By Biba Adams
In the nearly 30 years since DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince won the first Grammy for Best Rap Performance, the culture has become the number one genre in the world. Just a month ago, Will’s son Jaden Smith dropped his critically-acclaimed debut, Syre. On TV, a dozen or so offspring of hip-hop artists have been featured on the TV shows, Growing Up Hip-Hop and Growing Up Hip-Hop Atlanta. First Family of Hip-Hop follows the family of hip-hop label pioneer Sylvia Robinson.
Is hip-hop truly capable of being a family business? Should it be? On “Legacy,” Jay-Z talks about the generational wealth that he has been able to create for his family through rap. He even lets Blue Ivy Carter spit a few lines on “Blue’s Freestyle/We Family” –a bonus track on the 8-time Grammy nominated album, 4:44. But, will we buy an album from Blue a decade from now?
Of course we will.
Hip-Hop will always be an artform where respect is earned and not given. Accepting second-generation hip-hop kids as entrepreneurs is easier than embracing them as emcees (Jo-Jo Simmons, anybody?) But for the kids who are born and raised as a part of this music and culture, their desire to be a part of it is programmed in their DNA.
For Westside KJ, a love of hip-hop was inevitable. He is the son and namesake of Kyambo “Hip-Hop” Joshua, the legendary Roc-A-Fella Records A&R and co-founder of Hip Hop Since 1978, the management company that at one point represented Drake, Nicki Minaj and Kanye West. His mother, Erica Bowen, is also a music executive. Bowen was the General Manager of Jeezy’s CTE label for nearly a decade at its height. His uncle, Kareem “Biggs” Burke co-founded Roc-A-Fella Records.
The younger Joshua recently embarked on a rap career with the audacious goal of turning a passionate hobby into a career. With two mixtapes under his belt in a brand-new rap career, Westside KJ has a bright future ahead of him. His music is good, and with growth and development could be great. He also has a great ear for amazing production, most recently with Atlanta’s Money Makin Myles. I spoke to the budding rapper (and aspiring A&R) about his rap career and his goal to carve out his own space in a hip-hop legacy.
TRUE Magazine: KJ, you’ve released two mixtapes (Jefe Talk and Kobe and Shaq) what’s your process?
Westside KJ: For me it’s fun. I’m not just one of those people who likes to be in the studio with a million people. It’s usually just me and Myles. if it’s not him, I’m in there by myself so I can be all the way tuned in with no distractions. For me, it’s like a hobby that I started to really take seriously. That’s how I look at it. I don’t take it too seriously where it’s like a job and it’s not fun no more.
TRUE: You come from a family with a powerful hip-hop legacy. Do you feel pressure about putting your music in front of people who know who your family is?
Westside KJ: I don’t think about it like that. They did it before me. My only goal is to do better than they did. I don’t really think about whether I’m meeting their expectations. I’m just doing what I’m supposed to do to be a big artist, and not just an artist because I didn’t want to be an artist at first.
TRUE: What are some of your other goals?
Westside KJ: All my life, since I realized what an A&R was, I said I was going to be an A&R. Once I really realized what it was. The whole idea of the job, I really like it. I’ve been doing that for a long time, picking tracks, telling people what their single should be, I’ve been doing it without knowing that I was doing it.
TRUE: Your dad is arguably one of the greatest rap A&R’s of all time. How do you pick production?
Westside KJ: He always says never go off what I think somebody wants to hear. If I’m in the studio, I’m listening for what I actually like.
TRUE: What do you think are some of the misconceptions that people have about kids like you who grow up in hip-hop families?
Westside KJ: People don’t think we live a regular life. They think every second of our life is like a concert or a show and just lit all the time. But I live a regular life. I live days where I just hang out with my friends or just wake up and sit in the house and play a game. My parents have a different job.
TRUE: What do you hope people get from your music?
Westside KJ: I think the message in my music will change with time. Right now, it isn’t too serious…we’re just young and having fun with it. Right now, we’re just having fun and getting comfortable with it. I’m 18, I’m still finding myself as an artist and as a person.
Check out @WestsideKJ and his music on Soundcloud and social media.