Five questions with musician ké Cassells


The artist is fusing genres and blurring lines in the game

Queens musician ké Cassells makes it clear that he’s not one for timidness or uninspired opinions. The up and coming talent has the look of a man who knows exactly who he is and what he brings to the table, and when debuting his new track to us, he provided direct instructions of how we should listen to it: BLAST THAT SHIT.

We here at Gritty Vibes tend to abide, and what happened next was a trippy assortment of otherworldly sounds and melodies that can only be described as some sort of celestial journey to the unknown. While Cassells the person can be characterized by his direct self assuredness, his music is an experimental mix of several themes and inspirations as he lays his vulnerabilities on the table, for the world to enjoy. The culmination of the two makes for an interesting guy, and one hell of an interview. Enjoy.

What was your upbringing like, both location wise and culturally? Do you think it plays into your music?

“I was born in Queens, New York, raised in Queens, New York but I grew up in a Jamaican household, here. Both of my parents are from Clarendon, Jamaica, so I spent some significant time there almost as soon as I was born and Summers and holidays throughout my childhood. My grandmother (on my mother’s side) and my father live there, so that’s who I’d usually split most of my time with whenever I’d visit. I’m absolutely grateful for being able to experience life in the West Indies as a young boy. It’s definitely an unbelievable culture when I reflect on the attitude, the resourcefulness, the hospitality, the pride, the creativity, and everything in between of my people. Music-wise, I wasn’t always a fan of the later, more modern Dancehall stuff until recently but I’ve always loved old school reggae.

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In Queens, the music played around the house varied from room to room. It was: Biggie, Pac, Nas, etc. in my step father Bobby’s room, Aaliyah, Mariah Carey, Mya, Jigga, etc. in my older sister Sasha’s room, some random garage, punk, indie, alternative (that I can only wish to be able to specify) in my younger cousin Nicky’s room. My mom is a devoted Christian (I grew up in a Seventh-Day Adventist home), so Gospel was a significant thing, too.”

The song “Young ∞” had a deeply personal feeling to it. What is your creative process like? Do you draw inspiration from your own experiences?

“I recorded the song “Young ∞” at my close friend Zeus Anderson’s incredible home-studio in Queens. When I’m there, the creative process is extremely fun. We get “deady”, meaning we… we go under the influence. We listen to our own music — and that’s 100% of the time — we talk about life, we talk about girls, he convinces me not to mess around with the wrong ones [whatever that means], and then we start collaborating on beats using Maschine, which is a hardware and software program. This one particular night — the night “Young ∞” was born — Zeus knocks out while we were working on some insanely celestial stuff that the world will probably never get to hear. So, I start producing this one beat which ultimately ends up being the beat for “Young ∞” and it might have taken me slightly north of 30 minutes to complete, not counting post-production. I finish, I wake up Zeus, he’s out of it, but he likes it. He exports it to Protools, he gave me the go-ahead to go solo, then knocks out again.

The moment I realized that I was in love with this beat, I knew that I wanted to make it pretty personal under the surface. I just got out of a damn near 3-year relationship, which really sucked at first, but I started realizing how great things are going, contrary to what I initially expected, if I’m being honest. I wrote down the entire lyrics to this song, after I recorded it; I improvised over 90% of it. It takes quite a while to complete when I’m really anticipating a masterpiece, because even when I fall in love with a line, I may not be satisfied enough with the way that I said it. And that could take 10 minutes. Just for one line. And it’s not always that I don’t think it sounds good, but I want it to give a particular type of energy. But ironically, a lot of times, I leave certain parts that sound very candid and rough, simply because I like the idea of having that aspect of genuineness in my music.

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I gotta note that even though this song is essentially, personal, I told a friend when asked what it’s about, “this is your story, I’m just voicing and performing it”. That’s how I approach music now. What you hear and what you feel when you listen to my work, that’s what it is. The four minutes and twenty seconds of you listening to the song… it’s really your world.”

What would you describe your sound as? What separates it from what everyone else is doing?

“It’s funny because I started out rapping. Like… I was a spitter, for real. And I still have it in me, but over time it was less stimulating, less challenging. Now? It’s kind of hard to describe because I’m still experimenting, but I do think the foundation, sonic-wise, is Hip-Hop and R&B, naturally; that’s, essentially, the main thing I grew up on. I throw some acoustic person in there [sometimes], I’m in love with otherworldly synth pads, I’m infatuated with sub basses, so I add that, and voila!

I love being hands on with my shit. I’m primarily the executive producer for my work now, something that I’ve been doing for about a year now. It’s always been my absolute intention to do things entirely unique, and you’ll never know what to expect from song to song. I’m approximately 0% ever flattered by comparisons, so I take pride in knowing that people may feel like “wow, he can do it all” when they listen to my catalog. I think my most recent music makes people wanna shout their emotions onto a plate and eat it. I don’t know. That’s based off of some feedback. I’ve been screaming and howling a lot.”

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Who are your inspirations? What’s on your playlist these days?

“All-time, the list is crazy long, but I’ll give you the main ones. First and foremost, Michael Jackson is the greatest artist of all-time. I grew up wanting to be the closest thing to Mike while still being and being recognized as Kevon.

Secondly, I absolutely have to mention this and I’m completely serious about it: When I was younger, my mother used to read me Dr. Seuss books, and I would just be in complete awe that words can do this magic thing called “rhyming”. I wanted to do that ever since I was a toddler. So yeah, he’s responsible for me wanting to be an artist.

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Sade is the love of my life. Kanye West inspired me to produce music and to be a witty and charismatic lyricist since my teen years. I grew up imitating Usher. What Chance the Rapper does for me, being the same age, is invaluable; I’m indebted to him for his influence on me. Kendrick Lamar is the greatest Hip-Hop artist of all-time, to me. Esperanza Spalding is… the other love of my life! Drake… I don’t even know what to really say other than he’s a walking legend! Cassidy is responsible for the style of rapping I adopted when I first began rapping. All of these people (make me want to make people feel how they make me feel when I listen to their music.

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Janelle Monáe, Tame Impala, Toro Y Moi, Young Thug, Zeus Anderson, 6lack, Poliça, Florence + The Machine, Death Grips, PartyNextDoor, Kilo Kish, Azaelia Banks, Miguel, SZA, Solange, and ké Cassells highlight a long list of artists that have been on spin for the past couple years or so. My taste in music is all over the place.

Production-wise, Kanye, DJ Dahi, 40, J.U.S.T.I.C.E League, Pharrell, Hudson MoHawke, Rick Ruben, Quincy Jones, Esperanza Spalding, and a few more… all of these guys (and gal) have really impacted me, with Timbaland, being at the very top of the list.”

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

“I just want to use my platform to spread love and let people feel more connected. It’s really, very simple. I wanna be recognized for my performances and, obviously, my bodies of work, but I really want to use my gift to move and inspire people.

This year, I’ll be putting out quality pieces, eventually putting out a project. That’s currently my main focus, just putting myself out there, gigs, events, whatever. But the material will be coming consistently.”

IG: @kecassells