Visually vintage. Vocally appealing. To say, ‘there’s something about Kalae All Day’ is more astute than this cliche conveys. From her retro afro, to her customary 1970s style shades she rocks on the reg, to her bewitching smile and enthralling laughter which seems to ease into the atmosphere like incense; the appeal of this Harlem songstress is equally subtle and obvious. On stage she’s confident and commanding, bum-rushing raps and ballads like Pam Grier. And although she sounds much more compelling singing than she does rapping at this point in her young solo career, the fact that the art of emceeing only entered her repertoire a little over a year ago is encouraging to say the least. Already Kalae has shared the stage with the legendary MC Lyte, Jean Grae, and recently won Brooklyn Bodega’s October Show & Prove. She’s also performing alongside Talib Kweli, Niles, and others as part of the Idle Warship showcase at Southpaw on November 28th and has an album on the way entitled Afromatikneohippierock*solemuzik. “[The title] came about from people asking me whether I sing or rap. And I be like “I do everythang!”
Recently we got a chance to kick it with Kalae following her captivating performance at Sputnik Bar in Brooklyn. Read on as we get down to the facts on performing at the Playboy Mansion, dealing with ego, and how rocking in a choir ain’t for everybody. Microphone check, check, check, check.....
TCM: The-Quotable.com here with KalaeAllDay. How are you doing?
Kalae: This is so dope! Yo, I’m feeling great. Feeling good, feeling great!
TCM: So you’re an accomplished musician in your own right. Performing in the Harlem Choir, attending the Performing Arts School....
Kalae: [Laughs] If you want to call that accomplished, sure. Why not?
TCM: I think it is because you know, to continue at each level and move forward in chasing a dream at a passionate level and at the same time at an architectural level-because you’re learning how music is built and put together and where it comes from. So, how has you’re music experience affected your sound?
Kalae: To be honest, I went to Harlem School of the Arts when I was very very young. I was in there choir maybe from 4 to 7, I want to say. And I recall one time, being at like-I swear to you-The Playboy Mansion performing for them when I was that young. Right? The Playboy Mansion. Kinda crazy. But thats the only recollection I have of being in the Harlem School of the Arts Choir. Now, being in Professional Performing Arts School-I’m going to tell you something-that school is amazing, did not work out for me! [Laughs] Now, I learned a lot of basics from being in that school. And so, I appreciate going to that school, but it was not the right learning environment for me.
TCM: Why wasn’t it the right learning environment?
Kalae: I had a lot of internal issues and I have a problem with authority. And so for somebody to tell me how I have to sing, what I have to sing, and all this other shit-thats to me was nonsense-every single day was driving me insane! And the fact that like, I had this kind of relationship with our choir director where she saw something in me and was trying to pull it out in a way that I couldn’t deal with. Different people learn different ways, she wasn’t the correct teacher for me. So, her vision for me I respect and I understand and I’m honored she felt the way that she felt about me. I just didn’t understand it when I was that age. When I was going through high school, I was a crazy little teenager. And I’m only 20 now! But still, that was three years ago, and more. And so it was complicated. But you know, I learned a lot from doing that. And I had never actually been on stage doing my stuff. I enjoyed being with the choir, but maybe I was a little egotistical. Maybe I just wanted to do my own shit and fuck everybody else, like maybe. You know what I mean? Thinking back on it, in retrospect maybe that was my problem. Maybe I just didn’t enjoy having everybody sharing the spotlight with me! [Laughs]
TCM: Thats the problem with a choir. Theres a lot of people in them. They are a choir.
Kalae: Yeah! I was like “Shit! I should be in the front of this motherfucker!” [Laughs] But it was terrific experience. Whether thats good or bad, it was a terrific experience. If that makes sense. Now [after finishing high school], I started working. I went to college for a little while at Brooklyn College. BROOKLYN! [Laughs] I’m from Harlem. I started, lets see, the first show I ever did my music by myself was June 29th, 2008.
TCM: Where was the show?
Kalae: That was at a bar around the way on my block in Harlem. It was like a half hour to 45 minute set I did acoustic and it was amazing to do my first gig by myself. It took me 7 months to book that gig, mind you. And I did it to a track that [where] I recorded my vocals as the instrumentals. Then I recorded by verse on top of it. So like, I had absolutely nothing but like the free version of Pro Tools or Adobe Audition. Thats what it was called. The Free Trial, I did that shit on. I booked that gig and from that gig came a slew of other gigs. And so I feel very honored that, in one year, I’ve accomplished enough to be on stage with MC Lyte, Jean Grae! What the fuck??? I’m nobody! I feel like I’m not worthy!
TCM: So this is moving kind of fast for you. You’re career as a solo artist has been fairly short.
Kalae: Its been a year and a month. And a month and a couple days. [Laughs]
TCM: Is that scary? Is success intimidating at all?
Kalae: Its intimidating for other people. [Laughs] I feel like this is how its supposed to be, a natural progression. And when I say this is how its supposed to be, I’m still completely humbled by the experience. Without a doubt, I can’t believe it. At the same time its like I know this is my destiny so I’m accepting it and letting it be.
TCM: Speaking of that, thats what I took from [The Pedestal Song]. Where did that song come from?
Kalae: The Pedestal Song comes from dealing with ego. I was very introspective in high school, like during the couple of last years. And I was trying to learn about myself and try to figure out why I was fuckin’ up. You know what I mean? And I figured out one of those reasons was because of my ego. And so, from learning how the ego works and how dangerous that shit is. And it helped me notice it in other people, and study it in other people, it really made me wanna....I write about it a lot. I talk about it a lot. But thats only because of personal experience. I mean the song is just...I put it in a way where I’m talking about a man, but really I’m using the man as a representation cause we all have ego. And thats why we “gotta humble ourselves, it wasn’t just you, you got some help.”
TCM: Yo, it comes across. It comes across in the song. Plus, its a banger. It gets the heads knocking. It feels good.
Kalae: Yeah, thats everybody’s favorite. I love that song.
TCM: But now, you’ll switch it up, though. You’ll kick rhymes then you’ll sing ballads. Which is more natural for you?
Kalae: Which is more natural? Singing, because I’ve only been rhyming for a year! [Laughing hysterically]
TCM: Really? Wait, how’d that even work its way into your sound?
Kalae: [Still laughing hysterically] Alright, so let me tell you how this went. Speaking of Lupe Fiasco. The first time I heard a Lupe Fiasco record, I was in high school. I remember thinking like, ‘shit yo! He can rhyme!’ Everything he said painted pictures for me. It was beautiful. First and foremost, I would have to say that I’m probably a writer. I love to write. I love to write anything. Anything you want me to write. I love writing, okay. So for me it was a natural progression of me writing my songs and my ballads and stuff like that to me writing in a more dynamic way. And it was like, I need to keep my voice up with the words that I am writing. And so, I was very influenced by my nephew. And he goes by the name KlaeFace, which is K-L-A-E. Isn’t that hilarious?!
TCM: Word? Okay, how old is he?
Kalae: He’s 25. And yes, I’m 20. He’s my nephew. So what? Now, he had these beats on, right? They were on a tape, okay. This is back when, I think I was 15.
TCM: Whats that 2004? He had a tape in 2004?
Kalae: I know, it wasn’t that long ago. But he was recording onto a tape. And he’s doing a mixtape that he dropped in Honolulu or some nonsense, right? And I was like “yo, let me get on it.” Just being silly, and he let me rhyme. Like, I was rhyming some of the lyrics I had written for another song. And, I mean I was terrible! I don’t know where that tape is but I’d never show it. I was terrible! Now, he’s laughing at me, of course. And so, I was like, okay, obviously I’m not a rapper.
Fast forward a couple of years later-I met this other dude-Pete Hype. He’s an amazing rapper. He became a really close friend of mine and I asked him “how do you rap?” And he was like “you just do it.” And a light bulb just popped up on the outside of my head. Now of course I didn’t just all of a sudden become a great rapper. What would happen is that I would just sing my lyrics real fast and then eventually I learned how to take the harmony away-cause I could always sing fast. I could always do that kind of stuff. So I was like “take the harmony away, take the melody away, take the melody away.” And then I took the melody away and then I was rapping. And I was like “Yes! I can rap now!” And I still struggle with it, I gotta be honest. When I write a rhyme, I have to practice that shit. I practice that mutherfucker, okay. And then I say it smooth, and I put the swagger on it and everybody thinks I’m a rapper and I’m like, “yeah baby, I’m a rapper!”
TCM: Lots of time in the mirror with the hairbrush?
Kalae: Not really.
Kalae: No, I’ve never been a brush-as-a-mic person. Did you even notice that I don’t hold the mic that often? I like it in the mic stand.
TCM: I did notice that.
Kalae: I’m a mic-stand-kind of girl.
TCM: Thats gotta affect your swag a little bit, though. Since you’re rhyming now, you gotta get that B-girl into it.
Kalae: I’ma try. I’m going to work on it some more just for you.