Kamaiyah Talks Sprite 'Big Taste Cuts Through' Commercial With LeBron James, Bringing Creativity Back to Hip-Hop

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Kamaiyah performs on the Flog Stage during day 1 of Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival 2017 at Exposition Park on Oct. 28, 2017 in Los Angeles.

Kamaiyah has come a long way since unleashing her debut single "How Does It Feel" in 2015. In 2016, the Oakland-born rapper dished out her debut mixtape A Good Night in the Ghetto. Brimming with feel-good vibes and bouncy, G-funk production, A Good Night in the Ghetto received a wave of praise and landed on a slew of 2016 year-end lists.

Kamaiyah's star continued to rise from there, especially after she teamed up with YG for "Why You Always Hating?" featuring Drake. So when she raps "I'm the coldest bitch alive" on "Playa in Me," from her latest mixtape, Before I Wake, it's not that hard to agree. 

Now, it's time for Kamaiyah's proper debut album, Don't Ever Get It Twisted -- which was set to be released in 2017, but saw the road to its release blocked by a string of setbacks. First, the loss of her brother derailed her progress, leading her to record Before I Wake in the interim. Now, Kamaiyah is back on track to deliver her long-awaited album, and kicked off the new year by inking a nationally syndicated commercial with Sprite, alongside LeBron James. Her latest collaboration with Sprite serves as her second commercial, following the Cold Lyrics team-up with the brand last July.

Below, Billboard caught up with Kamaiyah to discuss working with Sprite and LeBron James for the commercial, and the status of her new projects Woke and Don't Ever Get It Twisted. 

Billboard: When Sprite came to you with the concept, what was your initial reaction?

Kamaiyah: They had picked from the Cold Taste Lyric last summer, and they wanted me for the Big Taste campaign, and said I’ll play the character “Ice-Ya,” and there’ll be a big baseball concept. Then, I agreed like, “Who would turn down a commercial with LeBron James?” It was just one of those things, like a no-brainer, and it kind of happened naturally, so I ran with it.  You don’t just turn down a nationally syndicated commercial. So, of course, I would do it. 

What was it like working with LeBron on set?

It was a pretty great experience. He’s a nice guy and very welcoming. We shot the commercial at the Rancho Cucamonga Sports Field from like 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and I think it was a very humbling experience, to say the least. He was a great guy, the cast was great and I met a lot of cool people. I think the only thing that was trouble for me was the baseball gear for the campaign, because I've never had to wear catcher gear.

The stuff that had to go on your legs burned mine all day. The next day I experienced the worst pain ever, but I was like, "Oh, this is LeBron. I can’t complain. Let’s shoot the commercial and get it over with." So I just had fun and it was a great experience. 

I take it you're not a huge baseball fan. 

Actually, I use to play baseball, but I’ve never played catcher. I was a great softball player. I used to have trophies at my grandmother’s house, but I was never a catcher, so I didn’t know how it felt to wear the gear. It’s not fun, not fun at all. [Laughs.] After this [commercial], I gained a newfound respect for catchers, because they go through some stuff down there.

You revealed that you went through a lot before releasing Before I Wake. How’d you get the strength to get back in the studio and record the project after losing your brother, the album delays, etc.?

I feel like as a human, people don’t stop living because you’re going through problems. I feel like people buy into my brand and they want to hear my music, so the best thing for me to do is to put it all out there through that outlet versus me sitting here in depression and not telling people what’s going on with me. I got enough strength, picked myself up and started recording and writing my experiences in my songs and just spitting it all out.

After delivering the well-received A Good Night In The Ghetto, were you hesitant or nervous about how Don’t Ever Get It Twisted or even Before I Wake would be received? 

Nah, nope. I go into each project with a concept, from the beginning to the end. So, sometimes, you might not get the same hype or justification like the last project, and that’s okay, because I’m a real artist. I’m painting the picture for myself. The dialogue is through the music, through the visuals. So for me, it’s about getting my art out. I don’t care if it’s well-received or not, if you fuck with it, you fuck with it. That’s how I look at it. Getting caught up in all that puts more pressure on you and takes away your focus.

On the topic of concepts, your style, sound, and videos are so reminiscent of the '90s era. Who were some of your influences growing up?

TLC, Missy [Elliott], Aaliyah, N’Sync, Britney Spears, everything – I was just into the culture, everything at that moment. I’m not one of those people who likes to be boxed in, I listen to everything and I’m well-rounded when it comes to musicality. Sonically, if it feels good and sounds good then I’ll rock with it.

Can you recall the song or artist who made you want to pursue music?

I started liking music when I first heard “Hot Like Fire” by Aaliyah. That was like one of my first favorite songs -- and the Total “No One Else" Remix. Then, I think TLC kind of pulled me in, because of the colors. But Bow Wow was who inspired me to write my first song, because he was a kid, and I was like, "Well, if he’s a kid and he can rap, I can do this shit, too." 

If you could create a song with three of your favorite female artists of all time, who would you include?

Missy [Elliott], me, Erykah [Badu], and Lauryn [Hill].

What’s keeping you inspired?

I don’t know. I just like to have fun. My concepts are different because I hear harmonies, so it just goes off of what mood I’m in and naturally comes to me. So I don’t have to listen to this or listen to that to be inspired. More so, the thing that draws me in the most now is the lack of creativity in music and I want to bring back the extreme visuals and take it to where people are saying “Damn, that’s some dope shit.”

People don’t do that no more, you just see a bunch of n---as standing in one room and that’s the video -- I’m tired of seeing the same thing. I want to see people actually coming up with great concepts, stuff they’ve never seen before and I feel like that’s my role in the game right now: to bring back creativity, fun, flair, and all the jiggy shit you use to see that made you anxious to see the next visual. I don’t feel that no more. So that’s what’s keeping me inspired.


What stage is Don’t Ever Get It Twisted in right now?

We’re working on it. It should be coming very, very soon.

You're also working on a second project tied to Before I Wake titled Woke, correct? Where does this project pick up?

Exactly. What the title says [is] "I’m woke.” It’s about self-evaluation. I’m just gonna give you a dialogue of someone being woke. Before I Wake, conceptually, was me telling you this is before I rise and then Woke is like she’s here. It’s the next step to the puzzle.

You teased a photo of you and ScHoolboy Q on Instagram. I’m curious to know if he’ll land on any of the upcoming projects.  

Don’t ever get it twisted. [Laughs.] Don’t ever get it twisted.

What was the atmosphere like in the studio with Q?

It was fun, actually. It felt like you just visiting your cousin from LA and turn up. There were no bad vibes, just a natural connection. The energy was there and everybody had fun. I had a great time. I feel like they had a great time because everybody was dancing. I feel like all my sessions turn into that. There’s no way you can be in there with a bad mood; if you come in there with an attitude, you got to go, because that’s not the type of vibe we want. We like to have fun up in here.

It seems like there’s this female domination happening in music, with females coming out strong and on top.

I don’t feel like it’s a gender thing, I think it’s more about the work ethic. If you put in the work, you can’t get overshadowed, male or female, you have to dominate the field and make yourself be shown.

I feel like that’s what Cardi B capitalized [on], she made sure she was in your face, like, "You can’t deny it." And she became America’s underdog; nobody wanted to see her win, and she made sure that she wasn’t gonna fail, because that’s what you want her to do. And she bossed up. It’s not about you against her or anything, it’s about bossing up and getting what you deserve. Whatever your role is in this world, step in that lane and dominate.