Minnesota Rap Lord
Recently I was grabbing coffee with a good friend of mine, Josiah Kakish – better known by Pharaoh. He had been introduced to me by another encultured musician friend of ours, Amanda Yang, when he came over to my apartment for the final scene of my music video for “Hoat”.
Before meeting him in person, I remember seeing his ads and hearing snippets of his verses on my Facebook feed. Not only was I impressed, but there was a distinct impression I got from the persona he portrayed himself online as – as serious a rapper as is the misfit Minnesota climate for a pharaoh (very). When I met Pharaoh in person the synapse activated – I could tell the demeanors I read and listened about were as real as they I saw.
To try and capture the same experience as I got from him, I offer the same to you in greater detail. Here are the facts, the paths, and the future of soon to be – in my humble opinion – one of the biggest names in rap of 2019.
You’re about to write a song. What do you do?
I start my lasers, I start my incense, beat goes on loop, full autotune in my ears. Lights off. I start going. Nobody else in the room unless it’s realistic, [but nothing else]. Very simple but effective.
What happens after the first draft?
It depends on the song. I might go back and redo the vocals multiple times, switch around the lines. There’s one records from my last projects I’ve been working on for two months, and another one I cut the first day that I absolutely love. It’s all about the feeling… when it feels right.
Do you feel complete with a record?
Absolutely, I can work on a record forever. I have synthestesia… [things like colors come at me very intensely and I feel like I can’t stop. Like my mind’s there and my body is somewhere completely different.]
You mentioned you have synthestesia. I feel that I get very overwhelmed when there’s a lot coming at me. How do you handle that?
Half of it is shapes and colors, the other half is visionary. Often times when I write songs, I’ll say things. Other times, I’ll see scenarios of where the song is being played for people – the people listening… it’s not so much that I’m writing it for them, but how they hear it. I want them to hear “this” line.
Often times I will visualize what will happen – half of it is synthestesia, but there comes a point where I think about scenarios. I never get too much of either.
Have you always had it?
Ever since I was a kid. I thought everyone would do it, but I realize it was mostly just me. Listening to music was a huge part of it. It’s like I HAVE to listen to these things, I just have to. Sometimes I’ll just listen to a podcast or a track because I NEED to feel that feeling.
I can lay in my bed for hours, and there’s just people, colors, records… I write for specific people sometimes and I just want them to hear certain things or know things about me.
But [that] stuff, I don’t even realize it happens until I hear the track back. I’ll write entire records in 25-30 minutes. Chaos of an Aries I wrote in one night, had it mixed in two weeks. Boom, done.
I literally live, breathe, sleep music. I walked in the studio yesterday and people were talking about football, and like… I just couldn’t get into it. It’s either music or I’m distant. Makes relationships difficult, especially when people aren’t musicians.
Why music? Bring us on your journey.
It saved my life.
People get very fucked up where I come from. They look at me and they think, you know…. I’ve been through shit. You hear it in my music. My parents divorced when I was 6 months old. My dad’s gay, my two uncles died when I was 10, my brother died of cancer when I was 19. My dad owns his own business, my mother was a single mother of me and my three half-brothers, seeing my dad once every other weekend. Grew up in north Minneapolis I was taking the city bus every day since I was 9.
When you come from that, there’s got to be vices. For so many it’s drugs. There’s come so many points in my life where I could have vented with drugs, alcohol, but it’s always been music. I wake up every day with a burning desire to be the best at it. That’s why I work ridiculously hard.
I want to get my mom out of the situation she’s in. I want to hire my friend so he can be in this dream with me. As much as this made me who I am, I don’t want my kids to be through what I’ve been through. I hated watching the pain in my mother’s eyes when she couldn’t afford stuff for us.
I was my dad’s only child… there would be Christmases where my dad would get me all this shit and it would make her feel terrible. But even then, with as little as my mom got me, she would always get me the best gifts. I’m an earthy person, and she’s a poet (which is partially where I came from). There’s no way I would be the person I am if it wasn’t for music. This is my life – and that’s why I bet my music with it.
How do you sync up with your brothers?
I was the oldest, so I had to have these leadership skills. You had to force them what needed to be done. We’d go to the Dollar Store and they’d want to buy toys, but I had to [put my foot down]. I’m not as close with my brothers as I want to be right now, but in order to be living that
My brother who died is technically my cousin – keep that in mind – but my three brothers and him are closer than anything.
Why music? Bring us on your journey.
Kanye West. Period.
He taught me to believe in myself when I was being bullied. He taught me to be fearless. He created hip hop as it is now, he took risks and did what was necessary for him and I connect with his story. When I was going through bullying, his music was always there.
He has his flaws, but people fuck up. Celebrity does not mean you’re “perfect”. Especially when you’re Kanye West.
Music in general lets me say what I wouldn’t normally. I always get to say things that are very fearless, and I don’t give a shit what anybody thinks of it.
Do you have non-musical inspirations? Good and bad.
That's tough. I've never been asked that.
How about "muses"?
You know what it is? My fans. There was a girl I just facetimed who’s one of my biggest fans, she’s in New York, no idea how she found my music. She was telling me it’s helping her get through her own stuff. All I know is it’s giving me vulnerability… people know my personality, they know my feelings, and my friends will just know this stuff about me because I’m so see-through. I think knowing that it affects people and know these situations that they don’t want to be see-through about… it’s worth it. It gets me in trouble sometimes.
What is your ideal environment for songwriting?
No one's energy can interfere with mine.
Could you elaborate?
You have to change scenery. You have to. You have to get yourself out of your comfort zone. That’s the key to creativity. Sometimes I’ll just walk around, sit, and work. Sometimes I’ll be in my room and say “okay, I’ve been here too long.”
I was going to get an Airbnb and just go to Omaha and write. I’m not scared to do that kind of stuff for the art – it’s so important to me.
‘Cause I’m an… I don’t know if it’s an Ares thing, but I can read everybody. I can feel what their energy is. I just want to be around positive people. That’s why I hang out with people like you – I don’t want to be in a group and they just talk shit about people all the time. If you guys were sketch, it would be just done.
When I went to your video shoot, I felt good energy. It was like I walked in and I was like “Woah. I’m not used to this.”
Some negatives you can’t ignore, but you’d be surprised how many positives there are to focus on.
How has your music evolved since when you started? In sound, message, and quality.
When I started, I was learning. I didn’t have a sound – I have a sound now. I didn’t know I had a sound until my fans started telling me. This dude was telling me to do this hook on the spot, he was saying “you have this distinct thing you do” and I wasn’t catching it, but now I’m starting to see it.
My music is like, it’s world music. We’re talking about pitching me as an artist to people, it’s world music. It’s not pop, it’s not hip hop, it’s me.
I’m really good at taking bits of things and formulating it and being comfortable with this”. I write so much that just the way I rhyme is different. I don’t have to think about like, “what’s a word that’s gonna rhyme with ‘read’?”
Let’s say, like, three years ago, I did a record. It was like, not less transparent, but less blurry. It’s like iPhone cameras, the picture get better. People get it more. The more you do it, the better it gets – that’s why I do it all the time. I don’t compare anyone to myself, except maybe like Drake or Jay-Z. I don’t compare myself to local artists, I need to be at that level – Billboard Hot 100 level. I’m always shooting for the fuckin' stars that it gets better.
You talked on your sound and focused in on it. What are words other people would use to describe your sound, and how would you describe your sound?
Vulnerable. Definitely vulnerable shit. Risks. I would describe it as imperfect. Imperfectly perfect. If I do a take of a record, and I take a breath, or I cut myself off, I would keep it. Because it sounds human. Even when I’m in full autotune, it makes it human. Obviously I’m not going to go off tempo, but it’s like imperfection in the record.
People are like “why you using that autotune shit”, but it’s an instrument. When I make a beat, I’m thinking “what is best for the record”? sometimes I’ll add an ad lib.
If you could go back in time to when you started making music what would you say to yourself?
“It’s not gonna happen that quick”. I’ve been doing this free for 10 years of my life. I’ve been doing this so long that I’m in a position where I have nothing left to lose, so I can say “go fuck yourself”. I have nothing to lose.
You never realize what you have to lose, but now I know I can’t see my family as much as I like. I can’t always be financially stable because everything I get is immediately invested into my music for sense.
When I was 14 I thought it would take more, faster.
I love music so much I’m not mad at the sacrifice, but the only time I’ve ever had regret is when my brother passed. Thinking that I could have had more time with him. Time slips away from you – that’s the biggest thing – but I know it’s all going to be worth it and I know he understands. When I talk about this shit, it’s not like I’ve dealt with EVERYTHING.
You might not know this, but I started working on a project titled “Jakob” and just kept working on projects with it. When it was done, just dropped it. But when I was done, I felt peace.
So you released "Jakob"?
Yeah, exclusive on my website. Full vinyl and everything.
When we worked on it, there was a ton of concept shit. We just stringed so many things together that it felt like one thing.
It starts with a sample of his voice, and ends with the last conversation we ever had. Like, god given, it had been recorded. KZ just happened to have been recording it.
Jakob’s dope. What it was, and what it does for me as a human, sonically everything has to get better. I’m not going to say it’s my best record, but it built me to who I am.
For the reader, what do you have to say?
You just gotta hear the music.
The first thing you need to know is before you even see a photo of me, you just gotta play my music. I’m a 7, but after you hear this shit instantly a 9.5. No one thinks I look how my music sounds, but I like it. It’s a compliment. If I had my glasses on, I would just look like a straight up white-arab kid.
HEAR THE MUSIC.