Q&A: Kwoli Black on Influences, Short Film Series, and First Love
Kwoli Black is an alternative hip-hop artist raised in Hackney and Grays. He is currently based in London, and although he goes by many names–Kwoli Black, Blue, Axel Basquiat, and Durag Papi, to name a few–Black's sound is uniquely and unmistakably his. He has been described as "The Rapper You Listen to When You Have Loved and When You Have Lost". Black's single "Got You" found its way into one of Spotify's curated playlists, and the rapper has confirmed interviews from BBC Radio London, Reprezent, and NTS.
In November of 2021, Black released his EP, Call Me When It's Over. The collection of tracks cleverly references the profound influence of industry titans such as Tyler the Creator, J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, and Childish Gambino, but brings a fresh flavor to the hip-hop genre.
Through his persona, Blue, Kwoli Black leads the listener through a narrative of first love, loss, and the stages of grief. As his relationship progresses, it becomes increasingly conflicted and the love that once drove him gets lost in the drama.
Call Me When It's Over opens with Blue's mellow call for a ride or die partner. "'Til Infinity" starts with a clean-toned guitar melody and builds into a tasteful groove, complete with an electronic beat, backing vocal clips, and subtle synths and effects. The sound of a telephone ringing signals the start of "Cedar Road Flows", which showcases powerful lyricism and smooth flow over a lively tempo. One element of the EP sets it apart from other releases is the use of background vocal motifs interwoven throughout the tracks. Utilized differently in each track, these similar melodies create a sense of cohesiveness and familiarity, but also brings new dimension to the themes.
The hookline of "Disrupt", as well as a slight beat drop in the chorus showcase a thorough understanding of dynamics before the song modulates and transitions into "Got You". The song's danceable rhythm section tracks are a highlight of the album, and the hopeful melodies signal a shift in the energy of the overarching story. Moving into "Call Me Now, It's Over", Blue's perspective is tangible; a soul-stirring vocal interlude ends the cycle of emotions and the EP.
The companion short film series, with visuals shot by Oye 2.0 (Shaé Universe, B.E.T., Adidas), is set to premier later this month at a Listening Experience hosted at the Whirled Cinema in London. The video mirrors the experimentation in storytelling brought forth with the EP to create a thought-provoking and immersive artistic world.
We spoke with Kwoli Black about his influences, upcoming short film visuals, first love, and more. Read the full interview and listen to Call Me When It's Over below. Let us know what you think.
How are you today?
I'm going to speak positivity into my life, so I'll say I'm blessed. Truly.
Where are you based? What is the music scene like there?
I'm based in Essex and London, and I kinda jump between the two cities. It’s soon to be fully London, though–Kwoli's coming home…it's about time. The music scene is amazing in London. There’s so much undiscovered talent, so much underrated talent. It's insane just how much great music comes from this city. Essex isn't too bad either; I think it's like the forgotten child of the UK music scene. There’s some great talent here, but I guess artists end up migrating to London anyways.
What is the first thing you do when you get into the recording studio for a session?
The first thing I do when I enter the studio? Am I allowed to say that's what I do (Enter the studio)? I'm just kidding...sort of. The first thing I really do is take a deep breath, not in any spiritual way. Usually we go to the studio early in the morning, so I'm still kind of sleepy. We drop our gear, get breakfast, relax into our environment, and then decide what we're going to get done. Studio time is sacred because we actually don't get a lot of it, so we try to be super efficient.
Who or what inspired you to start making and playing music?
I think my earliest spark of inspiration–and this might surprise a lot of people–was when I was very young, living in Hackney, and listening to my parents’ vinyl records. They used play artists like Curtis Mayfield, Al Jarreau, Michael Jackson, and Prince, and I would imagine myself on stage performing to a crowd. I would talk to them and everything. Growing up, I was always kind of the loner kid. I never really had friends; I was the black sheep, I guess. I fell in love with poetry at that time and performed that when I got to uni. After that, Tyler the Creator and Chance the Rapper gave me the desire to pursue a music career. I just loved how authentic and alternative they were–they made me feel like being a black sheep wasn't all bad. It didn’t hurt that I had a talent for songwriting, too.
"...I would imagine myself on stage performing to a crowd. I would talk to them and everything."
Who are your biggest musical influences now?
Right now, I would say my biggest musical influences are Drake, which is obvious to some, Tyler the Creator, Westside Boogie, Mick Jenkins, Giveon, and Brent Faiyaz. They have definitely influenced my sound a lot lately.
What is something you wish more people knew about you?
I wish people knew how friendly I am. I want to make more friends (sorry to my friends; I love you guys, but I need to keep making more…). I also wish people knew more about my music. It's really good stuff, right? People should know!
Tell us about your EP, Call Me When It's Over. What was the inspiration?
My EP, Call Me When It's Over, or CMWIO, as I like to abbreviate it, was inspired by the first woman I loved. I think that was the deepest love I ever experienced due to its length and how foreign it was to me at the time. It affected me on so many levels and when it ended, I was kind of stuck with this feeling that I couldn't describe or even shift. I was so deeply heartbroken, but I knew I could not continue to live the way I was living. A lot of bad decisions were made, but alas, I had to move on. Eventually, I put pen to paper, and what came from that was a narrative: a story of how a man–a boy at the time–who fell madly in love in the purest and most raw sense lost that love. How it ends is up to the listener's interpretation. It's written from my perspective, but I like to think it's tastefully done. The person it’s about has heard it and she likes it, so that’s good. It's a story of love, heartbreak, and healing, but especially a lot of heartbreak.
"It's a story of love, heartbreak, and healing, but especially a lot of heartbreak. "
Describe your songwriting process.
My songwriting process isn't even really a process…Sometimes I'll be inspired by a song I heard in terms of the melody or flow and it will trigger an experience I want to talk about. Then, I'll start flowing in my head to the beat I'm imagining. I'll write anywhere–most songs are written on the toilet (no joke) or on my way to and from work. Then when the idea makes sense, I'll hit up JSTRNGS, my producer and best friend, and i'll either send him an a capella or we'll head to the studio and I'll describe how I want it to sound with my mouth. Our synergy is A1; he always gets me. It's just a lot of fun every time.
Talk a little bit about the accompanying film series with OYE 2.0 to be released after the EP.
Firstly, I’d love to shout out OYE 2.0. Wizards. Geniuses. Sages. G.O.A.T.S. I’ve never met such humble, yet ridiculously talented people in my life. Thank you for helping me bring my vision to life.
The film is a short made up of four different videos that reflect certain pivotal songs in the EP. I wanted the narrative to be enjoyed in a multitude of art forms, and I even want to create an accompanying poetry short project where each poem is the counterpart of each song. The short film series will hopefully give people something really fun and raw to watch. A lot of emotion went into it, so I truly hope people like it.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
If you're reading this, thank you again for your continuous support and encouragement. I think it's pretty obvious that without you, whoever you are, I wouldn't be here right now making music for you or speaking to these amazing people at Intersect. I would love for you to continue to stream my EP, whatever the season, month, day, or time. Please share it with your friends and family, and I really look forward to showing you what comes after the heartbreak.