Photos by Ibra Ake, courtesy of Kari Faux
In the summer of 2014, a rapper from Little Rock, Arkansas, released a very cool and good song called “No Small Talk,” announcing her arrival as a sardonic new voice in the genre. Another, already quite famous, rapper called Childish Gambino heard that song and took this new rapper under his wing, re-releasing the song and facilitating her move to LA. Everything was set. Except that rapper, Kari Faux, did not love LA.
“I had never been a part of something like that, and it was just kind of strange to me,” Kari Faux says, of the new music industry environment she found herself in for the first time. “Like everybody’s networking and schmoozing with each other, and I was just like “oh, OK, I guess. I'm here.”
At the same time, she was working on crafting a debut album, and that sense of alienation bled over into her work. She returned to Little Rock recently, after a year in LA, with an album about the experience. It’s called Lost En Los Angeles, and it’s out tomorrow, but it’s now streaming ahead of time, exclusively on Noisey, below.
Low key and restrained, Lost En Los Angeles depicts Kari Faux’s life in the city as a bummer fantasia, a quietly surreal trip through sounds dripped in jazz, 70s funk, and psychedelia, a sound courtesy of go-to collaborator Black Party. Narrating in a downcast tone, Kari opens the album saying “I'm not supposed to be here right now but I am,” before proceeding down a path of gentle deprecation, self- and otherwise, with lyrics like “don't have my shit together there's no need to pretend” and riffs on people checking their phones when they know nobody’s called. Meanwhile, songs like “Supplier” retrofit Kari Faux’s deadpan rapping into a slinky funk come-on.
Album highlight “Nothing 2 Lose” dwells on feeling bummed out but finding the positive in life too: “Even with the sunshine my days are gloom,” Kari quips, even as her hook celebrates a “pocket full of cash and an eighth of shrooms.” That’s Kari in a nutshell: willing to be real about how much shit sucks but comfortable finding the laid-back beauty in it all. I reached Kari over the phone at her home in Little Rock to talk about her bizarre dream of an album.
Noisey: So the disorientation with the LA music industry, is it that you feel like it's fake and that you don't fit in at all?
Kari Faux: It's not even necessarily that it's fake because fake is so subjective. Some people, they're just doing their job. You can't necessarily be mad at somebody because they want to keep their jobs and they're just doing what they have to do. Like they may seem fake to somebody who isn't a part of the industry, but when you're a part of it you kind of get it, and it's like “OK, well I'ma just let you do your thing, and I'ma deal with you when I feel like I have to deal with you.” And if that's fake, then yeah I get it. It's just like high school. It's just a bunch of “well you're cool and I'm cool, so let's be cool together” type things. I mean, I get it. I've been in school before. And I never participated in any of that popularity stuff, so it's all new to me altogether, so it's kind of like yeah, I have to be a part of it I guess.
The album has this kind of throwback, 70s, LA vibe to it. Were there specific sounds you guys were going for when you made it?
Honestly, I feel like this project in whole is the kind of stuff I always wanted to make, but I didn't have the resources or the outlet to get those type of sounds. Or I wasn't even exposed to those types of sound living here. I didn't have access to people who played guitar or people who listened to a broad spectrum of music. So when I got to LA I was just exposed to all these things that I knew that I liked, I just never got a chance to actually use it as inspiration or influence. I've always really liked that era of music, like funk. My dad always listened to a lot of funk music. I love bass lines. Bass lines make the song for me. I really love that, so I kind of just decided to do my own rendition of the kind of music that I feel like makes me the happiest.
What is it like being exposed to that kind of musical scene and then coming back to Little Rock?
Little Rock is kind of just a place for me to be as normal as possible and just like spend time with my family and friends. Basically a place to just kind of turn my brain off and not have to think about meeting people. I try to keep this as normal as possible. When I go to LA it's definitely a whole otther mindset, like OK I'm here to work. I'm here to do stuff. But when I'm at home I just want to chill as much as possible.
There's an attitude on here that's very kind of fatalistic. On one song you say “who really gives a fuck because we're all doomed.” And another song you're like “don't have my shit together; there's no need to pretend.” Why choose to channel that?
Because it's honest. That's just how I feel. I don't have my shit together, so why would I pretend like I am? If I pretend like I have it all together, if I was to have a moment where my shit isn't together everybody’s going to be like 'well I thought you had it all figured out.' And I'm like 'no, I want you to give me the space to fuck up if I fuck up because I'm a human being like you.'
And we are doomed. Eventually we're all going to die. I know that sounds like very morbid, but I mean we are going to die. I talk about that kind of stuff with my friends and they get it, but when I say that kind of stuff to people who aren't my friends and don't understand me and that I'm very realistic with myself—like most people take it as very pessimistic. I'm like 'no, I'm realistic because, yeah, one day I am going to die. You are too.'
I get it. I sent the song to my coworker and was like "this is me."
Whenever I would play the project for people, I would skip that song because I always felt like it made people uncomfortable. It's funny because I played it for my best friend, and she was like 'yo, I'm probably going to play this song more than any other song.' And that's crazy to me. I'm always self-conscious because people are like 'you're just so morbid and so sad.' And I'm just like 'nah, I'm being realistic with myself.'
Yeah, well, and “pocket full of cash and an eighth of shrooms,” that sounds pretty nice. Like yeah we're all going to die, but at least we'll have this nice trip for a minute.
Yeah, like I'm going to enjoy this while I can. Why not. I tripped shrooms one time in LA. For whatever reason it's so hard to find them. I went to the Santa Monica Pier. It was so great. I just stood there and I cried. It wasn't like a sad cry, it was like 'ah, man, this is beautiful. This is my life.' When you take shrooms you have that moment that you don't normally take to actually appreciate life. And you're just like 'wow, I'm alive, and it's great.'
What else do you want people to know about the album?
Most of the instruments that are on there Malik (Black Party) played, which I think is really dope. Because he self-taught himself all of that stuff within like the past year. He taught himself guitar. I got him a guitar for his birthday because I knew how much he wanted one. If you hear guitar on the album, that's him playing it. He learned guitar, bass, learned the drums. Dude is really talented, and I can't wait for people to hear his solo music.
That dude, we have like this weird ESP. I don't really have to go into depth about what I want, I'll just go 'I want something like this,' and then he'll just make exactly what I want. I'm not really a descriptive person. It's hard for me to express myself. I'll be like 'uh yeah, I want something like this,' and he'll just make it. It's really cool to work with somebody who you've known for a long time who just gets it.
Kyle Kramer is an editor for Noisey. Follow him on Twitter.