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Yung Kayo Makes Worlds Collide

YSL rapper Yung Kayo makes the worlds of rap and fashion collide. He breaks down this intersection for Audiomack World.
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This article previously appeared on Audiomack World.

When 18-year-old rapper Yung Kayo beams into our Zoom call, he’s just gotten back to his house in Washington, DC from Los Angeles, where he held the release party for his debut album DFTK. “I stay out in LA probably six, seven months out of the year. I basically live out there,” he tells me. Still, the sound and history of DC permeate Kayo’s music. He recalls a bit of a christening experience from when he was six years old at a concert held by hometown rap hero Fat Trel: “I went to a Fat Trel show when I was a kid, and he motherfuckin’ passed me a joint that he was smoking. I’ll never forget that moment. And he ain’t even know me back then—I was just in the crowd.”

In middle school, Kayo was a member of local rap group 40 Boyz; it was then that he met his resident producer Warpstr, who’s stuck with him since and is credited with nearly every beat on DFTK. As early as their breakout 2019 single “Glitch,” you can see Kayo and Warpstr start to bend the pliable, laser-precise punch-ins of DMV rap toward the studio wizardry that marks their current sound.

Although his production choices are sometimes grouped with the sawtooth-driven “rage” beats currently trending in the underground, Kayo’s songs on DFTK feel more messy, original, and kaleidoscopic, smashing together chunks of whatever’s in his reach. On “hear you,” his DC triplet-raps morph into a Future-ish robot growl. Then, he drowns into a club’s worth of synths and hands the track off to art-pop musician Eartheater, who fills the space with her ethereal wails. It’s like Kayo is the party planner for a rave that spans the world.

Kayo’s whole career has seen him connect different spheres: he’s a kid from DC who somehow made it into Young Thug’s tight-knit YSL crew in Atlanta, a globe-trotting model who only just turned old enough to legally walk on many European runways, and, along with artists like Yeat, SoFaygo, and Ken Car$on, one node of a wave of buzzing internet rappers currently tugging at the edge of the mainstream.

He takes all this movement and chaos in stride. Kayo’s been rapping since 12 and was interested in fashion even earlier. “I always had that drip on, since elementary school,” he deadpans. Plenty of rappers approved by the internet hype machine can seem contrived, cobbled together from carefully selected bits of branding. But Kayo was born for it.

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A producer you work a lot with is Warpstr, who’s someone people might not usually think of when they think of rap producers.

Yeah, but Warpstr can make any type of beat. I sit and make beats with Warpstr. Me and him be going crazy. I’m at the studio, he got his Moog out, he got his computer out, I’m clicking keys, working on my hi-hats with him, playing with the 808s with him, all that. Real hands-on.

What’s your recording process like? Talk me through a typical day in the studio.

I just go in, tell him to play a beat, light up a J real fast, and record maybe like five songs in a night, and stay up. I like to record at night. I go in the studio around 10 p.m., stay ‘til maybe six in the morning, record like five songs, knock ‘em out, be having great vibes, you feel me? Then I’ll lock in with other artists, too.

Like who?

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People like Yeat, or especially the Slime Pit. It just be Gunna, Slime, Keed, all of us. Duke, Unfoonk, the family.

With Slime, it’s just easy to connect with artists, ‘cause he’s Young Thug. Other artists always come in the studio with us, so it’s easy to connect with ‘em just running into them and stuff.

What lessons have you learned from that environment?

Just stay focused and always be recording. You can never go wrong if you’re practicing your craft. Your art. So just stay locked in and keep working, keep grinding. ‘Cause it’s never enough. Keep grinding.

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You’re also super into fashion, and you’re a model. Talk to me about how you got into that as a kid.

That shit came just from having the drip on me: wearing good clothes, puttin’ it on right, how it fits on my body... Just wearing good designers and shit. And then through [designer and founder 1017 Alyx 9SM] Matthew [Williams], my friend [designer] John Ross, and going out to Paris and walking for Alyx, it opened up even more doors. It really just came from putting on drip, and brands seeing me like, “Oh, this is a rapper, he’s fly as fuck, and he’s just a kid.”

So when you’re out in those fashion spaces, are you younger than a lot of the people there?

Always. I’m always the youngest, to this day. I just turned 18, but when I was in Paris, I wasn’t even supposed to be walking. It’s just tough that I was even in it walking at Alyx, ‘cause it’s illegal to do that. Nobody in history has ever done that. It’s illegal to be walking underage overseas in Paris.

Has doing all this so young exposed you to different ideas, different kinds of people?

Like how other countries move, and the tempos of other countries and stuff?

I’m just thinking—being that young, moving around in the fashion industry...

Oh, yeah. It was fun! I don’t even really be thinking about it that deep, though. I like putting on drip, making art, and making music. That’s what comes naturally to me. The walking and stuff is just a fun experience. I don’t even think about it, for real. It’s just fun.

By H.D. Angel for Audiomack.

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