“December 27th was the birth of Konata/
The ‘Met’ fan born in the home of the Dodgers/
D. Strawberry was the man as a toddler/
From Brooklyn, crooklon look homes/
I’m from that era, where that new era you’re wearing that would’ve got took holmes…”
The artist formerly known as K-Nuff from Rhema Soul is getting ready to drop his 20 years in the making album Est. 1997. The Brooklyn born and raised Konata spent his childhood rooting for the Mets, getting into trouble on the streets, and running from a God he wasn’t ready to serve.
In 1997 that all changed.
“ I gave my heart to the Lord. It was also the first time I ever rapped. A lot of things happened, 97 being a foundation for me when all that stuff happened,” he shared.
That foundation is what established Konata as the man he is today. The “est.” in the title representing something of value and worth to him. “The older the date, the more credible it is.”
He joked that this record could have come out before Rhema Soul was even around, but that’s “not what God wanted.”
One of the singles off of Est. 1997 is the infectious “Numbers,” which paints a portrait of Konata’s time growing up in Brooklyn. It’s his quick way of summing up his life using some numerical wordplay.
“I wanted to challenge myself. I’ve been rapping a long time. Let’s work with this idea that numbers don’t lie,” he explained.
He does this by flipping addresses and dates of significant places and moments in his life.
“…would’ve got took holmes/
718 was the code of the hoodlums/
7th floor 2739 Neptune/
First, hallway I would ever lay steps to/
Where I resided back when the whole small fam united/
We Started out with 4 but then he divided/
Daddy left the 3 of us, he started wilding/”
“In our life numbers don’t lie. They can be anything. They can be first grade, a certain year, a certain song on an album that you listen to. It was a depiction of me growing up,” said Konata.
He admitted that the song is finished but incomplete at the same time. There was a third verse that had to be cut for brevity.
“Maybe one day if I ever do an unplugged version of my album I’d throw the third verse on there for people that are fans and really want to hear it,” he added.
Watch “Numbers” below (Official music video dropping on Rapzilla this week):
His family moved to Florida in the late 90s to get out of the neighborhood they were in. He went from a concrete jungle to open fields, from B-boys to boy scouts.
“New Yorkers have that certain thing about them, but when you move to the south, the culture is totally different.”
The hustle and bustle of NYC created an urban soundscape that hindered Konata from hearing the voice of God. Florida “was the only way in the world I’d give God a chance.”
The first single off of the record was “High Top Fade.” This song has a completely different feel to “Numbers” and was put out simply to show that Konata can rap.
“You want to show versatility,” he said. “There are certain records coming out now that I hear a lot of the same stuff. If I know what your delivery is going to be like, it’s gonna get old. On this album, I wanted to display the versatility, but the only way to do that is hitting different things in the genre.”
The song “High Top Fade” has a pretty awesome backstory. The idea and early structure of the song came from a pretty formidable text chat consisting of Marty and Fern of Social Club Misfits, Cheno Lyfe, Rey King, Juan Love, and GAWVI. Once a week and happening every day, one of these artists would drop a rap into their “A Cup of Coffee” chat.
“We would send a text message of one of us every morning going in on a track. Fern was always killing it, he would always do the most. I was probably second or Rey King as far as consistency, Marty did it every once in awhile,” he said. “I wrote ‘High Top Fade’ out of that. I was talking about all of us.”
“Numbers” is personal and “High Top Fade” is about flexing, but overall Est. 1997 has a bigger goal.
“This thing is happening so organically. I’m just going with the motion and whatever works, works,” he said. “I want people to recognize that when we are going through our struggles and going through our pain, it’s important because people can get some gain while we share our pain. I want people to embrace those ugly things about themselves. I want to embrace the fact that you may have come from a place you don’t necessarily talk about. It gives strength and credibility to you as a person.”
Konata then began to talk about the landscape Christian Hip-Hop has cycled through even since Rhema Soul broke into the scene in the mid to late 2000s.
“When we started, Cross Movement and that whole very knowledgeable impactful rapping was hitting hard. That was great, but when we came in, we came in with a different flavor.”
He said Rhema Soul followed the philosophy of breaking hip-hop down into different sections. Konata said there’s east coast, west coast, southern, gangsta rap, etc. “We felt comfortable doing a different style of rap.”
He continued, “We wanted to talk about doing normal stuff, just going to the store and talk about even in the little stuff you can still represent Jesus. You can do a lot of things because there’s freedom in Christ.”
At the time, Rhema Soul was caught in the middle of that heavy theological into more everyday life transition. In the beginning, it was hard for them to get on tours because of it.
“We [Rhema Soul] opened it up more to become art. Not to take anything away from Cross Movement, but those guys are educated and went to seminary and they literally knew the Bible and some were pastors. Trip Lee and Lecrae started the same way but they were able to cross both worlds eventually.”
Konata thinks the landscape changed then and also shifted yet again about three years ago. He believes that the community leaders of Christian Hip-Hop led the way for this new school of artists by some of their decisions.
“They weren’t saying that they were not unashamed anymore, they were saying they are making it more appealing,” said Konata. “Sometimes you tell someone you’re a Christian, they go away. Some people do not understand that.”
The emcee believes that if a rapper isn’t going to be so explicitly about Jesus in their music, then at least remember and apply the attributes Jesus stood for. He explained that you can hold back a little on the record, but hit them with Jesus and start conversations when you get to the venue.
“I think some of the ground rules need to be reestablished,” he said. “The first rule, you are a Christian artist. You need to be plugged in locally to your church. You need to be held accountable by someone. And then, just be careful. Be careful on what you’re doing. I do it with myself, sometimes you give off the wrong message.”
“Check the motives.”
Be sure to head back to Rapzilla on Thursday when Konata premieres the music video for “Numbers” where he revisited his neighborhood in Brooklyn and provides some visuals for his lyrics.
Also, check Rapzilla next week for part two with Konata where he speaks about his friendships with Social Club Misfits and GAWVI.