Kemba speaks the truth. Since his 2016 album Negus, the rapper has been a candid, urgent, and necessary artist. In 2019, he shifted his subject matter from the latent activist tones of Negus into the grief-laden and emotionally wrought—and sonically gorgeous—Gilda. Driven by the sudden death of his mother in 2017, Kemba uses Gilda to process his feelings and come to grips with the lack of normalcy present in life. There’s fragility and there’s aching all over Gilda, but the album is not bogged down by hurt.
“I was learning things about myself through writing about losing my mom and how it affected me and my family, so that was my grieving mechanism,” Kemba said in 2019. “It didn’t inspire me as much as it just took over my life.”
Now, it’s 2020, and grief has taken on a new, very public form. Between COVID-19 ravaging the music industry, people’s personal livelihoods, and families, and national and international uprisings in response to the endless police killings of Black folx, it feels as if the world—and the U.S. especially—is living through very intense and inescapable trauma.
For Kemba, this collective trauma has helped him find his purpose in music and allowed him to become a vessel for a movement through his music.
Today, Kemba releases his latest EP, The World Is Watching, which clocks in at eight minutes and 46 heavy seconds, representing the killing of George Floyd. The EP is intense and visceral, a true departure from Gilda and an evolution upon the themes of Negus. Every second is poignant and urgent. Musically, Kemba has never sounded so fiery. “I might die for this,” he repeatedly shouts on “I MIGHT DIE WHILE YALL PLAYING GAMES,” each word a dagger. Each truth of The World Is Watching essential—especially for allies who must make themselves uncomfortable.
I call up Kemba on Father’s Day to discuss the EP and the uprisings in America. The key takeaways from our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follow below.