Savemoney wordsmith KAMI is at a turning point in his career. His debut album, Just Like The Movies, was released on April 27, and with a sound unlike any project in recent memory, it’ll surely collect thousands of devoted fans and turn industry heads in his direction.
Harkening back to the pulsating synths and neon vibes of the 1980s, Just Like The Movies combines KAMI’s unique ear for melody with executive producer Knox Fortune’s taste for abnormal beats. The two mesh seamlessly, and Movies, the product of two years’ work, shines brightly in Chicago’s endlessly acclaimed discography.
I spoke with KAMI the day after Movies’ release while he recuperated from its celebration party. Even while fighting through a hangover, KAMI has a magnetic personality; his jokes are laced with Chicagoan slang, his love for his friends is radiant, and his passion for art is evident.
Like many members of Savemoney not named Chance The Rapper or Vic Mensa, KAMI has until now been mostly overshadowed by his famous friends. He released a mixtape, LIGHT, in 2012, but since then, his name has primarily been attached to Leather Corduroys, the duo he formed with friend and Savemoney brethren Joey Purp. The group produced an album (Season), an EP (Porno Music Vol. II: TSFR), and a few loosies before taking a brief hiatus to make way for Joey and KAMI’s solo efforts.
“Leather Chords season is never really over,” he reassured me, as I pressed him about their return. “That shit is forever. Through Joey being successful, I feel successful. And vice versa.”
While Joey dove deeper into lyricism and technical rap on his brilliant 2016 tape, iiiDrops, KAMI developed an affection for the melodic side of the Leather Chords sound. “The rap shit, from a conventional sense, that’s in me. I feel like I could do that,” he told me. “But it’s just not how I’m trying to express myself anymore. [Joey] was able to express himself through rap way more effortlessly.” On Movies, rapping is entirely absent from half the songs, with KAMI instead opting for rock- and punk-ish singing melodies as his principal means of expression.
Between Season, iiiDrops and Just Like The Movies, the only element more ubiquitous than KAMI and Joey themselves is buzzing Chicago singer-producer Knox Fortune. With his credits list growing rapidly since his feature on Chance’s “All Night,” Knox is undoubtedly one of the brightest rising stars in his city, but his connection with KAMI is unlike any of his other collaborations.
Shortly after Knox sent KAMI a beat, at the recommendation of Vic Mensa’s manager, the two became fast friends and musical partners. “He sent me something and I literally recorded to that shit the next day,” KAMI recalled. “I met this kid for the first time, and I was like, ‘This nigga looks like Harry Potter.’”
From that point on, their chemistry was undeniable. “It’s crazy because we have two completely different upbringings, culture-wise, but we have so many similarities. So it’s cool to have somebody that’s the visual opposite of you but the core of y’all friendship is based off y’all having such similar values,” he explained.
Indeed, Knox looks a lot like Daniel Radcliffe, while KAMI is half Ghanaian and half Nigerian, making their friendship the idyllic embodiment of the simple ideals promoted in the 1980s. Fitting, then, that the album they created together is the ideal evolution of the '80s soundscape. KAMI told me that the most apt description of Just Like The Movies came from Joey Purp, who said it sounds “like if the '80s had WiFi.”
Surprisingly, the Miami Vice-esque feel was not actually intentional. As the album title suggests, film plays a significant role, but not from that decade. “My favorite director is probably Kubrick. And Tarantino,” said KAMI. “They didn’t really make movies in the ‘80s—well, of course, Kubrick did, but my favorite Kubrick movie is Eyes Wide Shut [released 1999]. So not really ‘80s-inspired, we just caught a vibe and I don’t know why it was particularly the ‘80s sound. Knox was producing that shit and I was just feeling it and did what was appropriate.”
The Eyes Wide Shut influence is most obvious in the album artwork, a portrait of KAMI with his eyes closed and head tilted back as if lost in deep thought.
“I had this idea of taking a portrait and closing my eyes because your eyes tell everything. When your eyes are closed, that’s when you’re the most pensive, that’s when you’re the most with yourself. It’s a literal visualization of introspection,” he explained. The other photos from the shoot can be seen on the back cover, which mimics the cutting room floor of a retro film studio.
Of course, it’s open to interpretation: “It also looks like I’m smelling some shit. Niggas was making fun of me and shit. I was like, ‘That should be a meme; what am I smelling?’”
So, maybe Eyes Wide Shut isn’t that important after all. As KAMI toldNoisey, the central theme of the album is not to regurgitate the values of silver screen classics, but rather to explore real life’s moments as cinematic experiences. That explains the disconnect between the album’s title and music and 1980s films. “I think that more so than ‘80s movies, it was probably just the ‘80s sound that’s always sounded good to me,” KAMI clarified. “Like the Drive soundtrack—that movie came out when I was in high school, so that was probably one of the first things that I saw, getting closer to my adult life, that I really appreciated from an art perspective. I love Drive. Love that shit. And that soundtrack—Electric Youth—what’s that song?—[sings ‘A Real Hero’]. That just probably subconsciously stuck with me.”
With the album finally finished and available for public consumption, KAMI is now free to explore his next venture, a short film he co-wrote with “HOME MOVIES” director Andre Muir. However, KAMI is quick to assert that the film will have little to do with the album: “I don’t want to shoot a short film that’s a glorified music video.” Noting that it won’t have the same ‘80s aesthetic as the album, KAMI also plans to co-direct with Muir, and says he won’t play the lead role, leaving little connection to Just Like The Movies. “Obviously, I could use some of my music to soundtrack it, but it’s a little bit more modern. I feel like I know how to make things work that you wouldn’t necessarily see as cohesive off the rip. But there’s a way to make things cohesive. That’s the challenge I want to give to myself.”
After all our talk about film—and partly because Ryan Gosling’s character in Drive has a lot in common with Chiron—I had to ask KAMI if he’d seen the 2016 Oscar winner for Best Picture, Moonlight.
“Haven’t watched Moonlight yet. Somebody told me a crazy scene about some kids on a beach or some shit?”
Ah, the movies. Don’t worry, I didn’t spoil it for him, because as much as we all want to live life Just Like The Movies, maybe some first-time experiences are better lived vicariously.