Empowering Independence: Kota The Friend Speaks on Ownership

“It’s freedom. When you own things, it’s like holding the key to your destiny.”
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Brooklyn’s Kota The Friend does not keep quiet. The rapper, fresh off the release of his sophomore album, Everything, has just released the 27th episode of his “Lyrics to GO” series, this time dealing with Black power and his response to the police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and, sadly, too many others to name.

Black Power, like, fuck the system and stack dollars / Came in through the back / Robbed your business ‘cause its really ours / Twelve think they tough but n****s know that they really cowards,” Kota raps to open the song. What follows is a maelstrom of bars with incredible lines about freedom, owning your masters, and building a Black-led team to re-design the industry—every industry.

Yes, Kota The Friend will not be silenced. His voice speaks truth to power. A TuneCore success story, an independent artist making massive waves release over release, Kota is more than a cult fan base and relaxing tunes. He is the voice of a generation of fed up folx ready to see real change in our shared reality.

Kota calls me up to discuss America’s uprisings and his—and music’s role—in the process of getting free. Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.

DJBooth: You’ve been very vocal on Twitter and in “Lyrics to GO” about the Black Lives Matter uprisings happening across America. Why is it important for you to use your platform to advance these crucial social issues?

Kota The Friend: As a person with a platform, I felt the need to spread awareness and knowledge, to get people to understand exactly what’s happening [in the movement]. Especially people privileged enough to not have [racism] in their face all the time, and people that don’t believe racism and inequality exists… Because I have such a platform with so many people like that [listening], I need to shine light on those things.

What role do you see music playing during the uprisings?

This is the time where a lot of things don’t matter. I feel like that includes music releases. I haven’t been inspired to release any music, you know? I feel like, right now, putting music on Spotify for profit isn’t helping the cause. Right now, I’m just focusing on staying healthy and keeping my mind right, and getting through it. At the same time, doing whatever I can to spread knowledge.

On the latest “Lyrics to GO,” you rap about owning your masters and staying free. Why is ownership important to you?

It’s freedom. When you own things, it’s like holding the key to your destiny. You’re able to go where you want freely, and you get to decide how you want your future to be. Whereas, when you’re owned by somebody else like a record company, you are at the mercy of [the label]. Being independent allows me the freedom and flexibility to be genuinely myself and to talk about the issues that are important and be vocal when I wanna be vocal, and be quiet when I wanna be quiet.

How has TuneCore been instrumental to your career and your ability to own everything?

TuneCore was the best tool I had to release my music, and it still is one of the best tools. More people have created platforms like it, but… The first time I saw money from music, was from TuneCore. I would upload any album, single to the platform, and I was using it to generate any kind of income.

How did it feel when you reached the point of being able to live off of music?

The first time I saw money in that account, it was 8,000 dollars. At that moment, it was like… It was this [feeling] of “I made it!” Even though it’s not a whole bunch of money, it allowed me to keep going and pay for things. I used the money for marketing and to promo videos, to buy equipment. That little amount of money helped make everything possible. Without it, I don’t know what I’d be doing. Now, being able to make a living off of music from platforms like TuneCore… I can’t describe how helpful it is. You don’t have to be signed to a record label like it’s the ‘90s. You can upload your music, and it’s on you whether or not it succeeds.

How has the reception of Everything impacted the way you’ve been creating?

As soon as I dropped Everything, everything happened. George Floyd happened. Everything would be performing a little [differently] had all of these things not occurred. I would’ve done more for the album, but it’s taking a back seat. I’m thinking about what’s important, and what’s important right now is not my album sales. Yeah, it’s important to get numbers and all that and make sure your album does well, but at this moment… It’s not the time for me to be promoting my album. I’m not inspired to keep this machine running at the same capacity, because anything self-serving, to me, doesn’t seem right.

What cause do you want to shout out for people to pay attention to?

There’s so many! I wouldn’t even know where to start. I feel like if I just use one… It’s like dissing the rest of them, you know? It’s just a messed up world. We have everything going on with ICE and the kids going through what they’re going through. We have the Black Lives Matter movement and the shit we’ve been dealing with for hundreds of years. I can’t name one single cause, but I hope everything starts getting better. I hope some justice gets handed out.

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