Recorded in his basement, Palm Tree Liquor takes listeners on a sound trip with reflective bars on top of ear-pleasing beats like the dreamy opener "Sunny Day," the Jungle Book-sampling "Mancub" and the loner anthem "Island Man" featuring Blu. He adds of the project, "It's not a story about me winning against my demons but more like me finding common ground with them and accepting my past so that I can live in the present."
Get more familiar with KOTA in the interview and his Palm Tree Liquor EP below. He will also be performing on July 14 at Analog BKNY for Flight Night “The Underdog Series," where he will be be performing Palm Tree Liquor for the first time.
When did you fall in love with hip-hop?
Hip-hop was always a part of my life. BET and MTV were always playing on the TV when I was growing up. I fell in love with hip-hop around the time of [music downloading site] Limewire when old music and new music was at everyone's fingertips for absolutely free. I grew up listening to all types of music and stealing my brother’s CDs but this was different. It was the first time I had access to [Jay Z's] Reasonable Doubt, [Nas'] Illmatic, It Was Written, The Blueprint and so many other albums playing on repeat. That's when I really began to learn and love the genre. I was in junior high school at the time but I felt like these artists were completely letting me into their lives, seeing things from their perspective and I became conscious of a lot of different feelings through their music.
What is your earliest music memory?
My earliest music memory is sitting at a table with my cousins at my grandma's house, coming up with rap names and figuring out how each of us would fit into the "record label" that we were starting. I had to be about 11 years old. We played beats from an old laptop and recorded our verses on an old tape recorder. The first instrumental that I ever wrote and recorded a verse to was Jay Z's "In My Lifetime." It’s also the first time I realized I had synesthesia.
If I passed you the AUX cord, which artists or songs would you play?
My friends hate passing the AUX cord to me because I switch it up too much for them. It'll go from Blueprint Jay Z to Kendrick Lamar to The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Blu, N.E.R.D., Kanye, Lauryn Hill, J. Cole, Curtis Mayfield, Chance, Amy Winehouse, Pink Floyd, Kid Cudi, Alt-J and I gotta play at least one Kodak Black song.
Music has long been a vehicle for messages of social change. Last week, we saw releases from Jay Z, Swizz Beatz and Scarface among others based on police brutality. Does hip-hop have a responsibility to tackle social issues?
I think hip-hop has a huge responsibility when it comes to social issues and society in general. It’s the rose that grew out of the concrete. When your voice is being heard by so many people you really have to be conscious of what messages you are sending because some people are easily manipulated. I believe that the voices in hip-hop can be used to exploit or uplift. When you have so many followers like Jay Z or Swizz Beatz, it’s definitely a responsibility for artists to be able to express yourself while pushing the right message.