Big Music 2015:

Dank Verse Poetry: Kemet Dank raps like he Instagrams

In a purple t-shirt festooned with embroidered fruit, floral-print leggings, mismatched socks and two small necklaces made up of gold leaves, green jewels, and dotted with pearls, 21-year-old Baltimore rapper Kemet Dank struts down Pratt Street and into the brand new Chick-fil-A. He moves with the youthful bounce of a big puppy, still amped for the new Inner Harbor location, which he excitedly posted about on his Instagram account (@iflexdick) a few weeks back. He orders, sits down, immediately pulls the pickles off his chicken sandwich, and proceeds to talk about his prolific music career, his “Dank God” philosophy, and brain waves. He’s been up for pretty much two days straight, he says.

“I’ll be up most of the day and I really don’t go to sleep until like five o’clock in the morning. I might wake up at seven o’clock and start all over again,” he says.

Earlier in the day, Kemet was up in Hampden on the hunt for a bottle of Waiakea, a rather rare brand of Hawaiian volcanic water. There, he stopped in front of one of those big green utility boxes to admire a wheat-pasted poster of a UFO hovering over a cycloptic cow amid a field of psychedelic mushrooms, and listened to ‘The Oogie Boogie Song’ from the soundtrack of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” off his phone. I know about this for the same reason I know about his affection for Chick-fil-A, because of posts to his Instagram account.

He records his raps similarly to how he updates Instagram (and his Twitter, @kemet_dank)—constantly, and usually off the cuff, constructing tracks that are closer to rhyming diary entries or thought experiments set to a beat than a typical song. He began rapping back in middle school. “I’d be recording on like a voice recorder and a beat and just going in,” he says. “I’d be playing it for my friends like, ‘This is the shit!’ [I was] talking about Lamborghinis and ejaculating on girls when I couldn’t even ejaculate!” He laughs so hard, a piece of the chicken sandwich flies out of his mouth and into the air. “My bad, bro,” he says.

Around 2010, Kemet became aware of rapper Lil B, a game-changing underground figure thanks to his web presence and free-associative raps which he called “Based freestyles.” Last month, Lil B or “The BasedGod” as his fans call him appeared on ESPN’s “SportsNation” in a sheer white blouse, costume earrings like the clip-on ones your grandma used to have, and a blue sun hat—an affront to the seriousness of the sports show.

“I nearly cried when I saw that,” Kemet says.

Lil B’s free-spirited take on hip-hop helped move Kemet to take himself and his work more seriously and realize the value in positive connections with fans and the potential to turn everything happening in his life into content. Kemet’s rapping ranges from snappy, catchy hooks to blissed-out sloppy crooning. The song ‘Nuffin’ from his 25-song Bandcamp release from April, “North Face, Gold Chain,” evokes a Three 6 Mafia vibe with the cacophonous repetition of “I got the bitches and money and drugs I don’t give a fuck about nothin,’” while another song, ‘Xanblunts (Remix),’ recalls the music from “The Legend of Zelda” and dutifully warns listeners not to mix drugs. An EP that was announced though never released was titled “Cage-Free Eggs For Breakfast,” and one of Kemet’s more moving tracks, titled ‘Baltimore Get Tested,’ discusses the high AIDS rate in Baltimore.

There’s a zen quality to Kemet’s musical ethos. His output sometimes expresses the conventional indulgences of club rap but just as often, he’s earnestly trying to impart whatever positivity he can to a world falling apart at the seams.

Kemet’s latest Bandcamp release, “All My Rich Friends Left Me To Die, All My Niggas Still In The Hood,” came out last month. To provide a sense of how quickly and impulsively he works, one of the tracks on “All My Rich Friends,” titled ‘1.5 Million Dollar Traphouse,’ features a shout-out to City Paper, CP Arts Editor Brandon Soderberg, and my Instagram account; clearly recorded within days of our interview.

A highlight from “All My Rich Friends” is ‘Edgar Allen Po’Up,’ where Kemet chants like a friendly, drunk ghost: “Edgar Allen Po’up/ That bitch need to roll up/ I’m 21 I’m so glad I got to grow up.” It recalls the youthful exhilaration of artists like Rae Sremmurd and Young Thug. But ‘Edgar Allen Po’ Up’ also features a dark verse from guest rapper Kirb La Goop who brays, “I struggle with addiction cause I struggle with depression/ I struggle with depression cause this world is so oppressive.” The whole track’s like Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Swimming Pools’ but too gnarly and actually evocative of the experience of being young and out of control to ever get near the radio. Kirb La Goop is one of many associates of Kemet’s record label DAFHU x Witchsquad Records, which has garnered blog attention from tastemakers like the streetwear brand MISHKA.

“I feel like people listening to my music are being turned up or just feeling free to be themselves, you feel me?” Kemet says. “Because my shit is like Dank As Fuck Hashed Up Witchsquad records, but it also stands for Desire To Feel Happiness Unconditionally Witchsquad records.”

As a kid, Kemet explains, he was kicked out of a number of schools, both public and private. This afforded him an opportunity to gain more insight into the way different types of people operate and added an urgency to educate himself outsidethe school system. These days, his eyes, heart, and ears are wide open.

With his manicured fingernails greasy from Chick-fil-A, he scrolls through his phone and rattles off what he’s listening to right now. Along with Lil B and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” OST, there’s Atlanta rapper OG Maco, an audio book on quantum physics, “Double Fantasy” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono (one of his favorite albums, he adds), and brain-wave entrainment CDs: “Like alpha and beta brain waves that you listen to at different frequencies that like soothe the brain and make you feel good. I love that. I’ll just be walking down the street just bumping that shit and be in the zone. Just thinking, like planning out my day like, ‘This shit’ll be hella epic.’”

Kemet finishes his sandwich. He piles the wrapper, used napkins, and those two discarded pickles into a small ball of trash and unfolds a clean napkin to pick it up along with any wayward crumbs, making sure the table is as clean as he found it.

“Gotta respect the workers,” he says.

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