The introspective New York rapper/songwriter provides an insight into his “sadboy tendencies”, and the inspiration behind his emphatic new EP, ‘Jolene’.
Having made waves throughout the underground lo-fi/hip-hop scene, Okay(K) has adopted, and persistently adhered to the “sad but make it SLAP” musical approach, culminating in a catalogue of introspective, yet captivating bodies of work – of which his latest EP ‘Jolene’ is no exception. Drawing inspiration from some of the more self-contained, yet absorbing hip-hop artists such as Kid Cudi, Okay(K)’s relatable “solemnness” benefits from his melodic, off-key singing, enhancing the tenderness of his raw vocal delivery. This sense of vulnerability sees him let his guard down, portraying solitude on tracks such as ‘Please Don’t Ever OD’ – a poignant passage touching on the dichotomy of substance use, in which he pours his heart out while singing, “I must’ve died a million times now”. But ‘Jolene’ extends far beyond the contemporary hip-hop sphere, with Okay(K)’s creative drive incorporating elements from a wide scope of genres, including country and r&b – ultimately making for a concise, yet versatile project.
The New York rapper’s undeniable passion for music translates over to his songwriting – a trait which saw him earn a guest appearance on Tobi Lou’s 2019 album, ‘Live on Ice’, as well as teaming up with the ethereal Honey Gentry for a joint project in 2021. Building upon these recent successes, Okay(K) has refined his style as a solo artist, carefully crafting a recipe which exquisitely balances the trade-off between accessibility and experimentation. ‘Jolene’ perfectly exemplifies this formula, containing some of his catchiest, yet experimental songs written to date.
I had the enormous pleasure of interviewing the New York songwriter, who provided an in depth overview of his new EP ‘Jolene’, as well as hinting what else is on the horizon for 2022:
Welcome to Cultural Reset! Congratulations on the release of your spectacular new EP, ‘Jolene’. How did this body of work come about?
Thanks for checking it out. I appreciate every listen whether it be a fan, a blog, a mag, a label, or an a&r. It just means someone took the time out of their day to isolate their hearing and redirect it towards my work, my creation, that being my music. So thanks again my guy.
So about Jolene. Anytime I work on a project whether that be an album, a mixtape or an EP I never go into it saying “I’m gonna make a project!” It usually occurs naturally as I make the majority of the songs in one sitting hence the fluidity and similarities that can be seen between the songs. Jolene was no different. I made four out of the five songs in one sitting (in about 3 and a half hours) and u can tell by the similarities between the song that they were intended to be together, on the same project. The solemness or sadboy tendencies that I tend to exude within the lyricism can be seen throughout but as I’ll discuss later the songs still wna make u bop ur head; I always try and make my songs catchy first and foremost or else I feel no one would wna listen to them, myself included.
The EP directly references Dolly Parton’s classic of the same title. Given your diverse approach to music, is she someone who inspires your art?
Dolly is a gem. I call her one of the godmothers of music up there with Madonna for pop Aaliyah or Janet for r&b maybe if we were to say godfathers, then regarding rap she would be the biggie or Tupac of country music. She’s that prolific and iconic to me. So yeah, she of course inspires my art and I tried to embody what she said in the last part of my song Jolene that I sampled from an interview she had with this Norwegian music magazine, Lydverket where she was explaining the origins of jolene amongst other things and she said that her songs are like her children, she expects them to support her when she gets old so if one of them does become a hit it’s like they were successful like a banker or a lawyer or a president. I’m hoping this EP will go down as one of my better bodies of work and people will appreciate it for what it was later on in my career as a musician.
Other than Dolly, Frank (ocean) and Kanye were large influences in this EP which can be seen in my flow, cadence, lyricism and production.
‘Jolene’ is an extremely personal experience, which sees you touch on topics such as substance abuse and mental health. Based on this, would you consider songwriting a form of self-therapy?
I feel as though if u don’t write or create music for yourself first then what are u doing? Are u a robot built by the music industry with ur main operation and motive to create what the industry wants to hear? That’s totally the wrong approach to making music. You should do it for yourself first and foremost. I’ve dealt with mental health issues and substance… I wouldn’t say abuse but rather experimentation…and I know theirs many around the world that can relate to those subject matters. Kid cudi, an idol of mine and who I draw the most comparisons too https://twitter.com/okayksux/status/1393831051210932227?s=20&t=5FEG8T80-DaoNaLPZmGBWw ( which I’m honored by everyday, sometimes I cry thinking about how ppl are starting to compare me to my idol and it’s alright to cry btw like Francis and the lights said, “it might make u feel better babe”) touches on mental health and substance experimentation in his songs as well if u really listen and don’t get mesmerized by his uncanny ability to create a catchy melody within the song thereby making u bop ur head and sing a long. Sometimes u start to sing along to songs and u don’t really realize how deep it’s meaning actually is and sometimes after like the third or fourth listen u should really read the lyrics or something to understand what the artist may be going thru.
Throughout the EP, the immaculate, uplifting instrumentation often contradicts the downcast nature of the lyrics. Was this juxtaposition a conscious decision?
Sad but make it slap. This is what I try to exemplify in the majority of my songs and I wasn’t the creator of this adage. Lauv actually coined this phrase and can be seen in a tweet he sent out in 2019. https://twitter.com/lauvsongs/status/1190336633746415617?s=21
He’s one of my biggest insipirations in the music I do rn bc he always makes his songs so catchy and his flows are so innovative I often find myself studying them and forgetting how sad the lyrics are until I go back and listen for the fourth or fifth time. So to answer ur question, yes it was intentional and I happen to do that quite often, I’m glad u noticed that.
Your previous work is renowned for its experimental take on lo-fi hip-hop, and while adhering to this approach on ‘Jolene’, I feel this project also contains some of your catchiest melodies. How difficult is it to balance the trade-off between creating a memorable hook, while also remaining experimental?
Well like I said before my main objective is to make the song catchy. I feel like I accomplished this in every song on Jolene. It’s something I can listen to without getting bored. Experimentation comes with caution bc u don’t want to make the song unlistenable. But if u add something like an Ariana Grande interview talking about Mac miller (Please don’t ever OD) or a Chris tucker quote from the movie friday (It’s Friday you ain’t got no job and you ain’t got shit to do); that’s experimentation thru sampling which doesn’t take away from the catchiness of the song bc it’s actually something the listener wants to hear.
‘Common Nightmares’ sees you team up with Kythre, in what feels like an organic collaboration, given the impressive harmonies and undeniable chemistry. How did this collaboration come about? Can we expect more in the future?
Yeah for sure. Kythre is actually responsible for mixing/mastering the majority of my tracks from 2019 onwards. He mixed 1000 miles with over 250k plays on YouTube. He mixed the song I did with dylAn called untitled 2 that got in new music Friday on spotify. He even mixed most of Okay, Honey the collab tape I did with Honey Gentry. He’s been my go-to engineer Gwen stefanis group (no doubt). But in regards to common nightmares I sent him the track to mix per usual and he liked it so much that he wanted to hop on the track. So we extended the beat, he laid down a verse and sung the chorus with me and the rest is history. You can def expect more in the future; he’s from my hometown , New York, so we plan to perform common nightmares together in NY sometime in the future for sure.
Finally, given your prolific output over the past 2 years, can we expect a quick follow-up to this EP? What else is in store for 2022?
Mos def…..is one of the greatest rappers that ever lived. But yeah most def lol. I have this song called “Not Another Rock Song” coming out March 25th which fans that have heard me perform it are saying is the best song I’ve ever made so far. I actually plan to do a music video for it today and someone that inspired me to delve more into that realm is tobi lou. I feel like he’s kanye to my chance the rapper. I’m on his debut album, live on ice, and he’s definitely held the mentor role ever since. If u look at his music videos theyre insane and innovative af; I just aspire to create such masterpieces one day.
After “not another rock song” I have another ep coming out called “A Demo for Nick” which is just word play for demonic, the third track and self proclaimed title track. This ep is sad in lyricism once again and even production gets a little melancholy especially in the first track but “sad times and loneliness” is a bop so look out for that one. It was heavily inspired by lauv who I talked about before.
Another release I’m excited about is “oceans in the sky” I’m working on with kim maverick who is a mastermind songwriter, her main objective is to write songs for big name artists (think like Julia Michaels before she was Julia Michaels) but she makes her own music too. I performed the song for her on this open mic she was hosting and she loved the song and wanted to be a part of it. Of course I agreed and I was actually flattered bc she’s someone I look up to in terms of musicianship and songwriting. Yeah so that’s in the works too.
I know u probly wna know if there’s more honey gentry okay(k) collabs coming up lol. Last time I talked with honey she said “i’m taking a bit of a break atm sorry! lots going on.” So ima let her have her space for the moment but ya know I gotta bug her eventually because I love the music we create together.
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