KayCyy Is a New Star From the School of Kanye West
KayCyy has been studying under Kanye West for the past year and a half, contributing to ‘Donda,’ and now he’s about to drop a solo project of his own.
Photo by Danny Lopez
KayCyy’s left knee keeps bouncing while we talk in the corner of a hotel room, but it’s unclear why.
Maybe it’s the excitement of the moment. Just last night, he was running around clubs in Miami with Travis Scott after Rolling Loud. And two nights before that, he was by Kanye West’s side in the bowels of Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium for a Donda listening session.
Or maybe it’s nerves. For the past year and a half, the 24-year-old rapper has been working closely with Kanye, and the music they’ve been making might finally be out in the world soon. The two connected through KayCyy’s manager Abou “Bu” Thiam, who now manages Kanye as well. When they first met in LA, KayCyy played some songs, and ’Ye liked his melodies. Before long, the two were together all the time.
“Every time Kanye would introduce me to people like Trav or Justin Bieber and all these people, he’d be, like, ‘Man, here’s my first artist out of YZY SND,’” KayCyy says. Describing the experience of working in Kanye’s famously collaborative creative environment, he adds, “It’s like the Yeezy School of Music. You’re going to learn something there, and you’re going to meet somebody important there. Everybody’s there for a reason.”
Now, all his hard work is coming to fruition. During the listening party in Atlanta, Kanye played a song called “Hurricane” featuring Lil Baby and KayCyy. He expresses relief about his vocals making the album, because he knows how many changes Kanye’s songs go through before they actually come out. As he quickly points out, though, Kanye is currently camping out in the stadium and making adjustments to the album, so a lot could still change. We’ll all find out on Aug. 6.
“It’s like the Yeezy School of Music. You’re going to learn something there, and you’re going to meet somebody important there. Everybody’s there for a reason.”
Until then, KayCyy is putting the finishing touches on his next solo project, Who Is KayCyy? It’ll serve as an introduction of sorts—a sample platter of what he’s capable of. And right now, his sights are set very high. He’s making music with visions of playing it in stadiums one day, and his musical range crosses all genres and palettes. He plans to drop a new single called “Flew By You” on Aug. 6, and the project will come soon after.
KayCyy is on a clear path to stardom, but he’s staying flexible in the meantime. We’re sitting in a small, messy hotel room right now, because he had to book the trip last-minute when Kanye was momentarily planning to perform at Rolling Loud. So KayCyy had to take what he could get on short notice.
The accommodations don’t matter at this time, though. He’s on his way to much bigger things, and you get the feeling he’ll be reminiscing on the thrill of these days in the years to come. This is the exciting “making it” moment every artist dreams of. With that in mind, we press mute on the hotel TV, clear off two small chairs in the corner of the room, and start a conversation about everything happening in his life right now.
This is KayCyy’s story—so far.
What made you want to start making music?
Probably church—praise and worship. I was going to church a lot as a kid. I’m still a church boy now, but I don’t go as much now as I need to. And when I came to America, I was hanging out with a group of friends that were into music in middle school, so that’s when it really started. I was in a group with the homies, recording ourselves, and just trying to figure it out.
What artists inspired you in the beginning?
Michael Jackson, of course. That was inspirational to me—watching his music videos and watching the Jackson 5 movie a lot. That’s one of the movies that made me want to do this. And of course, growing up in Kenya, I was listening to African music, too.
What kind of music were you making at first?
I was making R&B at first. I would listen to Bieber and Chris Brown. I was really heavy on writing love songs.
How did your music evolve from there?
It’s been a process, because I feel like I’m just recently finding myself. I went through different genres—I’ve done hip-hop, reggae, afro, pop music. So I had to figure out how to use my voice and be completely satisfied with what I’m doing. I’m figuring out how to be in every lane, but still have my own sound.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Kenya, and was raised there for 10 years. Then I grew up the rest of the years in Minnesota, before moving to New York.
How did those first 10 years in Kenya shape you?
It shaped me a lot. That culture is important to me. I still speak Swahili, and my other languages and shit, so that definitely shaped me to know more. Without knowing the languages and being tapped into my roots, I probably wouldn’t make such diverse music.
How much did your years in Minnesota influence you?
A lot. I might not even be doing music if I didn’t move to Minnesota. That’s where I found out what I’m good at, and where I met the circle of friends who were into music. In middle school, you try to do sports and you try to do certain things, and then you’re like, “Alright, cool. I can make it happen with this.”
As you got more serious about music, what artists inspired you?
I was mostly inspired by the group of people I was around who were making music, because I felt like everybody was talented. We were all trying to make it in the same kind of thing. It would be friendly competition, like, “Damn, I want my bars to be as good as so-and-so.”
And obviously I was studying Kanye a lot. That was one of my things, too. My brother had sang “Heartless” at a talent show. And that’s when it really caught my eyes as the little brother, like, “Damn. This song is fire. I could do this. Let me try.” You know how you see your big brother doing something, and you’re like, “I want to try it out”? That’s how I really started music. Doing those talent shows really got me going.
How did you get connected with your manager Bu?
Shit, man. It’s been like four years. Somebody that knows somebody that knows somebody…
What’s it been like working with him?
It’s been amazing. It’s been a learning experience, too. He’s like a big brother to me, so his advice matters and his opinions about the music always matters. Me and him have been locked in. It’s got to go through his ear for me before I put it out. I respect his ear. I know how much he knows shit. We’re growing as brothers and we’re trying to win. We’ve been building for a while, and shit’s coming together. God’s making it work for us, for real.
He’s the one who connected you with Kanye, right?
How’d that connection happen?
They’ve been friends for a while, and I met ’Ye in L.A. at his house. I played “No Luck” for him when I got the chance, and he said he liked my melodies. I didn’t see him for another year, or maybe half a year. Then Bu ended up managing him, and the link-up happened again. This time, it was just for sure. I locked in and started working on the album, Donda, for like a year and a half.
Do you know what Kanye saw in you, specifically?
It was mainly melodies. That’s what he noticed again when I went back over there: melodies. And I kind of stuck with that. That was my way in.
There are stories of Kanye having big collaborative camps. It sounds like a fun way to create, because everyone just makes the best shit they can, and then he pulls it all together. What’s that been like?
It definitely is. It’s like the Yeezy School of Music. You’re going to learn something there, and you’re going to meet somebody important there. Everybody’s there for a reason. I met a lot of people there, I can’t even lie, bro. A lot of great people. That’s how I met Trav, and everybody. You see so many people coming in and adding something to the project. It was dope seeing that process of how he works, and how I can apply it to my own shit.
What is one thing that you’ve learned from being around Kanye?
Okay. Fuck. So much. It’s a lot. Damn. Let me really think about a good answer for this. Well, from observing, I learned that you don’t really give up on a song. Like, some people might just work on a song really quick and it’ll be done. I’ve had those kind of moments, where it’s like, “Oh, if I don’t fuck with this song, we’ll just go to the next one. But when it’s special, I’ll stick with it.” But I’ve learned to try different elements and different sounds. And if I don’t fuck with a song, I could have somebody else do certain things over. Like, really getting in there as a producer, with structure and shit.
You were at the Donda listening session in Atlanta the other day. When he played “Hurricane” featuring your vocals, what was that experience like?
Unreal. Sheesh. He kept them vocals on there. That shit’s crazy. That’s how I really felt. I just lost it, because everybody else was geeked up. It felt crazy in the stadium. Listening to all of those songs in the stadium felt different, and it inspired me for my album, too. I’ve got to imagine myself right there in the middle, too, playing my shit.
“From observing [Kanye], I learned that you don’t really give up on a song.”
I’m sure it was cool to hear that get played, because I know there are so many versions of each song, you’re never sure what’s going to end up on the album. There was talk about you maybe being on “24” before the listening event.
But even now, nobody knows yet.
Right. Because he’s still working on it.
And with “24” and all of that, I think I was on it, but it was toned down, so it was hard to even tell if I’m the one singing it. But yeah, you just never know. Shit changes so much, how he’s putting the album together. But there’s a lot of work I put in there, so it’s like, something’s going to come out. That’s how I feel. Something is going to.
Yeah. How did your vocals on “Hurricane” come together?
That’s an old song that they had. As I was saying, you don’t give up on a song. I had to learn that, too, because that one was going to come out on Yandhi, but it never did. When I heard the song, though, it was completely new to me, and it was one of my favorites already. I just love the hook and everything. When Baby came to Wyoming, he ended up getting on the song.
There was so much going on in Wyoming. ’Ye was doing whatever he was doing with the fashion stuff, but it’s all happening in the same area. So Baby and I were sitting there, listening to the album and trying to figure out what song he should get on. I came in and told him, “I think you should get on ‘Hurricane.’ It’s going to be one of the biggest songs, because it’s the most anticipated one.” I’m like, “If you get on it, it’ll be wild.” So he did that. He gave an amazing verse, and it stayed on topic of what we were aiming for—like gospel music, and not swearing and doing too much of that. He did amazing, and I’m like, “Alright, cool. This shit sounds fire. How can I get on the song?” So I figured out a way to just add my vocals on it. Like an outro bridge. And then ’Ye actually ended up fucking with it. It was crazy.
I’m sure it’s been motivating to be around Kanye and his team. How has that changed your own self-confidence as an artist?
It just makes it more possible. It makes me go harder. It makes me hungrier. You have little moments where you’d be, like, “Damn. I’m not there yet.” You see the superstars, so you’re like, “This is how it is to be at that level.” Everything is motivational, being around them. Like, an everyday person is not going to be in the room talking about what they’re talking about, or even trying to grind on the type of time that they’re trying to grind on. You see, ’Ye gets up at 8:00 in the morning when he doesn’t have to. Like, he’s already a billionaire. You see him working on 10 different things at the same time and you’re wondering, “How the fuck is he doing this shit?” And it’s, like, that’s what it takes to get there. So I’m just soaking it in and trying to apply it.
Kanye is one of the biggest artists in the world, but he’s always looking for younger talent to take under his wing. Some people have been calling you “Kanye’s new protégé.” Is that how it felt for you, too?
That’s how I felt for sure. I still feel like that for sure. But that’s definitely how it was, when we were working in the moment. Like, “Damn, I’m really under ’Ye’s wing.” Because every time he would introduce me to people like Trav or Justin Bieber and all these people, he’d be, like, “Man, here’s my first artist out of YZY SND, Kaycyy.” He would introduce it like that. It’s like big brother type shit. I’m looking at it like he’s really saying, “Come here, let’s do it.” That’s how I felt. Even just being around that—learning and working to get to the level that I’m at now with my music—I feel like I definitely am a protégé of him. I’ve learned a lot and applied it to my shit.
Right now, all of Kanye’s fans are really hungry for information. And the other day, you tweeted, “Don’t look at my Twitter as information for big bro.” What has it been like dealing with the anticipation of a really hardcore fanbase like that?
It’s crazy how hard they go. It’s been crazy. I got to the point where I got hacked, like my songs. Even now, I’m still—
You said your SoundCloud got hacked like an hour ago.
Yeah, my SoundCloud got hacked and some super weird shit happened that I’ve got to fix still. But yeah, bro, they leaked like 90 of my songs, trying to find ’Ye songs. I know that’s what they were doing.
It’s got to at least feel good that people care, though, right?
It’s cool, because I feel like I’ve definitely gained a lot of fans from that, who ended up rocking with my shit after. Like, the only reason they came here was looking for a ’Ye update and then they ended up hearing my music and fucking with it.
What kind of music has been exciting you the most in the studio lately? What kind of vibe are you tapping into when it comes to your own music?
Stadium sounds. Big shit. That excites me. And weird sounds that are going left more than right. Like, “What’s that? What did I just hear?” type shit. Those are the kind of sounds that I’m going for, more than just regular hip-hop. I mean, I’m still going for those, but even those sound different now. It’s more energy-driven, and more fun. Like Ronny J’s beats. I’m working with this new producer called Mike Wavvs, too. He’s going to give me those weird sounds and shit like that. And if I’m going to use samples, it’s got to be very special. I try to take it ’Ye-level.
What do you think you’ve been improving at most lately?
Knowing what to put my voice on, and what not to. I don’t have to put my voice on everything. I know what sound I’m going for. If I hear a beat, I’ve just got to hear like five seconds or something.
’Ye gets up at 8:00 in the morning when he doesn’t have to. Like, he’s already a billionaire. You see him working on 10 different things at the same time and you’re wondering, ‘How the f*ck is he doing this sh*t?’ But that’s what it takes to get there. So I’m just soaking it in and trying to apply it.”
Not every great beat is right for every artist.
Exactly. That’s what I’m saying. I had to identify that, too, because I’m also a songwriter, so I have to pick what’s going to work for me and what’s going to work for another artist. It might not be my vibe, but it’s for someone else. And I can get in that bag still, but I’m doing it for somebody else.
Talk about songwriting a little bit. How’d you get started with that?
I always wrote. I was in a group when I was coming up, so I always wrote for my group. And I write my own music. It’s always been my strong side. I’ve always tried to write and pitch songs, like, “Oh, let me get a placement. How does this work?” Sending stuff to A&Rs. But it really picked up like a year and a half ago when I got a placement with Lil Wayne off his new album.
How did that come together?
Through the same shit—trying to get placements from my basement. I was working with this producer and he had a connect with Wayne. I never even actually met him. It just happened through connecting. That happened to be one of my first placements, and it was a big one. Then I started doing more stuff for ‘Ye. I learned so much there, and I feel like that helped with my pen game. Like, being challenged more.
You’re getting ready to drop a new solo project. What fans can expect with that one?
I’m trying to come in with a classic. There are a lot of inspirations that I would look at who were in my position before they got to that next level. I’m fortunate to be around someone like Travis Scott and certain people like that. So I study it, and I’m like, “Okay. Classic. I’ve got to come like Days Before Rodeo. Like, this before-the-main-event type shit.” I’m not saying the same sound, but the same energy and the vision. So I’ve been working on Who Is KayCyy? and then there’s From the Basement.Who Is Kaycyy? is just pieces of me, before I get to the whole main event.
It’s an introduction.
Exactly. I just feel like that’s what people are asking now. Whether I’m working with ’Ye or Trav or anybody else, people are asking, “Who is he? Who is this kid?” And the album will be the answer.
The cover art is crazy. Who made that?
This dude named JBlessing. He sent me some art on Instagram or email, and it was just fire. He was on some My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy type vibes. It caught my eye. I needed something that was going to make you think, “Damn. What is that? What am I looking at? What’s my intake of what I’m looking at? How do I see it?” Because that’s how I feel like the project is. “Who is he?” Oh, I’m figuring it out.
How important are visuals to you?
They’re very important right now, because I’m trying to up it. There are some visuals I’ve got out, but I’m not happy with them at all. I’m to a point where I’ve figured out what I’m trying to shoot for. And my favorite visual artists are people like Tyler and ASAP [Rocky]. I feel like they take it very seriously, and I’m trying to take it there because that might be what’s missing.
You’ve also been around artists like Travis and Kanye, who have always been very focused on visuals.
Facts. They take every aspect of the art seriously. So that’s what I’ve been doing, from the cover, to the music, to everything. Before, I didn’t really care so much. I could have put out a project with just a black screen or some shit. But now, I think about it differently.
The first single “Flew By You” is coming out soon.
Yeah, August 6.
Why’d you pick that as a single?
Energy. I mess with the video. It’s just the right time for it. It’s got a summer kind of vibe. And it’ll go crazy in the clubs, too.
You recently dropped “No Luck.” Is that going to be on the project, too?
I’m thinking about it. It might still get on it. Because my whole thing was, if it goes crazy and does something, I’m going to add it to the project. But it actually is going crazy, because I got a lot of people’s attention.
How did that song come together?
I had that song for maybe two years, and I actually got tired of it. I didn’t want to put it out. I was unsure if people would even fuck with it anymore. But maybe it was just because I’d heard it so much. It started off with just me and 30 Roc working on it. Long story short, it had an original sample from Brockhampton I think, and then I had the Sunday Service re-sing that. I felt like it would be interesting to have them do the same melodies I did on the hook, and just kind of make it bigger. I wish I did a fire visual, though.
Is that something you’ve been experimenting with lately? Incorporating big background vocals and shit?
Hell yeah. If I had a way to involve something bigger, like an orchestra and all that type of shit, I would. Eventually, that’s where I’m going to take my music. I like ballads and all that type of shit, too.
“I’m here to make timeless shit and I’m here to stick around.”
You’re here in Miami this weekend with Travis Scott. What’s it been like working with him?
It’s dope as fuck. I ain’t gonna hold you. It’s young turnt vibes, compared to the type of time that ‘Ye was on when I was around him. ’Ye was gospel and trying to chill. Trav is more turnt, like on the type of time that I’m on. But I’m also on the type of time ’Ye’s on, chilling on Sunday and I’m tapped in with God. But with Trav and them, it’s lit for sure. I learn a lot from him, too, because he’s a genius himself. The way he puts shit together—he takes shit serious with his production and everything. I think from both of them, the most I learned was production. And getting my bars up, taking shit seriously, and being picky with certain things. But being picky about the right things. It’s actually good to be picky, because you’re trying to be a perfectionist with shit.
It sounds like you’ve been studying a lot.
That’s exactly what’s going on. I’m studying so much. And I picture myself there. I manifest it. This was my first time coming to a festival at Rolling Loud. I have never been to Coachella or none of that type shit. I just always saw myself, like, “If I go here, I want to perform, and I want to do something.” But this is cool, because it was just like, “Let me come and experience it.”
You have front-row seats.
Yeah, with the biggest artist out right now. It’s crazy. For that to be the first time, it’s pretty dope. And I’m just like, “Next year, I’ve got to be here [myself]. I’ve got to get here.” That’s my whole motivation.
The other day, you tweeted, “The greatest artist of the next 20 plus years.” Is that your ultimate goal? Trying to get as big as possible?
Yeah, because I feel like I can. I feel like there’s room. And there’s room for change. With a lot of the people who have been coming out, it either sounds the same or it sounds like what it expected to sound like. I’m ready to twist shit up, challenge myself, and challenge other people that’s making music. Yeah, man, I’m coming for that top spot. I’m studying y’all. I’m studying the Drakes and all these people that are there, because they did it so well. And he even said that you’ve got to study the greats and do better.
What do you think separates you from other up-and-coming artists?
I feel like with these ones, bro, I don’t really put myself on a level with these up-and-coming artists. And it’s no offense. Maybe it’s because I’ve been fortunate enough to be around the greats I’ve been around. And I’ve learned, like, “That’s where I see myself. It’s not nowhere less.” There are some dope people coming out, though, for sure.
Of course. I saw you tweeted about wanting to work with Baby Keem.
Baby Keem’s hard. I fuck with his shit. I want to work with people that I fuck with for real. I would work with him. I fuck with BIA. I like her tone, and I feel like I could do something with it in a way that maybe ’Ye would have done something with it. It wouldn’t just be a regular song, though. It would be like, “How can I use this girl’s voice?” It’s some dope people. Brent Faiyaz ain’t super new, but he’s dope. He’s got that lane solidified—that R&B shit right there.
What is one thing you want people to know about you when they read this?
I could just take the quote that Drake had on “Pound Cake” where he said, “Only real music’s going to last. That other shit is here today and gone tomorrow.” That’s what I’m on. I’m here to make timeless shit and I’m here to stick around. I’m going to put the work in and see where it goes from here.