Hip-hop has gotten a makeover with fresh faces from new places. Enter Little Rock, Arkansas, native Kari Faux, who emerged on the scene with the buzzy song “No Small Talk” in 2014, which caught the attention of the multi-talented Donald Glover (also known as Childish Gambino) who connected with the singer/rapper for his recently released LP Awaken, My Love!
Before lending her vocals to Gambino’s funky project (she can be heard on “Zombies”), Faux made moves like signing a publishing deal with Pulse Music Group, performing at famed New York venue S.O.B.’s and writing a track called “Top Down” for Issa Rae’s HBO hit Insecure. She also teamed with producer Matt Martians for the funky, futuristic number “Can’t Spend the Night.”
Billboard recently hopped on the phone with the young MC — who’s currently plotting her upcoming album slated for release in 2017 — where she discussed working with Gambino, why she doesn’t consider herself an “industry” person and why writing songs for television is easier than making music for herself.
How did you first meet Donald?
The Internet. Twitter. [Glover’s manager] Fam [Rothstein] basically reached out to [Faux’s longtime friend and collaborator] Malik about “No Small Talk.” Donald wanted to remix it; he remixed it. That’s pretty much it.
What made you decide to work with him?
It just seemed like they were down-to-earth people. Fam could tell you: When we were going back and forth talking, I was very uninterested just because I’m not a very excitable person. It takes a lot for me to really get excited. Also, I’m not like an industry person so them coming along being like, “Hey, we really like your song.” I was just like, “Yeah, I don’t know if I want to be involved with industry shit.”
What about the industry makes you apprehensive?
Not to fully say I’m not in it, because I’m a part of it now, but it’s just a whole lot of politics, schmoozing, hand-shaking and ass-kissing that I necessarily don’t really like to do. I just like to have genuine connections with people. Not every person you meet is going to be your friend. It’s a lot of “what can you do for me?” in the industry.
How did Childish Gambino first approach you about working on Awaken, My Love!?
We were staying in this house that he made the album in. I wasn’t living in L.A. anymore; I had moved back to Little Rock. Whenever I would come out to L.A., though, I would stay at the house. It was just basically a creative house he called The Factory. They were working on the TV show [Atlanta] and the album there. I was finishing up my album there, and Malik was starting on his album there. He basically was just like, “Oh, come listen to this, listen to that’,’ or I would show him stuff. I remember him saying, “Yeah, I want to use your voice for something.” I was like, “OK, cool.” One day, I went in there with [producer] Ludwig [Göransson] and they were working on “Zombies.” [Gambino] was like, “Hey, I want you to say this,” and I was like, “All right, cool.” He kind of directed me on how to say it: whisper and sound really creepy. So I did it and he was like, “Yep, that’s very dope, I like it.” Then he just kept it.
How long ago was this?
It had to be before May. Probably like April.
How is working in the studio with Donald?
That was my only experience in the studio actually working with him, but I’ve been in sessions where he’s working and he’s just a creative dude. He writes a lot. He’s always prepared. He’s just dope — a very dope artist all the way around.
What do you like most about having gotten the chance to work with him?
Honestly, I will say because we haven’t worked in the studio and really put a song together from scratch, I just like hanging out with him because he has a lot of insight as far as how to become the artist you see yourself being. Always staying true to your vision and ultimately what you want yourself to be.
What else has he taught you about the industry besides staying authentic?
Don’t be desperate.
It’s a lot of desperate artists. People see an opportunity and not even think about how that opportunity could pigeonhole them into being one type of artist. I feel like me and him are similar in that we like what we like. You can’t just come and put a dollar sign on something and be like yeah do this, and we do it. If I’m not feeling that shit, I don’t care how much you paying me. If it’s going to look bad on my name or it doesn’t represent me well, then I’m not going to do it.
Do you plan to put him on your record or work with him in the future?
Time will tell.
You attended the Pharos show in Joshua Tree in September. Describe the experience.
It was really cool. Seeing the people in the crowd be so amazed by everything, It was funny because that was my first time seeing it in real life. So I was with them thinking “this shit crazy.” It was just next level, and that’s how Donald is. He’s always thinking on some next level shit. I respect it so much because I feel like he’s opened a whole new way of experiencing music and content in general.
Your song “Top Down” was also featured in HBO’s Insecure. How did that come about?
When me and Donald did the remix for “No Small Talk,” Issa Rae heard it and she just was like, “Yo, who is this girl? I love her.” So that’s how we ended up connecting on Twitter and then we got each other’s numbers. We would text every now and then, and then we went out to dinner once. It was really cool. It was just a really cool conversation with a Black woman. She’s from Inglewood. Where I’m from, L.A. outside of South Central is very different for me because it’s not a lot of people I feel like I could relate to. Where I’m from, it’s very hood. I’m used to being able to act a certain way. Having to switch up the way you act because you’re not around a lot of Black people has always made me feel weird so being around her was very refreshing because she gets it. You can tell by the show, she gets it.
So we were talking and a few months later, I dropped my album. She hit me and was like, “Yo, I been playing your album constantly. We’ve been playing it in the office. Everybody loves it. We want to put it in the show. Can we meet?” And we met. We talked and she was just like, yeah, let’s do it. It was very organic. HBO didn’t reach out to me or nothing. It was just straight up her just being like, “I f— with what you do,” and I automatically f—ed with what she did.
What do you think about the show?
I think it’s amazing. You can relate to it on so many levels. People don’t understand how I feel, but now there’s a TV show that explains exactly how I feel.
How is it different writing music for a TV show versus writing for an album?
It was cool because there wasn’t any pressure. I feel like when I make music for myself, it has to represent me and who I am as an artist. Sometimes I think, “Is this the message I want to give to people in regards to myself?” But when it’s a TV show, it’s kind of like they give you a scene and you make a song to fit the scene. There’s not any pressure to be like, does this represent me? You’re kind of detached from it a little bit.