For the last nine years, KR has been steadily hard at work making a name for himself in the hip-hop industry.
The Los Angeles-bred MC, born Kaalan Rashad Walker, first made noise as a dancer in the Marvel Inc. dance crew that specialized in the jerkin’ movement, popularized by the youth of L.A. in the late 2000s. His work in the group garnered the young artist a few thousand views on YouTube and gave light to the creativity that KR possesses. In 2013, his breakout mixtape I$0lyf3 was well-received by critics and paved the way for several other solid mixtapes from the budding MC.
As KR continued to work hard on his craft, others took notice of the rising star. TDE showed interest in signing him, with Kendrick Lamar telling the MC he’s a fan. Several outlets such as XXL, MTV, and Mass Appeal have featured him, while Green Label named him one of the top five new artists out of LA. With no real push besides his social media pages and self-promotion, KR has done it all on his own.
But despite the success, KR feels he deserves more respect as he felt the Internet disregarded his talent. “There was a point in time where I would spend hours scrolling through all the comments purposely letting myself see it and letting it tear me apart,” KR reveals to Billboard. “It killed my confidence, but I couldn’t just look away.” The negativity would cause KR to fall into depression, but instead of letting it consume him fully, KR channeled that misery into his art which opened the door for more opportunities.
Confidently embracing his issues and leaving it all on the table, KR has taken his creativity to the next level. Acting became a new talent for Walker, as he starred alongside Halle Berry and Daniel Craig in the 2017 drama, Kings. KR would then audition for the role of Juju in the remake of the 1970s film Superfly. “They called me in last minute to audition and right after the casting director called my agent and said ‘that young man is going to be a star,” the rapper-actor says. “That same week they flew me out to Atlanta to shoot. That’s my first big movie role where I didn’t take acting classes.”
Coming off his lead role in Superfly, KR is gearing up for the release of his new mixtape, In Due Time. Releasing June 29, the project is a look into the different emotions the artist has felt throughout his life. He talks with Billboard about the new project and his Superfly role below, explaining, “My goal is to stay as normal as possible. I don’t have hundreds of chains on or a Bentley. Being normal is a universal factor that people can relate to. I want to be normal but make the most extraordinary shit.”
How did you discover hip-hop?
I spent a lot of time alone when I was younger. I was an introvert. My mom was a real estate agent and we always used to move to different areas in L.A. I was kind of a loser and nobody really talked to me, so I kind of had abandonment issues being raised by a single mother. So I spent a lot of time by myself at home on YouTube. I listened to a lot of music and just started falling in love with hip-hop.
Who inspired you to rap?
It was a point in time where I was what you could call a wave rider. When a certain artist cracked off, because everybody liked that person, it created a mental note in my head to act like and be that person. I wanted to feel important, because I wasn’t OK with who I was as a person. I wanted to feel like I was fitting in so I got inspired by literally everybody. It was actually a problem for me. I tried to actually live their lives and adopt their mannerisms. It kind of hurt me in the long run because I spent years of my career being compared to other artists but I made that mistake because I wasn’t ok with myself.
You mention that you were compared to others throughout your career and I know the comments weren’t all positive. What was it like going through all that?
The internet is a free playground for you to say whatever you want. When I saw 100 people talking shit about me it felt like the whole world hated me, and it led to my depression. I’ve almost ended my life on multiple occasions. I am still depressed sometimes. I am lonely; it’s not all glitz and glamour behind the scenes. Depression is a real thing, but people are scared to admit their difficulties, faults, and sadness because they don’t want to look weak.
I think that’s the strongest thing you can do as a human being — admitting your difficulties. I let go and stopped caring about the comments. Once I did that I was able to have a better peace of mind.
So you accepting your depression helped you cope with it?
Yeah man. I don’t think I would be on this earth right now if I rejected the fact that I had depression. Once I started saying it openly and not caring about what people think that’s when it felt better. The worst part of depression is when you have it and you hide it within yourself because you can’t express it to anyone. When you don’t express it, it lives in your head. When it lives in your head, it conquers your thoughts. When it conquers your thoughts, it drives you crazy. When it drives you crazy you’re dead. That’s why as an artist if anyone asks me personal questions I want to tell them the truth.
Tell us about the character you play in Superfly, JuJu.
JuJu is a very bitter, comparative person. He has a lot of pride but behind his pride is fear. He just wants to be accepted and have what other people have. I’ve been in that position in real life. I’ve watched other artists surpass me in a short amount of time, and it made me question why that couldn’t happen to me. I caught myself and realized I was hating just because I wasn’t in the same position this person is in. All the anger and frustration that I had inside me, I expressed it through JuJu.
How did you prepare for the role?
I’m sure you remember 2Pac’s character Bishop from Juice. I watched that for a week straight, and based Juju off that. I thought, “If I’m bringing Juju to life, he has to be the way Bishop was.” When the cameras went on I became a psychopath. Director X gave me a booklet to study that had different definitions of a psychopath in it. He needed me to be that person, he needed me to be all over the place and unpredictable. It’s only been out for three days and people are hitting my DM’s telling me I’m the Bishop of this generation.
After this film are you actively looking for more movie roles or your focus will be on your rap career?
I didn’t really believe I could be an actor until Superfly. But now I’m going to do both, man. I want to be like a Childish Gambino. I feel like what Childish Gambino is doing is really something that’s quite unheard of. I want to be a younger version of his accomplishments. He’s in every realm, including comedy, dancing, acting, music — like, I want to dominate every realm, and show that it’s possible to do everything you can.
Let’s get into your new project for a bit. What’s the concept behind In Due Time?
It’s a multitude of things. It’s gone from me having a chip on my shoulder to having relationship issues, to competitive raps calling myself one of the best because I spent too many years calling myself the weakest or the worst. When rappers hear this project I want them to understand I’m not to be played with. When women hear this project I want them to fall in love with me. When dancers hear this project I want them to be able to party to it. It’s literally every emotion you can feel in one project, spread throughout 12 songs.
What did you do differently with this tape compared to The Intermission?
I feel like I’m just getting better. This tape I stopped caring. My last two tapes, although they were successful in their own right, it was 20 people in my ear trying to tell me how I should do my craft. I think that’s wack, when you have so many people trying to tell you how to do something. Before I got any recognition I was making music for myself so when I got all these different opinions, music started feeling like a business and it wasn’t fun anymore. I fell back in love with music when I shut the world out and did what I liked. I don’t care how it’s received let’s just keep it fun.
I know you’re aware of the hype surrounding Drake‘s album Scorpion, so why drop the project the same day as his release?
Every rule I feel that’s in place of how this business works, I want to break it. I know when Kendrick, Cole, Jay, or Drake drops everyone moves out the way. I’m that one kid that’s not moving out of the way. I dropped my project in 2016 called It Could Happen the same day Cole dropped For Your Eyez Only… I have a microphone, a voice, and hunger just like them. If I drop the same day as Drake, get a good reception and I’m in some type of conversation, I won’t be afraid of any other artist in the rap game, ever.
Is there any doubt in your mind that your music will get lost in all the hype?
Hell no. Bro, I spent so many years doubting myself, that if I did it anymore I’ll remain stagnant forever. He’s a legend and an amazing artist so I get it. Social media is going to go crazy with quotes from his album. But if I drop the same day as him and my fans and music publications are saying, “Yo! Listen to this shit,” people will ask ,”Who is this underground artist who has the nerve to drop the same day as one of the biggest artists in the world?” If that talk can keep going, it’s going to cause a shift in the conversation of lesser-known artists being able to drop the same day as a major artist.
Coming from somebody who’s been through the hardships of life, how do you keep your head on straight once you receive more success and recognition in the industry?
I studied all of it before. I’ve watched an artist have an amazing year and not be talked about the next year. People are just as disloyal as the Internet. If these people only care about what I can offer them and not about me then, of course, I’ll take the pictures. I’ll do the awards shows, hanging out with celebrities and all that. But as long as I can go back to being normal, I’ll be good.