Sometimes you hear a project, and you have the purest gut reaction: “I like this.” That’s the story of how I discovered KingJet. Born in New York, having grown up in Nashville, and currently based in Los Angeles, the 29-year-old is a proficient everything-er. A rapper, a singer, and a producer to the stars (Mac Miller, Vic Mensa, DUCKWRTH, and more), KingJet has an understood musical acumen and a jubilant personality that weaves its way into his solo work. His music deals in energy, in the highs and lows of simply being, and his focus is firmly on the journey of the final product. The grand lesson he brings to the table is that we must let things be if we wish to be happy.
“That’s the biggest thing: with everything, you kinda have to let it be,” he tells me over the phone. “Let things take their course to see the end product.” For now, that end product is his debut EP, Travel, a six-song journey through KingJet’s musical influences (Mile High Club, hip-hop staples, and Toro y Moi) and the trials of his everyday life. He delivers bangers (“Bulma & Chi Chi”), asks difficult questions (“Tell Me”), and leaves us with the most heartfelt ballad about ghosting to ever grace wax in the social media era (“Ghost”).
Yet, for as adept as KingJet sounds on the mic, he did not always center himself on the track. The transition to solo work was a natural one, with him creating with friends and putting his voice on his surplus of material. Hearing himself back, however, was a bit of a shock. “I thought it sounded like shit, for sure!” KingJet admits.
Even so, he ventured forward and spend the last year crafting Travel, which is meant to be his vessel to travel the world and grow as an artist. He's lived by a worthy mantra since becoming an LA transplant (“Create as much as possible and see where it all takes me"), and if Travel is merely the launchpad, then KingJet has a prosperous career ahead of him.
DJBooth’s full interview with KingJet, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: Take me to the first time you realized you had a knack for music.
KingJet: I started playing guitar when I was 14, 15. That was my introduction to playing music. Around 17, 18, I got my first computer. That was when I started producing music.
How did you feel out your early music influences?
My older brothers, they only listen to rap. That was a majority of what I was listening to. When they went to college and came back, they were listening to Talking Heads and Grateful Dead, weirder shit. No matter what, I would follow what their tastes were.
At what point did you realize you absolutely had to make music?
It was when I left Nashville—I grew up in Nashville—to go to college. Me and my twin brother had a project called Too Fresh, and we were producing and DJing shows. Even leaving for college, it was like, “I’m gonna do this for however long, but I’m gonna be in music, for sure.”
Do you regret going to college?
No, I don’t regret going to college at all. I met some of my friends that I make music with to this day.
Before going solo, you were producing for Mac Miller, Duckwrth, and more. Why the transition?
I mean, I produce regardless. I guess, I just made so much stuff and just kinda wanted to put something on it. I would crank out a bunch of beats, and one day it was me, my brother, and this other producer Arnold, and we had this beat we worked on and I ended up just getting on it. That’s what started the idea of putting my voice on tracks.
Was it scary to hear yourself played back?
It always… The first time on the mic, I thought it sounded like shit, for sure! Everybody… It’s so weird to hear yourself played back to you! I feel like, it can give anybody anxiety, but it’s good [laughs].
How did moving to LA shape your career?
I was living in Denver before I moved to LA. It shaped my career as far as, moving to LA brought me into a different world of making music kinda like focused. Focused as far as what I wanted to get out of it, and what I wanted to do with it. I kinda sat back to just really create a bunch of different lanes. Especially different styles of stuff. I didn’t just make rap beats, or just make weird dance stuff. It was just “Create as much as possible and see where it all takes me."
What was the process like for you to land on your current sound?
A lot of trial and error. Most of the songs on the EP… They span about a year. The oldest track that’s on there, that I did a year ago, was “Ghost.” It was just a lot of trial and error, and the hardest part is choosing what actually to put on the project. There’s a lot that didn’t end up on there.
How did you end up picking what stayed?
At first, I chose by myself, then played it for my bro Arnold and a bunch of people around me that know me. They helped me to shape it, and then… That’s the easiest way. The best part was putting the order together. That’s what kinda made the project, as well, how it all flows.
What were you trying to say with the tracklisting?
It wasn’t about the content of it, it was more so how it flowed vibe-wise. It starts off with “Bulma & Chi Chi,” and that’s the hardest, most live track on there. I feel like doing that first then going to the weirder stuff, it helped to make it kind of a journey. Have some ups and downs when you’re listening to it.
What inspired the name of the debut EP?
There’s two different sides to it. Of course, I just want to travel and use this as a vessel to travel more. Then, also, I didn’t just start singing and rapping. It’s about growth as an artist.
Which song on the project captures who you are as a person the most?
I would say, “Tell Me.” At least, it’s one of my favorites. It kinda shows what I listen to on a regular basis. I listen to Mile High Club and Toro y Moi, and stuff like that. With that song, it kind of pulls from my side of that, and my everyday life and how I’m feeling.
You ask a lot of important questions on “Tell Me.” Walk me through the process of writing that song.
With that song, it’s like… I feel like we all ask ourselves questions. Is this worth it? What’s the point? All that stuff. Either way, I feel like we end up knowing the answer. That was kind of where it came from. I try not to overthink when writing, and hopefully, in the end, it all makes sense. And I feel like it did [laughs].
Did you accept that some questions have no answer?
Yeah! That’s the biggest thing: with everything, you kinda have to let it be. Let things take their course to see the end product.
What’s the biggest lesson you learned while making the EP?
My biggest lesson is just to make music with your friends, to be real. I’m hella proud of this project and I wouldn’t have this project if it weren’t for my friends and working on it with only my friends.
Thinking back on the last dark period you went through, what would you tell yourself knowing what you do now?
Write about it. That’s the easiest thing: write about it. More than ever… Of course, there’s a time to turn up to music, but a lot of shit that I gravitate towards is the stuff that gets you into the world of the artist. The stuff that’s a little more and a little more vulnerable. Writing about it is the way.