Getting Drake’s attention on Instagram is not always easy, but fellow-Toronto rapper Kofi pulled it off. He tells us EXCLUSIVELY how he did it, the nature of his new ‘Story Of My Life’ EP, and more.
Just from listening to Kofi talk, you can tell he’s a man with brains. Just from listening to Kofi rap, you can tell he’s a man with talent. The Toronto native puts both on display on his new ep, Story Of My Life (out Aug. 14), his first major release on Red Bull Records. The volleyball player-turned rapper/producer has been building a buzz for a few years now, but his rep got a boost thanks to his fellow Canadian, Drake. Right before speaking EXCLUSIVELY with HollywoodLife, Kofi dropped a video of him freestyling to the beat from Drake’s “Do Not Disturb,” a move that got Drake’s public approval (aka he Liked it on IG.)
“That was very targeted,” Kofi says with a laugh. “It was literally exactly what I was going for, in order to make that play with promo. It all started like, a week before. So, he’s followed me on Instagram for a while. And just being from Toronto, like, I know all his guys. The hood that he reps? I live there. I know his whole crew.”
“So, he’s been following me on Instagram for a while. I was just chilling with my friends, and he just randomly hit me like, ‘where you at?’ on the DMs. So I answered. He never answered back,” Kofi says, with another laugh. “I can’t be upset at that because he’s probably super busy. So, after that, I took it as just, like a sign that he’s watching.” Kofi said his freestyle stunt was a way to “build upon the relationship. And I wore all OVO stuff, just to show some respect.”
It won’t be long that fans will be rocking JMG stuff, wearing the brand of Jvngle Music Group. For those unfamiliar with Kofi, his new EP will be a perfect introduction. Prior to Story of My Life‘s release, he put out “Babygirl,” a single he tells HollywoodLife was “probably my favorite song” that he’s made so far. “Both sonically and lyrically, I love how it came together. Like sonically, I think it sounds really good. I co-produced it, and lyrically, I think I didn’t sacrifice, in poetry, to make up like to make it sound good. Like, it still sounds really good, but it’s very poetic. It’s I think it’s a perfect blend of like a high-level, poetry and kinda street ‘hood-rap at the same time.”
“I definitely see myself as a writer,” adds Kofi. While recent movements of hip-hop — mumble rap/SoundCloud rap, specifically – diminished the necessity of having bars and verses, Kofi says he’s “super focused on lyricism.” He’s also focused on all aspects of his career, choosing a more hands-on approach when it comes to production. “It kind of stems from just the way I started making music,” he tells HollywoodLife. “I have a long background in music. I started off with being classically trained in piano. Being from where I’m from in Scarborough, that just naturally turns into making hip hop beats.”
“That’s how I started,” he continues. “And then, people just came over to my house since I had the beats. So, I would just record them, and from that, I gained like an overall knowledge of how to put songs together. How to produce them and mix and master them.” Will this knowledge lead to a more behind-the-boards, producer role for Kofi in the future? “I’ll probably stay just like the amount [of production work] that I’m doing right now.”
“Because, sometimes, there are beats that – either, I like the producer or the person I want to work with them, or I just don’t think it’s a sound that I can make,” says Kofi. “Those are the times I usually work with other producers.” He adds that “Babygirl” was a co-production stemming from an idea “that I didn’t really have fleshed out. And I just had like the melody loop with me playing stuff on the piano. I wrote a full song tonight and then we went to this guy, Jonas’s house. He had a studio here. We just like sat down, and we’re kind of together.”
Clearly, Kofi is not opposed to pairing his considerable talents up with another creative mind, and he has a list of potential collaborators that he would love to work with. Speroach Beatz is the first name Kofi says. “I think he lives in Nigeria. He’s making a bunch of afrobeat records right now. I’m just a big fan. But, probably – the biggest is Boi-1da. He lives like, down the street from my house in Toronto. And he can make any sound, any genre, whatever he feels like making, and he can do it at the highest level.”
“We’ve met a couple times,” adds Kofi. “He reaches out to be on Instagram every now again. It’s actually funny. The first time I met him, I was at a party thrown by my manager. He was the event producer for it. But I remember the party is crazy. This was my first time being around like A-list celebrities, like so many people, like LeBron James was there. And then I met Drake for the first time. I remember I was like, ‘well, I thought I’d be like freaking out.’ And then I met Boi-1dar, and I was freaking out! I couldn’t contain myself, you know? So that’s that’s probably like the day I get to work with him. It’s probably like the day I’m happy.”
If it sounds like Drake and Kofi are haunting each other, it’s probably because the young rapper has been compared to him. (“We’re both half-Black, half-Jewish, from Toronto,” he told The New York Times in February. “We weren’t the brokest kids growing up, but always, for some reason, grew up in ‘hoods.”) Asked if the comparisons ever rub him the wrong way, Kofi doesn’t mind. “To be honest, I do draw a lot from his sound. One thing I admire about him is that he always puts lyrics first.” Kofi is a bit critical of his hero – “There are some songs that the lyrics aren’t as strong on.” – but he still thinks Drake is a “phenomenal writer.”
“I definitely look up to the guy,” Kofi said about Drake. “As far as acting musicians go, he’s probably my biggest idol when it comes to active artists. But, to be honest, maybe I just love the sound of Toronto?”
The sound of Toronto is a huge influence on Kofi’s sound (“It’s kind of New York but less New York. It’s a bit darker,” he says when describing it). Another significant influence comes not from the streets of The 6, but from the volleyball court. Before committing to his music career, Kofi was a star player on the UCLA men’s volleyball team. “There are so many transferable skills that apply to music and art,” says Kofi, noting that his time with the Bruins helped prep him for “the business side” of music. “Just being on a high-level team, punctuality, and responsibility – they go hand in hand – they are the most important things [I learned.] Like, if you’re late to a practice? I don’t need to tell you what happens when you’re late. So, I apply that to meetings I try to never be late to meetings. I bring the same level of intensity that I would bring to high-level training to my work, which is now music.”
“Volleyball has helped me so much,” stresses Kofi, “just because of the caliber of player that I was, I had a bunch of notoriety and that all transferred into music. And once people figured out that the music I was making wasn’t terrible, and I’m not just trying to rap to make money, they started liking it.”
As for Kofi liking his music? The Story of My Life marks a milestone for Kofi, but that drive, that ambition can be a bit of a double-edged sword. “I don’t really know if I will ever see myself as ‘successful.’ I’m kind of a perfectionist, in the sense that I don’t think music can ever be perfect. It’s similar to volleyball. I don’t you can ever be the perfect volleyball player, but you can work every day to get better. So, that’s kind of the way I see it.”
Kofi’s debut EP on Red Bull Records, Story of My Life, is out on Aug. 14.