The Importance of Kemba’s “Negus” (feat. Kemba)


Welcome to the latest edition of the Royal State of Mind podcast. Today, I have a conversation with Kemba, a rapper from the Bronx that just released my favorite album of 2016.

Here’s my (brief) written review of the album. Titled “Negus,” Kemba’s masterpiece is a beautiful portrayal of his life as a Black male in a society that discriminates and dehumanizes that identity daily. Kemba brings intricate lyrics, heady wordplay and references, and powerful phrases to every track on “Negus,” and it compliments producer Frank Drake’s consistently unbelievable instrumentals.

From the title of the album to the cover artwork to the topics tackled during the songs, this album just feels important. Quite simply, it is impossible to listen to this project just once and fully understand and comprehend all of the concepts and nuance Kemba offers in this project. Impossible. (And trust me on that statement. I’ve played this album continuously for a week now and I still pick up new anecdotes with nearly every listen.)

With all of those facets considered, I think that Negus is — topically speaking — one of the most unapologetically Black albums I’ve heard from hip hop in a while.

In our 90 minute conversation, Kemba and I fell into great discussion about a litany of topics surrounding him, his creations, the music scene, and society today. We start with his name change (from YC the Cynic to Kemba) and then find our way to discussions about the ‘conscious rapper’ tag in hip hop. Kemba, who decried that label on the second track of the “Negus,” explains why he thinks that tag is negative. The two of us talk about the current state of rap, whether Black rappers have an obligation to discuss the communities’ struggles, and the influence music plays on Black youth.

Aiyana Jones on the back cover of “Negus.” She was 7-years-old when she was killed during a 2010 raid by the Detroit PD’s Special Response Team.

I also dive into Kemba’s album itself. We discuss the production of “Negus” and where the inspiration came from for the project’s various sonics heard. He also mentions that he is already forming a sound, recording songs, and coming up concepts for his next project.

I ask about the comparisons between “Negus” and Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 “To Pimp A Butterfly,” which have arose in the aftermath of Kemba’s albums because of the similarity in content. Kemba explains why he thinks TPAB was an indirect album. We move into discussions about how Black youth have organized today’s Civil Rights Movement. I also ask Kemba to give his stance on the use of “nigga” and “nigger” amongst Black people and non-Black people.

Finally, we end our conversation with lighter topics. I get his opinions on his favorite hip hop duo albums, the idea of “dumbing down” lyrics, a nonexistent unified New York sound, Frank Ocean’s delays, and more.

“Negus” is a free project, but definitely support good music through promotion or financing. Endless thanks to Kemba for his willingness to talk. Clearly, 90 minutes wasn’t enough time.

Kemba.