Brooklyn-born Kota The Friend sounds like the musical manifestation of golden hour spooling through the shades. Kota, 27, makes music for the pinnacle of your Sunday relaxation. His debut album, FOTO, was regarded as some of his most vulnerable work, with Exclaim! writer Riley Wallace deeming Kota’s music as “timeless without sounding dated.”
As a 19-song affair, FOTO was a perfect slow-burn of an album. Each moment tapped into the excitement of turning through a newly-discovered family photo album, how Kota The Friend’s raps inspire closeness and comfortable stillness. Kota is to rap what film is to photography; he forces us to slow down and appreciate every fine detail and make the most of our time with art.
On May 22, Kota The Friend will release the FOTO follow-up, Everything, a decidedly sunnier and more enthused album. In contrast to FOTO, which will go down as a Kota cult classic, Everything feels like a leap forward for the budding artist. A concept album themed around the question of “What means everything to you?” Everything features Kota’s most spirited raps since 2018’s Anything. As you may have guessed, the titles playing off each other is no coincidence. As Kota told me in 2019, there are no coincidences in his artwork. The transition from Anything to Everything is one of focus and a deeper understanding of the self.
“I wear my heart on my wrist,” Kota says to open Everything. If that isn’t his ethos, I don’t know what is. Everything is a thriving album, one where Kota drives himself to grow as a rapper, a writer, and a deep thinker. Everything is a picture of happiness. His musings never come across as pedantic or overly heady. There’s fine humanity to each bar on Everything; Kota The Friend has reached a new peak in his particular brand of comforting, everyman raps.
With a suite of sounds so splendid and gentle on the ear, Everything will surely take Kota to a height he could have only imagined at the time of recording. “What you get is what you see,” Kota assures us. Therein lies the brilliance of Everything. It’s high-concept and simply Kota The Friend’s journaling at the same time.
Ahead of my call with Kota The Friend, I had a brief chat with one of his team members. The excitement this person expressed over Everything was both heartwarming and well-earned. Too, the faith they placed in Kota’s rising star instilled fresh confidence in me. Kota is a more-than-capable artist, but he’s also surrounded by an impeccable support system. It adds a whole new layer to the bar, “I am far from perfect, but you get me.” As far as recipes for success go, it doesn’t get much better than this. Plus, Kota has the best A&R in the game: his son.
My conversation with Kota The Friend, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: The title of the new album, Everything, makes me think of one of your earlier projects, Anything. The title sounds a lot more focused than Anything. Was that the goal?
Kota The Friend: Definitely. When I was making Anything, that was the first time a lot of people was hearing me. It was just a compilation of songs; I wouldn’t even necessarily call it an album. I didn’t give it that energy I gave FOTO or Everything. Everything is the mature version of [Anything]. It’s collaborative, it’s musical, it’s jazzy, but it’s way more articulate. It makes more sense. It’s the same and so different at the same time.
What was the genesis of Everything? You told Uproxx you weren’t planning on making a new album.
I wasn’t planning on making an album, and I made one song that inspired the whole thing. It’s the second track, “Mi Casa.” When I made that song, I was like, “Alright, I gotta keep going.” That turned into, “Alright, now I’m making an album,” because I found a sound I wanted to go with.
What was it about “Mi Casa” that drove you? That’s a beautiful cut.
The song was just so good. The hook was exactly what I wanted it to be. I like to make songs where the hook always has two parts and the beat… It was groovin’ in a way I hadn’t rapped over [before]—that tempo. It was the flow; it was different. I was interested in where I would go if I kept going with that flow, and it turned into the album. [Everything] has this way more fast-paced sound than FOTO.
Everything has a distinct springtime feel, too, and you sound like you’re in a great place. Where were you mentally while recording the album?
I was in a tough spot the whole time, ha. Mentally, it was a struggle to make time for my son and my girl. Everybody around me was going through so much. I moved into an apartment where it was already furnished, so I was thrown into a new situation where I wasn’t able to choose what my surroundings were. Everything was happening to me. I wanted to make an album that was manifesting good things—manifesting what I want for my future.
If you listen to “Mi Casa,” I’m speaking on a place I designed myself. Because I was in such a hectic and stressed out place, I so badly wanted to manifest a better place, and that’s what this album is.
About your 2019 debut album, FOTO, you told me: “I want to show them that this is what’s been happening, and this is who I really am. I’m ready to bring you back home to Brooklyn, New York.” Where are you bringing people on Everything?
I’m bringing people to a place past their struggle—a place past the point where they reconciled with all their demons, and they have settled the score. Once you’re done with that, you then have to move on to a better place. Everything is that place. Everything is the summer house on a beach with all your friends, everybody can visit everybody, breakfast is always cooked in the morning, and the beers are always accessible. That’s what Everything is.
How does music help you move on? I wouldn’t have guessed you were hurting while recording.
I escape to the good place when I’m making music. The whole process, even though it was such a struggle, I came out clean on the other side. The album is done. I’m in a way better place with all my relationships. I’m working on moving into a space where I can design everything. I got a new spot in Pennsylvania I built from the ground up. I’ll be able to enjoy that, soon. When they say, “It’s always darkest before dawn…” While I was making this project, it was so crazy, and now, coming out of it, I’m in a better space. Music did that.
From a technical standpoint, I can hear your growing as a rapper on this one. How did your process differ from FOTO?
When I was making FOTO, I was in a way better place, mentally. So the process was smoother. I would wake up at six in the morning; the sun would be shining into my apartment. I had a beautiful apartment. I would just get to work, and I’d be working all day. This process was messy. I would record whenever I could record. I would make the beats whenever I could make the beats. I was falling asleep not in my bed but at the keyboard, you know? That is the biggest difference.
Ahead of the album, you tweeted: “I’m blessed with friends that give me educated and honest critique of my music.” How vital is critique to you?
It’s important to me because I need to know. I work by myself so much; I look forward to what my friends are gonna say—negative and positive. That’s the only way I can get better. I need that. We tell each other when something is okay when something is dope. That honesty keeps all of us growing. A lot of people can’t take [critique], but it’s important to me.
For the skits, you asked a grip of people what everything meant to them. Were there any answers that surprised you or made you think deeply?
Lakeith’s! His interview was a little different; I was not expecting that. When he said, “To have everything is to be dead,” because there’s nothing to strive for… That changed my perspective, and I needed that.
Of course, I have to ask, what means everything to you?
What means everything to me is real things. Authenticity, good or bad, as long as it’s real. I feel like all my life I’ve been in search of real. Even when you think of religion and people praising a God because they’re afraid, that’s not real love. From a young age, I just chased after genuine and authentic. So that means everything to me.
How do you keep it real?
Whenever people ask me questions, I try to think about how I really feel and not what they wanna hear. I just try to keep it real by staying who I am on the track; expressing my emotions, the things I want, the negative sides of who I am, how I’ve messed up in life, and how I wanna do better. If I say something, I try to live up to it.
Lastly, have you played this album for your official A&R, your son? What did he think?
Oh, he loves it! He bumps to the songs. He is [the] most honest person in my life. Literally, he kinda dissed the artwork, when I showed him the artwork for the album. This is a three-year-old giving me his critique when I didn’t even ask him to do it. I can’t unsee the things he was pointing out! As far as the music, he loves it; he already knows some of the words!