Dikembe Caston isn’t your average teenager. For starters, Kembe dropped out of school at the age of 15. He started rapping in September of 2010. Within a year, Kembe secured his first performance as an opening act for GLC and Stalley at Chicago’s Double Door. Self Rule, Kembe X’s debut mixtape was released just a few months later and has been well received by the online Hip Hop community. The tape is impressive, and above all else, genuine. Kembe doesn’t try to shine by means of braggadocio, but rather through rapping about himself and his experiences with school, girls, family, and friends. Another thing that this young emcee has going for him is a strong love for his craft.
“I’m just getting the hang of being 17, so I have a lot of maturing to do… but I love this shit so…you know, it’s nothing I’m necessarily trying to rush.”
Like the saying, “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey,” achieving dreams shouldn’t be hurried, it should be savored. It’s easy to get lost in the daily grind that goes into the pursuit of goals and lose sight of why you started things in the first place. It’s not that Kembe X doesn’t want it all right now, just listen to “Patience (What is That?)”, but rather, he possesses an understanding for, and attitude towards, his trade that makes the journey sweeter. His devotion to what he does is readily apparent in his music, as witty rhymes flow effortlessly over classic sounding boom-bap beats and solid instrumentals. In a world where the typical aspiring artist is delusional or at the least, sorely mistaken about their “talents”, it’s refreshing to hear such a young artist who doesn’t come across as someone who is trying too hard. Regardless of how long the line, his rhymes don’t come across as forced as they exhibit a fluidity that even eludes some of the more practiced emcees.
RubyHornet: Starting with some of the basics, which artists influence you and your music the most?
Kembe: Initially, guys like AZ, Nas, Lupe, (Reasonable Doubt) Jay-Z and Kanye West were my main influences. Over time, as I started thoroughly listening through the catalogues of legends like Outkast, guys with huge fan bases like Blu, DOOM and Dom Kennedy, as well as newer guys like Kendrick, Fashawn, J. Cole, Pac Div, Jay Electronica and anyone else who I ever really got into, [I] studied things about their styles that I really liked and I tried to implement into my cadences, flows and general approach to songs.
RubyHornet: How did you begin rapping and how has your style changed since you started?
Kembe: Coming up in a broken Christian home, the only time I was able to freely listen to secular shit was when I was with my father, who I only saw a few times a week. The only exceptions were Food & Liquor by Lupe Fiasco and College Dropout and Late Registration by Kanye West. I’d show my mom the positive messages in a few of their songs and eventually she’d go for it. I really got into listening to rap, then I got depressed and stopped listening to it all together. I only listened to metal and alternative bands…even started playing the guitar, and for like 6 months that was all I did. When I started back listening to rap (around March of 2010) there were hella dudes out that I wasn’t hip to, like Chip Tha Ripper, Big Sean and Pac Div. As I started back listening to them, the weather was pleasant again. I started thinking like “Man…I can do this.” It was like an everyday routine to wake up at 1pm and write with their songs blasting, paying attention to the beats. Since I had dropped out basically as soon as I turned 15, I had a lot of cool shit to talk about… or what I thought was cool. The better I got, the more I started listening to more classic-flow-heavy dudes like AZ, Nas, Jay-Z, Big L, and Eminem, and comparing my verses to theirs. And since Kanye gave me my first real Hip Hop experience, I think you’ll always be able to hear some of his influence in whatever I make. I’d say my style has matured as I have naturally matured, gradually not drastically. My main focus is to keep getting better at what I do.
RubyHornet: How’d you secure the act before the GLC and Stalley show in August, and what was it like performing at a venue like the Double Door?
Kembe: My guy Tre Valentine. I have no idea how he does it, but he seems to come out of the woodwork with some big moves every few months. I had been hounding him about getting me on a stage, I was really anxious to get that first one out of the way. He hits me up in the middle of June like “We got you opening for Stalley and GLC August 26th!!!” I didn’t believe him at first, then I saw the plugger with my name on it. My goal was to do my first show before my 17th birthday, but I’m cool with being a few weeks late. The Double Door was cool, I was the first act, so there were only like 40-50 people there, but after my first joint… I think I performed “Visions” or an unreleased track called “ADDict” first.. But after that first one I told the crowd about how it was my first show, and how I had just hit 17. EVERYONE was rocking with me after that. It was real cool. I still think I’m gonna be just as nervous for my next few ones though. At the GLC & Stalley joint though, I basically blacked out on stage. I didn’t lose consciousness or anything, but I kinda went on autopilot, if you will. I think I did real good though, I felt like I had the crowd in the palm of my hand and I could do whatever I wanted with it.. It was a raw ass feeling. Haha.
RubyHornet: You just released Self Rule, what is the significance of the mixtape’s title and the tape itself to you?
Kembe: Self Rule is hard for me to explain on the spot…but basically it’s this theory I’ve been living by since I first stopped taking meds for ADD and Bipolar Depression, which basically gives me complete control over my body and acknowledges that anything that I can control, I will control. For example, most cats who rap wanna make it…you make it with a combination of a good product, consistent work ethic, knowledge of the game’s recent history and a good idea of what direction the game is going in. Those are all things that I can control, so I simply make it my goal for my weakest tracks to be just as good, or better, than everyone else’s good joints (or what’s generally considered good). That way the music is something I never have to worry about when making moves. Not sure if that makes sense to anyone but me, but it works for me and I live by it, and the morals that come with it. It also has a lot to do with controlling your destiny by putting positivity in your karma cycle to receive breaks and mercy when needed. The more detailed it gets, I think the weirder it gets for most people. But that’s what works for me. Once I came up with the title, I decided that if I ever took rap seriously, my first project would be named after it.
RubyHornet: Self Rule was ranked #7 on Forbes Magazine’s “The Best Free Albums of 2011”. How did that feel and did you expect feedback and recognition, especially from a different publication like Forbes, so quickly?
Kembe: The feeling is satisfying, to say the least… I don’t think it’s quite hit me yet what all is going on, but for the most part I did expect this kind of feedback from the tape. I’m not sure if I had like a success deadline or anything, but I knew that I would get some type of response just because of everything I put into that. I also knew not to expect too much, so stuff like Forbes is mind-blowing to the point where I don’t know how to react or even feel. I’m ranked above like Frank Ocean and The Weeknd. Bitches love Frank Ocean and The Weeknd! You know? So like that shit is raw as hell. It’s a good ass look.
RubyHornet: Alex Wiley of The Village is on a handful of tracks with you, can you tell us about your affiliation with him and The Village?
Kembe: Me and Alex have been real cool for a year and a half or two now. We got cool through my guy Wes (ST. GHOUL, producer of “Introlude” and “Patience” as well as the guy responsible for Self Rule’s cover art). When I dropped out in late ’09, Wes dropped out the next month, and then Alex dropped out… For a 3 or 4 month stretch we were just ain’t-shit buddies. Me and Alex really started to kick it when he proposed this Clothing Project called VLR, or Vive La Resistance. I would be one of the main designers cause I draw, and he’d tell me all the ideas he had… But of course it never really happened, and we were mostly bs’ing whenever we kicked it. Around September when I tried school again for the last time, word was getting around that I was rapping and Alex was running the Akira blog, so we had this thing where he’d put up all my tracks. Eventually he started sliding to studio sessions along with my guy Roper who had the hook up, Jody Duff, $piff and Fred and whenever we had extra time we’d make these joke tracks under the name “Swag Village.” No thought was originally put into it. It was just funny to hear all the dudes who don’t usually rap, rapping. “No Fat Chicks” was the first joint when it became apparent that Alex could actually rap, and it was stupid funny. His verse is notorious amongst anyone who fucks with me or my guys, which is a lot of people. Over the summer we started working on the joint that we’re gonna drop next month, that was originally supposed to drop when Self Rule dropped, but when my cousin Rod passed I put Self Rule first, he asked for a feature, I gave it to him and if you listen to “Don’t Quit” it should be obvious why I do a lot of tracks with this man. Damn I talk a lot.
RubyHornet: Alex has a pretty energetic delivery and your style has a more relaxed feel. Despite the contrast in styles, you guys kill it on every track. What’s the secret to making that work and how does this difference influence aspects like what production you select?
Kembe: Well, basically…I’m rapping mad good, you know? And lately he’s been rapping real well, and since we kick it like ALL the time, a lot of these songs write themselves. Our main objective is to not suck, and be raw. We usually accomplish it. We both have multiple flows, so beats that either of us wanna use, usually get rapped on…cause ni**as be rappin.
RubyHornet: Chicago is loaded with talented, young emcees (Is there something in the water?). What’s it like to be part of this youth movement and whom from these Chicago-based youngsters would you like to work with in the future?
Kembe: The Chicago hip-hop scene is so cold, and I’ve been kinda telling guys (Shout out to Legit, “A Ni**er In Northface” is doing stupid numbers) that we’re the new wave for Chicago. It’s only a matter of time before ALL of us make noise. Cause you know, I knew most of these guys before they made music.. and definitely before they made good music. I went to Thornwood with the majority of the guys from 2008ighties, so like when dudes like Calez, Fonz or Julian first started making music (long before it was even a concept for me) I’d clown them every now and then, make jokes with ‘em, and give ‘em props if I liked it. It’s crazy how all of them have grown to be guys I look up to. And as far as the Savemoney homies, like that was a relationship that’s strictly grown through music for me…like I don’t know ni**as like Vic like that… but Chance, Caleb James and Dally are all the guys now, and we work together as much as we can to benefit each other. Honestly, I feel like if all these collectives banded together on some mutual support shit, we’d be able to do a lot more than blow up locally. We could hit hard nationally and be a major wave in the game. We could put Chicago on the map for more than just a few greats. We could be like the West Coast in the 90’s. Now it just has to happen. I think it’s real cool how realistic this shit is though.
RubyHornet: Who’s your dream producer and why?
Kembe: Man yo, I can’t even really pick one… I love DJ Premier, I love 9th Wonder, but I also love K.R.I.T., Tyler The Creator and The Super 3… Anything with a Kanye twist is when I generally can’t help but drool over, but like I have so many dudes I wanna work with that I can’t pick one over the other. I love everything I make, so it’s always different shit about every beat that I love.
RubyHornet: Since you’re probably new to a lot of our readers, is there anything else that we should know about Dikembe Caston?
Kembe: I seriously have tunnel vision… I put so much into my music, to the point where it’s the only thing I care about outside of my girl. So when people show my product love, or even take time to check me out, it’s really touching and doesn’t go unappreciated. Some have said I’m arrogant, but I know I’ve earned the right to acknowledge how good I am at what I do. I love my music and every fruit that it bears. I love and live this shit. Watch me grow.
RubyHornet: Lastly, what can we expect in the future from you?
Kembe: Hella raps. Like raps in stupid quantities, you feel me? ….Hella raps.
RubyHornet: Definitely, Kembe. We feel you. Looking forward to it.