Kamaiyah, the 22-year-old rapper out of Oakland, has lofty dreams lined up for herself. She stole the scene in 2016 with A Good Night in The Ghetto, her stellar debut mixtape boasting earworm hooks, G-funk bounce, melodies to spare, and above all a clear message: not only is she here to stay, but she's sure as hell going to have fun doing it.
Kamaiyah has an undeniable star-power that's intricately woven within her feel-good music. "This world is fucking depressing," she tells me, her red acrylic nails gently clacking against the table. "Everybody is always so miserable and trying to numb the pain. It's all 'Fuck bitches, fuck niggas, I'll kill you, I don't give a fuck, I'm a demon.' I want to completely steer against that."
A Good Night's cover art confirms this; on it, Kamaiyah's back faces the camera as she approaches a house party—Hennessy in hand—and what we see are the beaming faces of her friends. "That's how I feel what life's about," she explains. "Have fun, love yourself, embrace these vibrations, and you're gonna go home and you're gonna live another day."
With Don't Ever Get It Twisted, the follow-up mixtape to A Good Night, Kamaiyah promises another hefty dose of positivity. The first single "Build You Up" is a buoyant anthem for self-love, sampling the 1990 Tony! Toni! Toné! track "Feels Good" for instant nostalgia. The 90s fingerprints are all over A Good Night and it's an era that's close to the rapper's heart. "It's my fucking life," she says with a laugh. "It's my soul, my spirit," she says animatedly, flashing her forearm tattoo dedicated to her favorite Rugrats character, Susie Carmichael. "If it wasn't for the 90s, I would not be me."
For Kamaiyah, the 90s were an era of unabashed black empowerment as black culture dominated music, television, and film. "You had pop and rock bands acting and dressing black," she explains. "You could look at an NSYNC or Backstreet Boys picture and they're trying to be 112. I fucking love it!" Although she knows she's in the minority when it comes to critiques of cultural appropriation, she staunchly wants to view the positives. "It lets you know you're the shit. It ain't like you're not copying them, they're copying you. You're still perpetuating our ideas—even if you steal it, it's still our shit. Unless you're sitting here mocking me as a person, who fucking cares?"
Kamaiyah made XXL Magazine's annual Freshman Class list, but as the list's only woman rapper, she doesn't subscribe to the tokenization. "It's a male-dominated industry and they kind of pit us against each other," she says. "That's what creates the division. Y'all perpetuated that it can only be one. Like it could have fucking definitely been M.A., Cardi B, and me with seven dudes. We're all the shit." Her playlist for Broadly—comprised of "fun, women-empowerment type gangster shit"—substantiates how there's room for more than the allotted one "great" per genre. Her icons TLC, Missy Elliott, and Aaliyah co-existed in the 90s, so why not now?
"I don't want to be the person from around the corner who made one song, y'all remember her? Hell no!"
As we sit in a small arcade in the back of a Santa Monica bowling alley, Kamaiyah emanates an effortless tranquility, despite the irritating rings and drums pulsing from nearby games. "I smoked this damn pen with my stylist and I didn't know it was a weed pen," she confesses, giggling. "I've been high since 12 o'clock!" It's moments like these when you can see why her success has been of seismic proportions. Kamaiyah is real. Her music not only resonates with those who aim to be great, but proves the merit of a kind heart. She adores her fans ("I kept getting direct messages from fans and was like, 'Let me just fuck with them and jump up in here!'") and wants that adoration delivered right back. "I want to be one of those people where you love me like you love Michael Jackson," she says. "I don't want to be the person from around the corner who made one song, y'all remember her? Hell no! I want the world to know I was the shit. Even when I'm gone for 50 years, I want my soul, my spirit, my grave even to be bothered 'cause I was the shit. That's what I'm talking about."
On "Out The Bottle" Kamaiyah raps about how she shines so hard you can't ignore it, and no statement seems more precise about her presence in both rap and life. Don't say she didn't warn you.