Los Angeles by way of Chicago rapper Kembe X has always embodied his truth, even if it meant diving into the uncomfortable. From an enigmatic fixture in his hometown's underground to a far-reaching musician, he always looked inward for inspiration when all else failed. After a cathartic conversation with Kehlani led to a years-long hiatus, Kembe returned in full force in 2019 with the release of I Was Depressed When I Made This, a soulful, hungry reintroduction into an environment he never knew he'd return to.
Since then, the bright-eyed Kembe has steadily churned out singles that twist and turn into every crevice of his creativity, collaborating with the likes of Ab-Soul, Denzel Curry and Guapdad 4000. When doing something so much begins to feel like a chore, the young rapper made the wise decision to step back and return with a reinvigorated love in his heart. He enters 2023 with the release of "Love Dangerous," which he premieres today on PAPER.
Grappling with an uneasy awareness of his mortality and the acceptance that he free-falls into love, Kembe's autotuned croon and deep-voiced raps float over guitars and hi-hats, a simple backdrop for his immersive, vulnerable storytelling. The accompanying Cordell Jomha-directed video unfolds like a short film, shot mostly from the perspective of the passenger seat as Kembe travels throughout the city where all eyes are on him, or are they?
Below, watch the PAPER premiere of "Love Dangerous" and keep reading for an exclusive interview with Kembe about the track.
Walk me through the recording session for the track.
So we were at Opi's studio, I think Reason had just got done with his session up there. I want to say it was Casper on the bass, Wolf on the guitar, AC and Opi on the drums. I think the song started with Casper's bass line and Wolf's guitar and I pretty much just went as soon as that got laid down, like before any drums got laid. I went into the booth and started recording pretty much line by line. I think I was on mushrooms at the time too. So I was feeling very, very wavy. I was in the booth leaning on the glass window and shit, like just super feeling myself. It started off with, “I love way too hard, love way too much." That's how the production came about.
Were you in the room together or did you have the beat first?
We were all in the room together when they were making it. I think around that time, Casper was pulling up like every Friday or something, and we would just jam out. He would just be playing the bass for an hour and we’d be talking. And then whenever he was playing and we were really stuck, Wolf would get in with either the guitar, piano or some shit. I'm the kind of person where half the songs that I make I'm there when the beat is getting made and I have an idea for it before the beat is even close to being done. There was no drums on it or anything by the time I had the whole hook.
I take it that you're very involved with the production of your music.
I'm usually very involved with the production of my music but I'm not always involved. I will sometimes just get beats from someone like Kal, and however that beat comes is usually how the song ends up unless Kal has anything he wants to do. With Wolf especially, things that he produced are super hands-on and deconstructive where we might start the song with just music and no drums. We love doing that. And then we'll try certain drums, different hooks and different bridge ideas. We'll change the beat entirely! We're very open-minded and you know we follow the music wherever it takes us.
Let's get into the video for "Love Dangerous." Who did you work with?
This video was directed by Cordell, James Mackell and Moosa. We kinda just draw inspiration from different clips and the idea was it was gonna be a part two to another Bonnie and Clyde-style video that we still have in the works. It was an idea that got presented to me and I was fucking with it, I checked it out and was like, let's do it.
Would you also say you're hands-on with that side of the process?
With visuals, I'm becoming more and more involved as the cycles come around. Sometimes there's videos I do with no help and no budget. I just link up with the homies! For example, the "Cozy Forever" music video was just me and Luis aka Voyager. That was just run and gun. I sat up for 20 hours with him editing that together. There's also a time where Moosa will pick someone's pitch and I'll just greenlight it and we'll go from there. With ["Love Dangerous"], it was more so the storyline without spoiling or over-explaining it. Just little details like what clips and what shots should go in what order, what time certain things should be revealed and things of that nature.
Without over-explaining it, what is the story behind the video?
The video is about the worst-case scenario of vulnerability. Like when you open yourself up, you know there's a risk that this could go wrong, It's not to promote paranoia, but I do resonate with that feeling a lot: a fear that something is gonna go wrong.
As your visuals continue to evolve, do you see yourself becoming a director?
It's tough because I definitely like visual content so I can see myself dabbling in that world. I wouldn't say that I have ambitions to do that.
What does it mean to "Love Dangerous?"
It's pretty self-explanatory. At the time that I made the song, I was going through a breakup. Whenever you find yourself spending time alone, you start noticing more shit about yourself. I had a completely different perspective on myself and I realized how reckless I was 'cause I've definitely calmed down a lot since then. I'm the kind of person that sometimes gets overly wild. It's not apparent when you get to know me but some people, based on meeting me once or twice, would think I'm way more turnt up than I really am. I think people who are reserved have a side of them that is very over the top and people who are very over the top have a side of them that is reserved. I'm more the former than the latter.
It feels like you got very vulnerable on this record. Is it inspired by an experience or just a general feeling?
It's a combination of both. That's a keen observation 'cause it's definitely a time in my life where I was feeling vulnerable and I was embracing all of the scary shit that comes with vulnerability. That's the theme of the song! It's to be open to embracing everything that comes with vulnerability, the good and the bad. In a sense, the mission of my music is to be as vulnerable as I can so that the art always has meaning and to promote an ethos of vulnerability, openness and love.
You can stream "Love Dangerous" on your preferred platform here.
Photo courtesy of Jade Brown