that the gang used to use when they went to parties to let you know they were in the gang. They would do this dance with their hands – there’s a dance called the Errol Flynn that people from Detroit do. If you ever hear something from Detroit, you do the dance. We’ve kind of adapted it as our own thing. The name came from the actor, I have no idea why they called it that or used that guy’s name—that’s the weird part I never figured out. I called it West Coast Errol Flynn because when I was in California, they put their fingers up for the W. It was a lot of Michigan and Cali people in the same place and I think they played some Dilla or something from Michigan and we started Errol Flynning and they started throwing up their W’s. We both started combining it and throwing them up at the same time and when I made that song, it always reminded me of that moment. I was like I wanted to make music for that moment.
Speaking of which, you lived in California. I know a lot of people from Michigan either move to LA or Chicago when they leave. Why do you think that is?
You know it’s really ironic because I go back and forth there and I’ll probably end up there for some point of time. But I don’t know man. Chicago is not that far from Michigan but its far enough to get away to feel like you’re somewhere else and it’s a great city. If you wanted to be close to home because your friends and family are here and you don’t want to live too far, but you want to try to do a bigger city. Chicago is a closer city that we all like to go to that is not very far from home. I think that’s a reason why. A lot of my friends live in Chicago and a lot live in Cali but most of them are artists so if you do an art, whether you’re a photographer, most of the time there’s just a lot of opportunity out in California. You’d think it’d be crazy because there are so many people that live there but going there myself there’s always something going on. There’s always some kind of showcase, there’s always just people that you randomly meet, there’s always shows going on. Anything that you can attend to be apart of and you can just meet people and network it’s a really great place for that. Of course the weather is awesome, it’s totally the opposite of how it is in Michigan, but it’s just so many like if you were thinking about the perfect place to move if you’re leaving Michigan, Cali is the perfect place – it’s always that perfect place.
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