(AllHipHop Features) The evolution of Kamaiyah Jamesha Johnson as a recording artist encompasses a transition from being snared in the major label corporate system to once again experiencing the freedom of independence. However, that musical emancipation did not come without battle scars.
Kamaiyah signed to Interscope Records in 2016. The following year she was named a member of XXL‘s 2017 Freshman Class along with other rising rookies like A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, Playboi Carti, and XXXTentacion. The “How Does It Feel” performer even booked a Sprite commercial with NBA superstar LeBron James.
After significant time waiting on stand-by for her major-label debut album to get the final green light, Kamaiyah chose to break from Interscope and YG’s 4Hunnid Records. A new self-owned company called GRND.WRK was established and the West Coast queen freed her latest full-length project earlier this year.
Got It Made arrived on February 21. Kamaiyah was able to flaunt her fiery lyrical ability and impassioned delivery while still pocketing the lion’s share of the profits. She quickly reinforced her Declaration of Independence by letting her followers and detractors know, “I love myself. I trust myself. I don’t need nobody else,” on the track titled “Pressure.”
Last week, I spoke to Kamaiyah by phone about the artistic and financial significance of being an indie artist in 2020. Her seesawing journey in the entertainment industry equipped her with experiences that serve as lessons for her own advancement and possibly other creators’ progression as well.
AllHipHop: How are you holding up during this COVID-19 situation?
Kamaiyah: I’m doing well, honestly. With the circumstance that’s going on, I think I couldn’t be doing better.
AllHipHop: You released your latest mixtape, Got It Made, while all this was happening. A lot of the industry was forced to shut down. Concerts were canceled and postponed. Did you have to make any major changes to your rollout process?
Kamaiyah: Yeah, I was supposed to be on tour immediately after I came back from my birthday trip on March 16. The whole world shut down. I was supposed to be on tour by April. We had to cancel the whole tour because COVID-19 made all the arenas be like, “No.” Every venue was like, “No.” At first, they were like, “Maybe we can switch the dates.” It went from switching the dates to completely to “no.” It went from switching the date to it absolutely not happening to maybe we can do it in June 2020. Now it’s potentially 2021 for touring. So it’s just not good right now.
AllHipHop: You left the major label and decided to go independent. This year we’ve seen quite a few artists talk about wanting to break away from that corporate label structure. Do you have any advice on making that transition? How has it been for you professionally?
Kamaiyah: I feel like for me, personally, I have more liberty and freedom to do what I want. I feel like as an artist, when we sign these deals, people have this assumption of how things are going to go. But it’s not the 1990s or early 2000s. These labels just want something that’s already blowing so they can just add a little fire to it, if that, to make money off it. They’re coming to you because you’re already hot. People don’t understand that. They think, “I need the label to get hotter.” All you really gotta do is know the right people and you can invest in yourself and make your career go better. They go to the label thinking the label’s going to invest more money into them, but they’re not. Now you’re in the hole and wondering why you’re not making money no more. You’re better off staying indie.
AllHipHop: That seems to be the route a lot of artists are trying to take now. Especially with social media. You can directly connect with your fans.
Kamaiyah: Direct marketing.
AllHipHop: You have your own label now. Did you pick up any lessons from your experience in the industry that you’re going to apply while you’re running your own company?
Kamaiyah: Yeah, don’t waste money. Don’t go too big on too many visuals. People just want to see you. They don’t give a f*ck if you shot it on an iPhone. Just don’t waste money and have consistent content. The quality [of your videos] don’t always gotta be 100%. Nobody gives f*ck. You can be standing on your couch in your living room shooting a video. People just want to see you.
AllHipHop: You’re pretty active on social media.
Kamaiyah: Yeah. I like Twitter more than anything. Yeah, I f*ck with Twitter.
The “ Pressure “ video is out now and it’s my favorite video I’ve ever shot I don’t care about the numbers right now I’m just giving y’all quality s### so y’all can see how f##### dope I am until I catch a hit record this is back to back high quality s### 😩🙏🏾 https://t.co/7QONe7jN1e
— ill yaya (@kamaiyah) June 26, 2020
AllHipHop: As a writer, I kind of lean more towards Twitter too. You talked about shooting videos. When you released the “Pressure” video, you tweeted that you don’t really care about the numbers for this one. As an indie artist, do you feel less pressure, no pun intended, to not be so focused on the stats and just focus more on the art?
Kamaiyah: Yeah, cause I feel like when you’re on a label, everything’s about the numbers because you got to recoup a certain amount of money. When you’re independent, you’re going to make a certain amount because you own all your sh*t. So it’s like a whole different type of ball game.
AllHipHop: So you own all of your music?
AllHipHop: You were talking before about how people don’t really understand how the business works. I think that’s one of the things that a lot of people don’t really get – the ownership aspect of it. Owning your masters is huge because a lot of artists don’t get that. That’s a big move.
Kamaiyah: You got to look at it like this, back in the 90s you had n*ggas like Master P and E-40. They owned their masters. They understood the end game of that. It’s going to always be certain people in the game who understand that. But then there’s going to be other n*ggas who ain’t got the patience for that, so they’re going to just go to the label which is essentially just a bank. Instead of holding out on that $1 million right now, when you can get $100 million if you’re just patient. They don’t get that philosophy behind it. They just want the money and everything now.
AllHipHop: I’ve had conversations with people in the industry. One of the things people talk about, especially over the last few months, is how there needs to be more responsibility put on the labels. Obviously, they’re not going to do this because they’re companies, but there should be more pressure put on them to educate artists when they first come in the game. If you’re a 17-year-old kid and somebody’s throwing a million dollars at you, you may not necessarily understand what you’re actually signing up for.
Kamaiyah: You have to understand it from a business aspect. I don’t get why people make those types of statements. What motherf*cker you know would want to tell a n*gga the game? This is how I make my money. I’m not about to tell you how not to make me money. That’s essentially what they’re asking of the labels. That’s dumb. The label ain’t gonna be like, “If I sign you for this, you’re only going to make this much, and I make this much.” That’s never going to happen. That’s not realistic.
AllHipHop: Like you said, going the indie route can really be beneficial.
Kamaiyah: You’re going to get everything except the distributor’s cut which is roughly 10%-15%, possibly 20%. I rather take 80% of everything than to be on a label and get 10% or 11% of absolutely f*cking nothing because I’m always in the hole and recouping.
AllHipHop: Who’s your distributor?
Kamaiyah: Empire right now. Before Empire, I owned A Good Night in the Ghetto through TuneCore.
I take full accountability for the fact that I used to be toxic as f### I had to go through some s### to grow through some s### and I appreciate my toxic stinct because it gave me values, moral, and character. I wasn’t born with a manual to life but I navigate life well to grow.
— ill yaya (@kamaiyah) June 23, 2020
AllHipHop: I saw a tweet you put out about taking responsibility for possibly being toxic in the past. The idea of “cancel culture” has been a major conversation recently. What are your thoughts on this idea of people being “canceled” for old comments or old actions?
Kamaiyah: I don’t believe in that sh*t. If a mother*cker would have pulled my Twitter before I blew up they would see some crazy sh*t. People have the ability to grow. When you’re young, you gotta evolve. People don’t believe in evolving. How I feel right now, I may be ignorant of a situation because I’m not educated on it. So it’s like you can’t judge me, based on my ignorance, right now. Everybody has the opportunity to grow and be educated on a topic. I feel like nowadays instead of somebody educating you, they’re like, “Oh, we’re going to cancel this motherf*cker! F*ck them!” How are you going to say f*ck somebody for being ignorant? If you see somebody’s ignorant, as a brother who’s supposed to be woke or as a mentor, you’re supposed to educate them. Canceling them ain’t evolving our people or making us manifest as a culture. You’re setting the culture back when you cancel somebody. How are we gonna grow? We can’t evolve like that. Put them on game.
AllHipHop: Another big topic recently has been the Black Lives Matter movement. You put posts on your Instagram page about George Floyd and topics related to that. Then on Juneteenth, you dropped a video for “Black Excellence” which seemed to be appropriate for the times. Was that particular [song] a setup for you to release another project?
Kamaiyah: “Black Excellence” was recorded months before everything happened. I had pushed it back for weeks because of what was going on. So it wasn’t done with intent, but it just happened when it happened. And there’s definitely a project coming very soon. I’m definitely about to start dropping more music. Because like I said, I feel like being independent is like real estate. I have to have different streams of income which is [releasing] multiple projects. I have to keep continuously dropping projects, so I’m just focused on that. I’m planning out my years ahead of time versus just doing things monthly. On my calendar, I plan things out by the year. The projects’ names already be done. It’s just a matter of when the public actually gets what I already created.
AllHipHop: I saw you hinted about dropping an EP. In another interview, you said that you’re working on a collaborative project. Is that the same thing or two separate projects?
Kamaiyah: Two separate entities.
AllHipHop: Do you have a timeframe of when you’re thinking about which one you’re going to drop first?
Kamaiyah: Nah, I’m just working. Like I said, there ain’t no pressure on me. The game I’m playing is the numbers game. It’s a probability game. If I put out 60 to 100 records, what’s the probability that one of them is going to be a hit? Versus me just putting out one project and hoping one of those 12 records will be a hit. I rather put out 100 and know I got 100 chances to make a hit versus me only having 12.
AllHipHop: You sound like you’re really loving your artistic freedom.
Kamaiyah: Absolutely. I felt like I was in a cage for so long that I started doubting myself because of the pressure other people were putting on me that wasn’t there initially. It was like all of these cages and boxes that didn’t exist. Now I’m back to just being free. I can f*cking wake up and make a Pop song if I want to. That’s liberating because you never know what’s going to be the song that changes your life forever. So I rather just keep shooting my shot. That’s why I feel like putting out multiple projects and multiple records will quadruple my chances of having that opportunity.
AllHipHop: That’s a true statement. It only takes one song and everything changes.
Kamaiyah: If I put out 100 records right now and one of them changes my life, what do you think that’s going to do for those other 99 [records] that’s already out there? It makes me more f*cking money because everybody is gonna go back and listen like, “What are these other 99 records that I never heard before from this person?” And that’s great when you’re independent because now you have 99 songs that just went up 600% in streams because you have a hit record. And you own all of it.
AllHipHop: That is one of the big advantages of being in the streaming era. I wrote an article recently. [The data tracking firm] Nielsen looked at the increase in streams over the last month, and they noticed that a lot of the songs that got huge boosts were songs like Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” and Childish Gambino’s “This Is America.” People are going back to streaming those songs. Like you said, now you’re getting more revenue for old songs. That may not have been the case 20 years ago because people may not have gone out and bought a CD.
Kamaiyah: Yeah, you’re not going to the damn store to buy a CD. You can just play the same record over and over. That’s where we got an advantage. That’s why album sales don’t really matter anymore because the consumer has a direct record that they can listen to over and over again. And they don’t have to buy the whole album to get that one record. Back in the day, you had to get the album unless there was a hit single that label was pushing that had a single disc. Now somebody can get that one record and every time they spin it, it still counts towards you making money. Back in the day, they only made money off that one single CD. Now you can continuously play that same sh*t and I’m making money.
AllHipHop: About a year ago, Cardi B shouted you out on Instagram. She also shouted out Tierra Whack, Chika, and Rapsody at the time. It got a lot of attention, even outside of the Hip Hop press. Did that moment impact your numbers?
Kamaiyah: I didn’t really pay attention. I know I got a lot of followers from it, for sure. Shout out to the homegirl, Cardi. Cardi is a real one. I f*ck with Cardi. That takes a lot of humility and a lot of self-confidence to big up other females because females are insecure in Hip Hop. So that shows how secure she is within herself to shout out multiple other women. It’s dope that she did that.
AllHipHop: It does seem like over the last couple of years female artists have been more willing to work together than we may have seen before.
Kamaiyah: We don’t give a f*ck about that old sh*t. That old-dated “y’all can’t get along”… That sh*t is gone. You’re hustling. I’m hustling. You’re getting money. I’m getting money. What’s the beef? There’s nothing to beef over. You have your market that you’re directly pitching towards. I have my market. If they somehow happen to cross paths, we’re still both making money because both of our sh*t is streaming. So what’s the real f*cking issue?
AllHipHop: What do you have planned next for GRND.WRK?
Kamaiyah: Building the catalog and growing as a brand and a label. That’s it.
AllHipHop: Have you signed any artists yet? Are you looking to add anyone to the roster?
Kamaiyah: Not yet. I gotta build myself up. How am I gonna f*ck somebody else’s life up if mine ain’t correct? [laughs] I can’t make you a millionaire if I ain’t a millionaire yet, g########. I gotta get my sh*t straight before I even attempt to actually be that type of person. I feel like I’m educated enough to do that, to evolve and change someone’s life, but I’m not in the position to be doing that because I’m more focused on myself and I would be selfish to put somebody in that predicament.