"Everything feels foreign as hell here,” Casey Luong, better known as Keshi, tells me about being in Asia. “Even though I am ethnically Asian, it's so strange coming here and everyone looks like me. I feel out of place.”
Despite growing up in a very diverse community in Texas in the United States, Keshi didn’t feel connected to his heritage as a young boy. ”I'm Vietnamese, but most others around me were ethnically Chinese,” he says, remembering how his traditional food and wear was different from those around him. “I wasn't the same as my American friends either, who would have the traditional American experience with the barbecues and all.”
But with time, Keshi learned to be proud of his Vietnamese roots. His only regret is not learning the language so he can better connect with his grandparents.
Keshi has become renowned in the scene of lo-fi hip-hop, a relatively new genre he describes as “a nostalgic fusion of jazz or R&B samples with very raw, and old-sounding hip-hop beats that are good for setting a mood.” But he doesn’t like to be classified as a lo-fi artist “because that would be a disservice to the really authentic artists, like the forefathers of lo-fi. But I've definitely learned a lot from it.”
It wasn’t an easy journey to get to where he is now. But it wasn’t the struggle to ‘make it’ in the traditional sense that Keshi faced. Rather, it was a battle with himself. His journey to accept that he was going to be a full-time musician came long after he garnered a loyal fanbase online. With his parents discouraging him from pursuing music, he thought it would be almost impossible.
So he went to college and became a nurse instead, a moment Keshi describes as “a fork in the road where I went off and took a more traditional path.”
The artist Keshi was born during his college years in the form of a Soundcloud page: “Keshi was an alias that nobody knew was me. I didn't want anybody to know I was trying this new path. Lest they see I made terrible stuff, lest they see I failed” he said.
But slowly, his distinct style garnered more and more attention: “It's about only creating the most interesting and best sounding things I could, and establishing a strong trust with a very small amount of fans who would carry the torch for me and spread it around.”
The rawness that underpins Keshi’s sound kept fans coming back for more and drew new listeners in. Being unafraid to express one's emotions is what builds a lot of his music.
“I would definitely classify myself as a very romantic person. I feel emotions very strongly and what resonates with me the most lyrically and poetically are bittersweet things.”
And it’s not only drawn from personal experience. Keshi likes to “marinate in someone else’s pain,” drawing inspiration from close friends. “I live vicariously through them, and I'll be like, ‘wow that's so fucked up how did you go through that’. And I'll write it from my point of view.”
Listening to Keshi talk about his writing process, it’s hard to believe he hasn’t been doing this full time for years. He knows what he likes, and he knows how to make it. But even the newfound success he faced in his first years as a singer wasn’t enough to convince him he could quit his day job. “There's no way I'm going to make it”, he remembers thinking.
But as most people with a full-time job know, all it takes is one bad day at work for you to consider risking it all. “I was about to release my last record ‘Skeletons’ when I had a particularly bad day at work, so I came in the next morning and gave in my [resignation] letter.”
A week later he flew to New York and signed with Island Records.