In times gone by, it was normal to have one profession or skill set for life. These days, that simply isn't enough. You only need to take one look at Instagram or Twitter to see people's bios filled with forward slash after forward slash with buzzwords like influencer in there.
What this highlights is that people are multi-faceted and cannot always be categorised as one thing. People have moved away from just having a set of skills in one area and our interviewee is no different. Kon Kyoshi, is a multi-disciplined Baltimore-based artist who dabbles in music (as a rapper and producer), photography and creates visual art as well as films. We're excited to have had a chance to speak to him on his quest to greatness.
Where did the name Kon Kyoshi come from?
Kyoshi is a Japanese name, it can mean many different things depending on how you spell it. The first meaning I take from it is teacher (きょうし). The second can roughly be translated to "imaginary child" (虚子). Kon Kyoshi is supposed to be a fictional character. Through my projects I'm teaching you about his fictional life, some parts based off real experiences. When I created him, my initial intention was to make him similar to Gorillaz, strictly virtual. I didn't want anyone to ever see my real face or even know who was behind the character, to create that atmosphere of mystery.
Kon comes from the word con, which means negative or to trick someone. I like my lyrics and/or videos to be tricky. As a kid I'd always get in trouble at school, mostly for things I never did. Till this day I could never understand why I'd end up in these situations, guess it's just bad luck. From 1st grade when I was sent to the office for making explicit remarks, to 7th grade when a girl told the teacher I cut her hair, while I was sitting across the room from her (that caused me to get kicked off every field trip in middle school).
I was called to the principle's office one time because this kid who I've never seen before said I beat him up. There was even a rumour that I carried around knives in my hoodie. Needless to say I didn't have the greatest image. This caused me to become very quiet in high school. I wanted to remove myself from any possibility of getting into any trouble. It worked to a certain extent. Fast forward to after graduation it transitioned to the household. From being called a failure by my father after dropping out of college to constantly being told how I'm a good for nothing and foolish for chasing my dreams, pursuing music and art as a career.
If I'm so bad of a person I might as well embody it right? Thus Kon was born. If I weighed out the pros and cons I definitely wouldn't see many pros. Kon Kyoshi is kinda like that childhood imaginary friend who allows me to vent and express myself however I want. He's my diary, my therapist, my favorite cartoon character, my personality, my mask.
As a multi-disciplined artist, you have many creative outlets; why have you chosen not to focus on one area?
Honestly, it wasn’t an intentional thing. As time passes, I just found out that I was good at different forms of art. They then became a part of me, so when I express myself it comes out however it does. I started out drawing and because I was pretty good at it I focused on making a career out of it... until I picked up instruments. Then graphic design, then rapping, producing, photography, etc. I eventually came to the conclusion that I’m just a creative. I can’t really focus on one thing so I focus on bringing them all together or intertwining certain areas to create something different, something new.
You’ve released an EP: Creed - tell us more about the inspiration for creating that project.
It all started with Clocks, which my friend Air3s (who produced and engineered everything) had sent the simple guitar melody for me to write to. When we finished the song, we felt like we had something and after posting it on reddit, the overwhelmingly positive responses inspired me to shoot a video and make a project out of it. Making the tracks an acronym for the word "Creed" was the first thing that came to mind. From summer to the end of the year, we played around with a bunch of different sounds and went back and forth due to our artistic differences but eventually created something we both liked.
The outro of the last song Dreams sums up the concept behind everything; in a nutshell our mortality is the only barrier between us and our dreams. There are many obstacles we all deal with before our time is up but, as long as we’re living and willing, we have the opportunity to make anything happen. Unfortunately, most of us succumb to the difficulties of the world, society, race, religion, economics, emotional/mental issues and allow them to consume and mould us. Thus, abandoning the grandiose dreams we had in our youth and instead pursuing something much more easily attainable. Age tends to beat the ambition out of people. Don’t grow up, it’s a trap.
Whether or not I become successful or noticed, my stuff is out there and to me that’s all that matters.
As you said, you shot a video for “Clocks” (with Air3s) - talk us through the concept and why you chose to feature timers counting down above each subject.
The video is inspired by the movie Donnie Darko. It’s a movie about time travel. As one of my favourite movies, I’d recommend anyone who hasn’t seen it to do so; Clocks kinda puts its own spin on the movie. There are many references such as the bunny mask and the writing on my arm. In the very beginning I’m playing a game called “Life Is Strange” which is about a girl who discovers she has the power to reverse time. Then as I leave my room I walk past a tv that is actually playing Donnie Darko, so anyone who catches those can probably allude to where the video is going.
The actual story is about my girlfriend ending up in a train accident. There are two different timelines being shown back and forth, a future where she’s already dead and the present day when she’s supposed to die. In this world you can see everyone else’s lifespan (the timers above their heads) and every action can affect it. You can see this when the two guys (7uca and JonyB) were about to fight after bumping into each other, the timer dropped so when they noticed it they just walked away. For some reason no one can see mine, after the credits you can hear my friend say “I don’t even know how his meter works”
In the future timeline I’m searching for a guitar case where I stashed some black roses to mourn her death. In the present timeline I’m going about my day when I’m sent an article about a train accident, not knowing that it’s actually something that has yet to happen. Eventually while my girl and I are hanging out she storms off because I’m putting all of my attention into my phone. I chase her down before she gets on the train when I notice her timer is very low so I persuade her not to get on. I get a feeling that I’m supposed to be on there instead. The video ends with my timer finally appearing but running out as my future self disappears.
If you were aware of your own lifespan or the lifespan of others how would it affect how you live? the decisions you make? Maybe you might realise that it’s best to just let nature run its course.
In a nutshell our mortality is the only barrier between us and our dreams.
You’ve also featured on “Womens” with Baltimore-based rapper 7uca, how did that collaboration come about?
I’ve known 7uca for a few years now through my cousin JonyB. We’re fans of each other's music. I shot a few of his videos but this was the first time we’d made music together. Actually it’s the first and only time I’ve collaborated with another rapper period (excluding when I was in a group). I think he sent me the beat sometime in the beginning of when he started recording his album. He said rap about anime girls so I literally rapped about girls from different anime… Maybe I took it too literal haha. I think the song’s dope, and the video is pretty dope as well. 7uca’s really the only rapper in the city whose music I genuinely like. He doesn’t make that generic cliché trap garbage. If any of us are to make it out of this place I think it’ll definitely be him and JonyB.
Which artists inspire you when creating your art?
Lupe Fiasco was the one who inspired me to become a lyricist. At that time (around 2007) I wasn’t aware of rappers who could use rhyming in the way that he did, telling these imaginative stories fusing real world circumstances with fantasy and sci-fi. In his song Daydreamin he explained different aspects of the streets and personified it making them different body parts of a giant robot. As a kid who was heavily into manga, anime, and movies this blew me away. My love for anime I’d say influences many of the things I do when it comes to storytelling. I look up to directors like Satoshi Kon who was able to explore the human psyche with such brilliance in execution. I’m a big fan of the psychological genre as I love unforeseen twists and convoluted stories that you might have to read or watch more than once to fully understand, pretty much anything that challenges my thinking. So naturally when it comes to videos, music, or even photography these things are in the back of my mind.
Your tumblr is a museum of some of your visual art: when did you first pick up a camera and where do you want to go with your photography/visual art?
I’ve been using cameras for as long as I can remember. My father was into art as well so photography was something that was always around me. We even have a dark room in the basement. He’d always make me carry around the camera whenever we’d go out and eventually I just kept one of them for myself. I only really used it to mess around on photoshop and make weird edits of myself. It wasn’t until I started to really make music that I got deeper into photography. I only bought a camera so that I could shoot my own music videos. This was around 2013. Walking around with it people would ask if I could shoot things for them, whether promotional videos for stores or photos for Instagram, I’d just accept anything even though I had no real experience. When I realised I was good at it that’s when it became a thing so I pushed myself to be more creative at it. As for where I want to go with it, full length movies would be my end goal. To be able to write, direct, shoot, edit, score, and put out my own film that I’m proud of would probably be my final masterpiece. Then I could die happy haha. But honestly, I’m pretty satisfied with the art that I’ve put out so far in my lifetime. Whether or not I become successful or noticed, my stuff is out there and to me that’s all that matters. Who knows, posthumous fame ain’t so bad either. I could be the hip-hop Edgar Allan Poe.
What can we expect from Kon Kyoshi in the second half of the year?
I have a full length album called Protagonist which is coming out soon, so watch out for that. 7uca said that I put out too much music and don’t promote any of them, which is true. So I’ll be working on more visuals for myself and what I already have out, branding, maybe do more interviews. I’m aware that I spend more time working on other people’s stuff. I’ve never really focused on myself, maybe a little in my free time but not as a whole. As someone who just wants to see everyone else succeed, I don’t know, we’ll see.
Finally, what does success mean to you?
To me success is self contentment. Having the peace of mind that you’ve done what you’ve truly wanted to do. And I don’t mean bucket list things like skydiving or meeting your favourite celebrity. I mean having that feeling on the inside that you are who you want to be. You haven’t compromised yourself into being what society, your friends, or your parents want you to be. This can be as large or small an achievement as whatever is in the individual’s heart. Like I said before, I feel successful. The moment I dropped out of college to fully pursue my art was when I started my path to success. Everyone is different and some people can do both but that wasn’t my path. If I didn’t drop out, the series of events which took place in order to create Kon Kyoshi wouldn’t have occurred and he’d have never existed, along with everything he’s created.
I could be in an office somewhere living a lot more comfortable, while the thought lingers in the back of my head questioning my potential. There’s nothing I hate more than wasted potential. I don’t believe in plan Bs. Having a plan B proves that you believe there is a certain possibility that plan A could go wrong, which in most cases that’s the smartest way to think. But that thought means you don’t fully believe in it, even if you do 99.9% that 0.1% of doubt makes all the difference.
You need a certain amount of insanity to be great. It’s that same insanity you hear when you watch an artist’s interview about how they used the last bit of cash to move to a certain place, or had to sleep on their friend's couch before they got that big break. Kon is here, you can search and find my music, beats, photos, videos, artwork, designs, everything. I have framed artwork hanging on people’s walls. When I’m gone, all of these things will still be here. How long they’ll last has nothing to do with me, I’ve done my part. I’m satisfied.
As we can see above, Kon Kyoshi is a very deep and introspective thinker; someone who is very clear on what he wants to achieve and we can't wait to see where his endeavours take him. Thanks again to Kon for taking the time to let us into his mind and be sure to keep up with his art and such.