With his unmistakable sound, Ghana-born, Camberwell (London)-based Kwabena Adjepong, better known as Kwabs, stood out on the Billboard + Twitter Emerging Artists Chart for the week of Aug. 30, where his track “Walk” debuted at No. 36.
In listening to “Walk,” it’s evident that Kwabs’ booming baritone is able to transcend such genres as blues and gospel via electro-synthesized soul. The song has already drawn approximately 150,000 plays since its release on SoundCloud on Aug. 13. It will be officially released in the U.K. on Sept. 29.
In 2011, Kwabs appeared on the artist discovery series Goldie’s Band: By Royal Appointment, which aired on BBC Two and was hosted by drum ‘n’ bass pioneer Goldie. In the season’s third episode, Kwabs performed “Lost Child” during a final rehearsal at Christ’s Hospital in front of an audience that included Prince Harry.
The following year, Kwabs honed his ability to perform live while supporting Plan B on his summer tour.
Earlier this year, Kwabs released two EPs: Pray for Love (May 19) and Wrong or Right (Feb. 4), which features the single “Last Stand,” produced by SOHN (Banks, James Black, the Weeknd).
Kwabs’ momentum has also led to spotlights by Hype Machine, BBC Radio 1Xtra and MTV.
Billboard caught up with Kwabs to talk about his music and more.
Billboard: As a growing artist, how do you feel that Twitter has allowed you to connect with your fans?
Kwabs: Twitter is a direct beeline from fan to artist, and I love that. It’s the most instant way that I can catch a sense of how my fans feel about my music. And I get to show my appreciation in return. It feels very real to me.
When did you know that you wanted to get into music, and when was the first time you ever felt recognized for your talent?
The first time? Probably singing special renditions of “happy birthday” at friends’ parties! But, in all seriousness, I think it was my music teacher at school who really made me think that I had something special.
Music has always been the right thing for me. There was never really anything else that inspired me in quite the same way. But, think I probably knew I wanted to be an artist the one time someone suggested I shouldn’t. They suggested I might want to avoid the limelight. I think it sparked something in me. Maybe it made me a little mad, I’m not completely sure. But, any ambitions I may have been holding back then left me pretty soon after.
How has your childhood impacted your growth as an artist and how does it influence you as a songwriter?
I always try and write from an alternative point of view. I think I write from the perspective of someone who hasn’t always felt they can take love for granted. It’s a state of being I take strange comfort and strength from.
What are the top three things on your bucket list that you want to accomplish in music in the next year?
I have to perform in America … in front of a lot of people. Don’t know where or how. Maybe Jimmy Kimmel could give me a call?
I’d love to be nominated for an award. And, to be acknowledged for my songwriting.
Your voice, it’s been said, is a mixture of African roots, early R&B, Fred Hammond and CeCe Winans. Do you agree with this, and, if not, how would you define your sound?
It’s cool that people use those references, because African music, R&B and gospel are things I love. I think the latter two definitely have a lot to do with why I sing the way I do. But, the music sets those influences and my voice against alternative productions that hopefully give the music a bit of quirk and distinctive character.
How did appearing on Goldie’s series help to elevate your career? Did you learn any valuable insights about your craft during that process?
It wasn’t so much a stepping stone in my career as an opportunity to try something I hadn’t tried before earlier in my musicianship. But, one thing I did grow to appreciate through that show was how effectively music can bring people from different walks of life together. It seems obvious, but sometimes you don’t necessarily appreciate it.
How is the single “Walk” different from your two EPs this year?
I suppose the sound is bolder and, in a way, more bombastic. It’s definitely a statement of intent. I think it also draws from a different place musically. Wrong or Right felt like a purer R&B moment. Pray for Love drew on my love of tribal rhythms. “Walk” takes more from hip-hop.
Please tell us about your any upcoming releases you have in the pipeline.
After releasing “Walk,” I’m looking to put out the full album in early 2015.
Overall, what feeling do you want your music to evoke in fans?
I want my fans to feel … like my music means something to them. I think it should give them some things they want and relieve them of some things their souls just don’t need. Kind of like therapy.
Is there any particular message that you hope is portrayed through your music?
Not really. I just think people should be able to see whatever they see in it. For me, the beauty is in the interpretation.