Son Kuma on a photo shoot this past June. (Instagram: Iamsonkuma) June 25, 2021.
When you think ‘successful rapper’, I’m guessing 'science geek’ isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.
However, for LA-based rapper/producer Son Kuma, it’s that same passion for experimentation that’s catalyzed him into California Hip-Hop’s brightest-burning young supernova.
The formula for the 25 year-old Cali native is simple: To bridge the gap between science and spirituality through music. Come again?
Between nearly 100,000 followers on Spotify and his hit single, ‘Indica’ sitting at just over 4 million plays, Kuma’s swelling inertia as a young MC has only solidified his stance as a centripetal force in the world’s most hyper-competitive music industry.
Kuma’s Spotify Stats for 2020. (Instagram: Iamsonkuma) December 2, 2020.
With a distinct voice, swirling beats, and biting lyricism, it’s no mystery how Kuma’s unique sound has all but hijacked the ‘Discover Weekly’ Gold Medal.
After escaping from the black hole of his past, Kuma’s rising planetary status in today’s Hip-Hop atmosphere has us primed to crack the formula on the era’s most ‘experimental' new artist…
How did your love of music first manifest before you ever decided to make your own?
Growing up as a science lover, I was a huge nerd. But then, in high school, I started smoking weed; so let's just say I branched out from there(laughs). I grew up in LA and then went to Stanford for college; so at Stanford, a lot of the homies who I smoked with all happened to f**k with the same music, so we’d all just freestyle while getting high, it was fun as hell. At the time, I kept my love of music very private, but I was still the best freestyler in our group, so all of my homies pushed me to make a song. At the time, I was like ‘f**k school’; I remember one day, I had a final for one of my classes, and I was just like f**k this; so I found some beats on Youtube and just wrote a song.
How much of a priority was music when you first started making it?
As soon as I started making music, it immediately became way more exciting to me than anything I was doing in school: Studying just wasn’t a priority for me then. Let’s just say I wasn’t exactly in the right mindset at the time; I still didn’t feel comfortable with who I was so I was very much in the ‘f**k school’ mindset. Around that time, I ended up meeting a girl. Without saying too much, it grew quite toxic; really just living a crazy life: a lot of drugs, partying, debauchery, but I was writing music the whole time. I remember my first track I ever released was called ‘White Xans High’. That summer, I made my first project, ‘Origami’. I remember I rented a studio to record it, but the guy claimed he was a Hip-Hop mixer; this man didn’t even know how to use the sub! I remember asking, ‘Where’s the bass?’ He points to this busted speaker like, “Right there…” and I’m like, “The sub’s not even plugged in!”. Let’s just say that situation showed me just how seriously I valued music; it solidified my confidence knowing that even though I was new to music, I had a grip on the fundamentals like, you know, having actual recording equipment...
When you say ‘your life was crazy’, what specifically about your environment contributed to that?
It’s weird because though my life was crazy, I was literally dissociated from the whole experience; I was honestly just trying to avoid being in my body at all times, so I couldn’t really tell you what it felt like; I was taking all sorts of drugs, partying all the time, in a toxic relationship, I even rushed a fraternity; It all culminated though when the girl I was with left me. That was like a gut punch especially due to the fact that around that same time, I also ended up getting suspended from school; it was a true rock bottom moment. That was what really pushed me into the music; I simply had nothing else to do, music was my only true outlet at that point.
How did that ‘rock bottom’ moment influence your drive towards creating music?
That’s when I started writing ‘Indica’. Nothing was good on my first project, ‘Origami’, especially myself; it was my first mixtape, I still really had no idea what I was doing. At that point, I just had to hit the drawing board and start from scratch. I started writing a ton of verses, and those were actually good. I dropped a few new songs under the name ‘Kuma’ and started to gain some real momentum. Anyways, I got suspended, got a new computer, downloaded logic, and started making beats. Throughout that whole year of suspension, I taught myself how to produce, mix, and master; I was used to the idea of learning something from scratch; I think the most important thing you can learn is how to learn.
So what was the plan after you got back to Stanford?
What’s cool is I had dropped Indica literally the week before I went back to school, so I actually had some buzz swarming from different labels, producers, and local venues right as I got back to campus; it was wild. I was supposed to buckle down and finish school, but I kept getting hit up left and right to do shows, even got to open for Glass Animals! I also got back into that previous relationship, because she loved the tape(especially because it was about her). So I rekindled that, which obviously spiraled out pretty quickly, then I got with another girl, let’s just say it was really intense. Between my name growing as an artist, my relationships, and a whole lotta partying, school was the last thing I cared about.
How did the initial hype behind ‘Indica’ impact your creative process going forward?
After ‘Indica’, it felt like everything I made was trash. I got distracted again with a lot of bad influences, but I made another mixtape called ‘Sativa’ right after I left. Each time that I got into a relationship though, it always had a bad ending; music was my tool of coping through that. That was really the year when I realized I love music. Making that mixtape helped me deal with a lot of bulls**t. After I dropped ‘Sativa’, I really committed myself to taking this music sh*t seriously. I left Stanford, dropped everything, and moved back to LA.
Was that decision an immediate relief or was there initial anxiety about the move?
Personally, I was all in. My family however, definitely had their doubts: ‘You only have one year left, why don’t you stay?’ that type of thing. I didn’t care though: Stanford had a really flexible policy where you could pretty much leave and return for classes at any time. Between that and the fact that there were honestly so many influences in my life at the time that were pulling me back to LA, I felt that I needed to take advantage of my buzz: I gotta capitalize! At the time, it really did feel like fate was pulling me and at that point, I just had to trust my intuition.
As an artist who both writes and produces your music, is there one craft that comes more naturally? Songwriting or Producing?
Neither came naturally, honestly; I’ve learned the most through meeting artists and comparing processes because everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. For example, one of my homies is a wizard at basslines, whereas I only just got good at it. I’ve learned a ton from other artists, that to me is the best way to learn. Even producing didn’t come easy. Even now when I’m writing, I can’t just pick up a pen and paper and write gold. I tend to freestyle gibberish, and in that gibberish, there’s always one little word or phrase that sticks out; That one random word tends to be important, so it makes for a very interesting, exciting process; It’s all about discovery.
What’s your most obscure influence?
I actually listen to a lot of Japanese rock music, it’s crazy cause they’re willing to put in things like harmonicas, and bagpipes and still make it sound fye.
Did that influence the cover art for ‘Indica’?
So the cover art is actually a Hokusai drawing from an old Japanese artist. I forget his name, but I always f**ked with that particular style; it just perfectly matched my vibe. ‘Kuma’ actually means ‘bear’ in Japanese, so to link Son Kuma with my art, I felt as though the Asian influence made sense. The final touch was done by my homie Noah, who took the painting and tripled it to make it trippy.
Cover Art for Kuma’s Hit EP ‘Indica’ (2017).