Interview: Curtiss King On Making “Bipolar” Music, Block Party LA, And Which 90s TV Theme Song He’d Remake

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Curtiss King, who will make sure you spell his name with two s’s, not one, is an artist bound by no limits. The Nostalgiafornian rapper and producer, known for his work with such artists as Ab-Soul and Murs, was one of the handpicked talents to perform at this year’s Block Party LA, a concert sponsored by GrungeCake. Highly influenced by 90’s sitcoms, King sonically represents for the golden era how nostalgic artist Xavier Payne does on a canvas. Excited to take part in the festivities, King fit in some time to speak with GrungeCake about his bipolar “Sade with a shank” music, what block parties mean to him, and which black 90’s sitcom theme song he would love to put his production spin on before hitting the Block Party LA stage.


Tell us a little about the musical background of Curtiss King.

I would not be able to speak on my musical influences without my first experiences with music, which was my mom on one side and my dad on the other side. They were divorced. When I spent time with each of them, they had a very eclectic mix of music to themselves. My mom would play everything from George Michael to Lionel Richie; anything that she felt was feel-good music. My pops would listen to Earth, Wind, & Fire and even, slide in some Eazy-E, edited versions. All of this stuff kind of ended up being a gumbo pot, mixture of music. Music to me, from a very early age, didn’t really have boundaries. Not until I really started to become an artist did I see that there were boundaries. The first one I experienced was the whole underground vs. mainstream and that was very early on in my career. I had people that were near my age trying to get me to not make music that was influenced by both sides, but I feel like if it feels good, why should there be any kind of divide? There’s no Aspirin vs. Excedrin; everyone just wants to get rid of the headache. At least, that’s my theory on it. From the very early stages, I was in a group originally with one of my best friends. Eventually, I segwayed into a solo-artist because, like I said, there were so many things I wanted to do and I didn’t want any boundaries too early in my career. My first project that I dropped that was really good for me, in a public sense, was probably in 2009. I did a project called, The Storm On Mars. It was the first time I had professional mixing. From a very early age, I was getting mentorship from Tae Beast, who’s apart of T.D.E. That was just one of the dudes that really helped to mold me into an artist and producer. Those aspects pretty much give you the backstory of Curtiss King and why my music is so bipolar, at times. You’ll have these very Hip-Hop based records that I do for, say, an Ab-Soul and then, I’ll go from there and do these Trap records for Murs. There’s something wrong there, to somebody else, but to me it’s all music. It just is what it is. You know how artists say that they don’t see the divide and they’re secretly haunted by it? I’m not that type; I’m not haunted by it. I just do the music. If something new comes around that sounds dope, all I want is the energy so that I can understand it. If it’s something from Florida, if it’s something from New York; those boundaries don’t matter to me. There’s not enough time on the Earth to be worried about those boundaries.

I think people have this great concern with categorizing things like, “You can’t come out of this box!” and “You stay there!”

Laughing.

You know what I think is the common theme with the people who are, like I call them, purists? Most of them can’t create the art. All they can really do is give you play-by-play of it of why they don’t like it or why they do like it. It’s funny, most of these critics that I hear that say, “You know, you’re sound should be this and this and that,” you get them in the studio and they’re looking for you to create the magic. They have no idea how to do it. You’ve got your right-brained thinkers and your left-brained thinkers. The analytical, scientific strategic types of people usually are not the ones who are the most creative. They’re usually ‘A, B, C’. I see things in ‘1A, 1B, 1C’. I know I’m talking some craziness, but that, to me, is why people are so adamant about separating things and it’s like, it’s music. It’s kicks and snares and pianos and chords, you know? It’s just silliness.

Let’s talk about the 97-day Internet campaign you took part in to be apart of the Paid Dues Festival and Road to Paid Dues Tour.

Before I established a really good relationship with Murs, he threw the Paid Dues campaign; one of the biggest independent Hip-Hop festivals pretty much in the U.S. that you’re gonna find for strickly independent artists. For independent artists out here, that’s like holy ground for us. If you can make it there, you really have the opportunity to monetize your career and take things to the next level. A buddy of mine, Buddy James campaigned the year before and he was successful in it. I kind of saw how he worked it and offered assistance where I could. Then, the next year I said, “You know what? I’m at that stage in my career where I feel like I can show enough of the work that I put forward that says I deserve to be on that stage. Literally, it lasted for 97 days, not by choice.

Laughing.

The first announcement they had was, “Who do you guys want to see on it?” As soon as they had that question, I knew it was time to go. It literally lasted 97 days, excruciating days. I couldn’t even enjoy my birthday! I had sushi on my birthday and he made an announcement on that day and my name didn’t even get mentioned, Oh! It got mentioned one time when somebody asked him, “What about Curtiss King?” He said, “Who is that? I don’t know who that is.” He said this on a live Ustream!

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Who said it?

Murs said it!

Laughing.

Mind you, I had met him already, we had talked, but to the public eye, he was like “I don’t know who this guy is.” It’s kind of his running joke. Couldn’t even enjoy my birthday. Couldn’t even eat my sushi. I was stressing. Then, on the 97th day, after really gathering a lot of people and a lot of steam behind what I was doing, I did a campaign where I talked to a 100 people on video and they gave a 100 reasons why I should be on Paid Dues. That kind of stuff, you know, it caught his eye. I had my mom talk about the dues she paid for me to be where I’m at. It was just a really life-changing experience, campaigning wise, and I’m so thankful I did that because that got me on my first tour, that got me opportunities to work with Murs, so many things came with it.

You rap and produce. Which side do you feel you’re more partial to?

For me, I started off rapping. That was before I picked up any beat program. My production career literally started on PlayStation. There’s a game called, MTV Music Generator that started it off. For kids that don’t have the money for hardware or software, that was the best thing that could have happened to me. I really started producing out of a necessity. I picked up on it pretty fast and it ended up being something that kind of helped me along my career as an artist. What I found was that even though I had started a year earlier as an artist, my production talent was a couple of steps ahead of my artistry, which was fine because it opened up doors for me. I’m definitely not partial to one side more than the other, it’s just I love certain aspects of each side. When one side gives too much, the other side brings a certain level of comfort and recharging. For instance, on the artist side when I’m dealing with politics or bad crowds, I know that if I go home and produce these beats, I can, one, make a living off of them and two, I can be in my own zone and there’s nothing judgmental about it. On the flip side of it, when making beats becomes too much of a personal situation and I want to be in front of people and connect with them, the live show, there’s nothing like it.

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So, it gives you that balance?

Yeah, anybody needs that. All I’m talking right now is nothing crazy compared to anybody’s walk of life to where you need your time to yourself and you need your time around people who support you and have good energy… It’s those usually those left-brained thinkers who end up quizzing you, like, “How do you have the capability of doing that? Do you have the hardware? What schooling have you done?” All that doesn’t matter when you’re in the arts and you’re finding things that help you express… All we are as human beings are… We’re all in pursuit of scratching or trying to spark some sort of dopamine out of ourselves, right? Anybody familiar with dopamines knows that’s really what runs our lives; the desire to do certain things is what drives addictions… It drives anything in our life that we keep trying to push forward to have that satisfying feeling. For artists, to scratch that dopamine, to get that dopamine? That’s like an itch that you can’t reach. So, you have to do different things. Painting may scratch that itch so well that it’s like, “Dang, I would have never imagined that, but I had to do it to get to that level.” You can’t explain that to somebody who looks at things as, ‘1+1=2’. You can’t explain that to them because they’re like, “What do you mean you don’t feel like making music today? Wait, what?” I don’t feel like it so it’s not going to be the same. And they look at you like, “Well, you have the same equipment you had yesterday. Why can’t you do it?” It’s like, you don’t understand the conversations an artist has with themselves in their mind and just getting yourself spiritually in a good zone. That’s so important for me to create the best product I can and for this to not feel like a job… That’s been like the majority of my career, up until the last few years, which is the explanation for my hiatus from putting out music is because I had to get my life right. I was making songs like, “Ratchets Still Jockin” and these were the truth. As I’m telling you that I’m broke, it’s all funny from the outside and I’m making fun of myself, but when I put my head on my pillow at night, that’s still a reality. Also, I’m getting up there in terms of my age and what not and the joke’s not funny anymore to me. I wanted to change my life. I had to get myself in a place where finances weren’t going to be something that hindered my career because that’s worst thing when you’re talented at what you do and certain personal aspects start seeping into your life, it doesn’t even become fun anymore. The question becomes not, “When am I going to create next?” but “How much longer can I maintain this?” That sucks. That’s the worst thing for an artist.

How would you describe your sound and work to those who aren’t familiar with it?

To understand my music, you would have to first understand sitcoms from the 90’s like, Martin, Fresh Prince, you know what I mean? I’ll give you an example: If you’ve ever watched those episodes of Fresh Prince where he’s having those moments where he feels like he’s the playa of the playas, but then he has those very vulnerable moments where he’s talking about his pops with Uncle Phil. Or you’re talking about Martin where Martin is just this clown, but he’s still a man. He’s the man of the house, but he’s still a funny dude. Those balances of those characters have really molded who I am. My music goes there. My music is feel good a lot of the time. A lot of 90’s aspects whether it’s the En Vogue influence in my music or Queen Latifah “U.N.I.T.Y.” There’s so much from that era where it was all about being you, individuality, expressing yourself, and making music that made people feel something. That’s my music in a nutshell. I often say, my music is ‘Sade with a shank’, if that makes any sense. I mean, you see Sade walking around and being like, “Oh, she’s beautiful,” but you turn around and you’re like, “Oh, she got a sharp edge to her, though!” I think that describes me as a rapper, too. When people look at me, they may not look and see lyricists. They may look and see a guy who has fun and may talk about very emotional things… I’m at a point now where I don’t have anything to prove to anyone. All I want to do now is take this new level of comfort and balance that I have in my life and put the music that I’ve always wanted to put out to the world. Hopefully it’ll change something in the process. I don’t care how corny that sounds. I definitely want to change things in the process in whatever way that I can.

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Your work is a mix of 90’s nostalgia and modernized edge. Name one artist from the past and a current artist of today that you would want to work on a track with.

Laughing.

That’s a really good question! You would give that question to me on a Friday morning! Oh, I’m not trying to think to today! God, let me see… I would put… Ugh… I think I would put… I would take… Alright, I’m gonna bundle this one up. I would take the production of… Uhh… Oh God, this is hard! I thought I had an answer! This is amazing. I would take N.E.R.D. and I would have them go back in time to work with either Sade, Mokenstef, or En Vogue. I would definitely have to be on that song. Even if it’s just ad-libs, I will be on that song. I can do my 90’s ad-libs like Diddy. Talk my shit just because I put this together! Uh huh, yeah, take that!

How did you end up on the line-up for Block Party LA?

I was supposed to be on the first one, but then, some scheduling things and some business details didn’t quite go according to plan. I know they wanted me on the first year. They reached out to me this year, again and I just love the theme of a block party. In essence, it’s a very 90’s kind of thing. It didn’t start in the 90’s, obviously, but that’s still kind of a theme of a lot of music videos that you see from the 90’s; that block party and summertime fun. To me, that’s what they stood for. I said yeah before I found out Preston Harris was on the bill (I’m a fan of his), Talib Kweli, and a lot of my peers from out this way. It’s definitely a pleasure to be apart of it.

Are you excited? Are you nervous?

Oh yeah, no nerves. No nerves anymore. I’m definitely excited about it. I’m excited to have my boy DJ Hed deejay for me for his one. Last festival that me and him did was Paid Dues. It’s always a pleasure to have him along. I’m excited to watch other peoples’ sets. The only thing I’m not excited about is probably this heat, but we will adjust.

Laughing.

We’ll find our ways. It should be a really good day. It seems like a lot of people are very excited about going, but no nerves anymore.

Have you been practicing?

I’ve been doing some slight rehearsing and what not. Mostly it’s stuff that I’ve already kind of established; I just want to bring it out in a different way as I prepare this new music coming out. You already know how it is, when you’ve wrote your new piece, but it’s not out yet and people are in love with something else that you did? It’s like, “God, wait till y’all get this one! Y’all love this? That is what it is, but wait till y’all get this!” That’s where I’m at right now, but I still kinda have to wait to release some of this new music and perform it. Either way, I think it’s going to be a really great day.

When you first heard about “GrungeCake”, what came to mind?

Well, the support that I’ve already gotten from GrungeCake over the years, that’s the first thing that comes to mind, to be honest with you. That sounds like a cake you would find in Nirvana’s refrigerator, but it sounds like a really awesome cake. But no, the first thing that really comes to mind, honestly, is the support and there’s a unique writing perspective that I love that GrungeCake does. It’s not just post-link-credit and then, that’s it; there’s an actual opinion that goes into the post like, “Hey, I like this particular one. I don’t like Curtiss’s hair on this one and I feel like he probably should have combed it mo’, but I love the music!” Honestly, I love the writing integrity that’s associated with GrungeCake so that’s definitely what comes to mind.

Why do you believe it’s important for indie artists to get that representation that GrungeCake gives?

I think it’s important for artists to hear the truth about their shit from somebody who has no advantage to giving love or give it, you know, something else. I think that we need to hear what people actually think because even though we create art and we say we don’t care what other people think, but if we didn’t care what other people think, it would stay in the basement, it would stay in the studio. We wouldn’t be promoting links. We wouldn’t be pushing to these outlets to get opinions, which is what we’re basically getting. Most artists, they want to say, “I don’t care,” and then, have it presented to the world and everybody loves it, and then nobody ever has a bad opinion about it and that’s just not realistic. I need to see these things because if they’re writing it, more than likely, somebody else out there is thinking it. For instance, because someone was being honest, they actually helped me find out something. There was a video that was pushed out with my production on it and it was the wrong version; it wasn’t the mixed version. The person that wrote an article said, “God, I really like this video, but the song? I don’t know what happened to the version that we found on iTunes, but this was badly mixed!” Because they said that, it had me call the person that released it and say, “Hey, did your editor put the bad version of this song up?” and he was like, “You know what? He did.” It helped, so I think that you need to see, not so that you can change something artistically, but there may be some things that you need to pay attention to about your presentation. Presentation is everything in this business.

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What projects do you currently have lined up?

I have a title, but I haven’t released it yet. I will say this: I know artists say this all the time, but this is, without a doubt, the best music that I’ve created. Usually when it comes to albums, I really have the heart and soul of it pretty much done in a month or two months. It’s just the way that I work. I get in and that’s my only focus, like in life, is to finish that album. Most of the time that creates, for me, a really good cohesive album and experience. However, due to some extreme life changes for the better, I can take my time. This is the first time I’ve been able to record from home and not have to be on somebody else’s time. Where I can get up at two in the morning and add these ad-libs that I just had a dream about because I’ve been thinking about the songs all day. Now, I can just jump in there and not have to worry about neighbors, living in an apartment, things I had to worry about most of my career. It’s different now. There have been times when I’ve brought in trumpet players. There’s been times when I brought in live bass players. Anything to make the music just that much better, I’ve brought people in to do that. One of the producers that I worked with predominantly on this project, very talented dude namd Oh Gosh Leotus. Very talented musician. More talented than myself. He’s more trained, more technical. His creativity is crazy. We vibed off of each other and me and him took care of most of the production on the project. Really, like I said, my manager has something that he has an idea of that’s called, “opulent music.” We talk about opulence in the sense of people talking about the things that they have. He talks about opulent music in a way where it’s, “Yo. It would be crazy to have a piano solo at the end here, but I don’t have to be the one that does it. Why don’t you bring in a piano player to play the portion at the end?” Just to make the song the biggest song it can be. I saw Chance the Rapper tweet something about he got out the mentality of trying to make songs to make an album and started making albums out of songs. I thought that was genius. That’s really the mentality I took with this album is that it’s an album full of albums. I think, I know I produced the best music that I’ve done. It feels good. Now, we’re really just in the process of getting some of the business right on it. The music is done, though. The project is actually done, mixed and mastered. Just waiting for the right timing of things.

What kind of impression are you trying to make on the music world?

The impression that I want to make on the music world is that this is music and we are musicians. That should be the only separation. We have people who are in suits that take care of the business of the music and their job is just as important, but when it comes to the music, there should not be any separation. I want to be the dude that can jump in a session with a Katy Perry and then, jump over in a session with a Danny Brown or with an E-40 or go and do an amazing session with a Celine Dion and then go over and do a session with Lex Luger. I want to literally be the Barack Obama of 2008 campaigning to be with everyone. Obviously, to some people that sounds crazy and they’re shortsighted in it, but my imprint on the music industry is that I want to be the ultimate connector of people and sounds. I want to leave an imprint that’s like, “Damn, he touched a lot of people just being who he is.” Not having to dress up when I go over here or dress down when I go over here. No, I’m literally the same person. That’s the imprint I want to leave. That to me will call for a career built on longevity. I don’t want to say that it’s built on working with just older artists or the freshest artist. It’s working with the freshest ones to come up and the oldest ones that are still around. I want to work with everyone.

If you could choose one, which black 90’s sitcom would you re-do the theme song for?

That is a great question. God. I wouldn’t touch Fresh Prince because that’s just too much of a classic. You know what I want to do? This is gon’ be funny. I would want to re-do, ok, you know the first The Wayans Bros. one where they had, “Electric Relaxation” by A Tribe Called Quest? I wouldn’t change that. I’ll let that be that, but that new version that they did for like the latter part of the seasons, where it was like a house beat? I would want to score that. I would want to change that. You know how you get TV shows that [?] before they get popular, they have a theme that everybody knows them as and then it goes into a remix and that’s when they really realize that they’re a really big show? I think that’s what happened with The Wayans Bros. and I think it might have still been the same producer. I would want to score that because that was one of the most influential shows for me, as well. At least, Marlon Wayans was.


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