It’s no secret that music and memes go well together. Over the past year or so, though, it’s become clear that the connection between the two goes deeper than Twitter jokes on the night a new album drops. Memes are playing a role in chart success and, apparently, meme-makers are getting set to make hits of their own. Enter Ka5sh: a 25-year-old internet personality from North Carolina (he’s since relocated to L.A.) who alternates between telling people he’s a rapper or just someone who makes memes for money. We first heard about Ka5sh on “I’m Depressed,” a track that’s equal parts earnest and goofy, a straightforward attempt to turn twentysomething ennui into a party song. It works surprisingly well.
The other week, Ka5sh’s name was in the news for his meme-making, when he pulled back the curtain on how someone makes jokes about music on the internet for a living during an interview with NBC News. Complex caught up with Ka5sh (and his manager, Keaton) about how one gets their start as a professional meme-maker, how he scored his first hit with “I’m Depressed,” and where he wants his career to go next.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
If I met you at a party right now, how would you describe what you do?
That’s always the hardest part. Sometime’s I’ll say, “Oh, I make memes!” and sometimes I’ll say I’m a rapper or an artist. That’s the easiest. Yeah, I think rapper first. I mean now if you meet me at a party you’d be like, “Oh, another rapper.”
Is that how you spend most of your days now? It seems like the music stuff is pretty new.
Yeah, well, it sucks because I’ve been making music for a long time, it’s just no one paid attention until the meme stuff. Then I used the meme stuff as a segue into the music stuff. But that was why I originally started making memes so people would pay attention to the music, and then “I’m Depressed” came out and that started giving me a lot of—
So the two are intertwined?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. For sure.
When did you start making music?
I started making music, I wanna say, like, 2011. I went back into all of my old music. I had just found out about, like, Tyler, the Creator. I was like, “Oh, shit there’s other weird Black people out there, I wanna start rapping.” I started rapping really badly. Then I was in a rap group in like 2013, and we didn’t do a lot. Around 2016 is when I moved out to LA, that’s when I started over and I started to rap as Ka5sh. That’s when, I guess, music started working for me.
Can you explain the name Ka5sh?
When I first started rapping, I was going by Kash Ketchum, a play on Ash Ketchum because I was really into Pokémon. Then I didn’t want to go by that name anymore because, the older I got, I was like, “Ah, that’s kinda corny to be Kash Ketchum, I don’t think anyone wants to hear me rap about cartoons and shit all the time. I’m getting old.” By then everyone already knew me as Kash, so I just kept going by the name. In August, I watched this movie called Bandslam starring Vanessa Hudgens, and her name was Sa5m and the 5 was silent. I was like, “Dude, you can have a 5 in your name and just be silent? That’s amazing.” So I put a 5 in my name, and then, now I’m Ka5sh.
I think a lot of people primarily know you from “I’m Depressed”—what was the creative process behind the song? It seems both accurate and tongue-in-cheek.
It was weird. My producer Yung Skrrt had left the room, I think to go do laundry or something. I was just bored, looking through his beats and I found that one. I was thinking about that song “Broccoli,” by D.R.A.M. and Lil Yachty, and I was thinking about like the juxtaposition of, like, what if I just rapped about my depression over this beat.
Whenever he came back I showed him the beat, and he was like, “Oh, I didn’t think you would ever pick this,” because I usually just rap over really hype shit. Then I freestyled over the beat to “I’m Depressed” and then we knocked it out, and it’s been good ever since. Everything that I rapped about in that song was just authentic and real, real-ass shit that I was going through and happened to me when I first moved out to LA. I was super depressed, making memes all day. It came from a really dark place but it made a nice song.
How has the response been?
I’ve gotten so many really good messages. People are like, “This song gets me through the day.” “I never heard a song about depression that, it just wasn’t made for me, and just makes me feel like I’m not alone with depression." And yeah, like Hope for the Day—wait hold, on I’m sorry. How do I describe Hope for the Day?
Keaton [Ka5sh’s manager]: They’re a non-profit organization that offers resources to people that are suffering with mental health.
Yeah, yeah. Hope for the Day is a non-profit organization that helps people with mental illness and stuff, but I really fuck with it; and Frank Ocean, and Pitchfork, like all those people, really, really good people like the song, so that makes me happy.
You said that when you wrote it, it was when you just moved to L.A. and were starting your meme career.
No, well, I had already been in L.A. for about six months before I made “I’m Depressed,” but it was about the first two months when I first moved to L.A., when I was broke and I had no clue what I was doing. I was crashing on my friend’s floor in the corner just making memes. I was just posting memes all day to Instagram. That was the only thing that was making me happy, and I wasn’t leaving the house or drinking water or eating food, I was just laying there.
How’d you get so good at the internet?
From being on it all the time, which is sick. If you be on this stuff all the time, you know what’s about to be funny and what’s going to be funny in the future, and what’s funny to everyone, because you just see all the trends happening. Then you can create your own shit. So it is a type of addiction. [Laughs.]
So you start making memes to get your music out there, and then you get some recognition and start making memes for a variety of places?
So, basically, I did the “I fuck with the vision, let’s link and build” situation, if you’re familiar with that. I did that, and it got to the point where like, it got out of my hands and Four Pins was tweeting it and then someone was trying to make a windbreaker out of it and Pete Wentz was like, “Yo, I wanna buy it” and I was like, “What the fuck, I’m not making money off of this?!”
I started posting like, “Please hire me to make memes for you” because that’s all I had. Luckily, people started hitting me up about making memes for them, and then I guess word of mouth just people started hitting me up to do that.
This doesn’t seem like a small practice, it doesn’t seem like it’s just you doing it.
No, all of my meme friends are doing it.
How do you feel about this general practice of using memes as a marketing tool; like for example, “Black Beatles” really picked up from a meme.
I think it’s sick, and I had a really good thought about it: I was like, people who make memes for songs and stuff like that aren’t doing anything crazy revolutionary, because the song has to be either really good or really bad or ironic or something to catch people’s attention. It’s really just to help supplement the promotion for it. I don’t think it’s crazy. You aren’t going to not like “Black Beatles” because you saw a meme about it, like, I don’t know. It’s not propaganda.
And it can’t just be you, it has to be normal people doing it as well. It has to pick up and people have to actually like the meme.
Mhm. Ah, yes, because whenever you try and force that shit it doesn’t work—like Katy Perry’s “Bon Appetit” shit. Whenever she tried to do that “Bon Appetit” challenge, and it was forced, and you can see that nobody wants to squirt water on their face, that’s stupid. You can tell whenever you’re trying to force a meme onto people. It has to feel authentic. The mannequin challenge felt authentic. It felt real and everyone wanted to do it. I would go to like random ass places and they’d be like, “Let’s do a mannequin challenge!”
And how did you fit into this scene?
I don’t want there to be a crazy ass conspiracy or some kind of expose, because that’s not what the NBC interview was about. I wasn’t trying to expose a specific record label or anything like that. I just said, “Hey, say a record label, say Interscope, would do that.” I was just using it as an example, and I should’ve just said major label and that would’ve been better. It was bad wording. It’s a conversation people should be having, just not for me.
The interview I did, it was about this art show that I did called Peaches, and was about the Black internet experience. I was trying to just put all these Black content creators and Black artists on. That’s what I’m really about, just showing Black people that we can do this. We’re creating all this cold-ass internet culture and all of American culture. We need to start getting compensated for it. That’s one thing I just want to say.
One thing you said in the interview that felt particularly true is that if you’re on Black Twitter, you know what’s going to happen on the rest of it weeks before it ever happens.
Exactly, because we set the standard for what everyone’s jokes are about to be, and then they don’t even know what the origin was, but we do. [Laughs.]
Do you see yourself as a pioneer in taking this internet sensibility and trying to make money off of it?
I wouldn’t consider myself a pioneer, because there are other people doing this shit too. I’m just really visible right now. Maybe I can become a pioneer, but I want to put on as many people as I can while I have this platform. Just put everyone on, if that makes any sense.
You’ve got a lot going on right now—what do you think is your next move in your career path?
Get people really familiar with the new music I’m about to make. I’m doing a lot of film stuff and TV stuff and web series stuff, and exploring that; just being a multimedia experience. I admire Donald Glover so much, that’s the kind of career path that I’m trying to get. Just fucking writing, doing comedy, acting, making really good music, all of that. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to make movies. I’m just trying to be the best version of me that I can possibly be, now that I’m in a situation where people know I exist.