In part one of our interview with Kayla Starks, she spoke about an incident that scared her and shaped her future. The situation was enough to contribute to her ultimately leaving Christian rap as a genre.
However, Kayla never left the faith, she just makes music outside of it. The now 25-year-old artist said leaving CHH was the best thing that happened to her. During the period away, she took a sabbatical of sorts from making music and was able to study her craft and relieve herself of the stress of being a young star.
This title of “Christian Hip-Hop Failed Kayla Starks” means something a bit different than you’d think. She wasn’t able to thrive and be who she felt God wanted her to be while in it, so leaving, saved her.
Unfortunately for her, the way out wasn’t so kind.
Rewind to 2015
In 2015, Starks dropped the biggest project of her career up until that point – To Be Honest Mixtape.
“The day I dropped that album was the day I walked across the stage in High School,” she stated. “Every track I had on that project features heavy hitters in CHH cosigning what I do. I reached out not only to my brothers in Christ but to my sisters too.”
Many have called CHH and hip-hop, in general, a “boys club.” There have been great strides and better inclusion and awareness of women in the space even in this short window of time, but interestingly enough, Starks said, for the most part, the men weren’t a problem.
It was other women and girls within the space that she hoped to get support and encouragement from. She said it just never happened.
“Many of us [women] were on the same songs and same shows, and I just didn’t get a response,” she recalled of reaching out for feedback and co-signs. “That mixtape was in the works for a while – over a year. It was definitely a different experience.”
It’s important to note that she wasn’t necessarily seeking validation and wanting clout. The fact of the matter was that she was a teenager sharing the same stages and places as adults. She was looking for a woman in the space to maybe take her under their wing or help guide her, and to her recollection, it never occurred.
“From my perspective, there were very few female artists that did CHH when I was doing it. I started doing it in 2008 when I was 12, very young,” she shared. “I remember being 16 and on stage with some of the biggest artists and not only was I the youngest there but I was the only girl.”
She speculated, “There already was some division there for some reason that had to do with competition but I’m not sure. Maybe we all just had our own agenda.”
That was another contributing factor to why she’d leave Christian hip-hop. Aside from her parents, she felt she needed a mentor or another woman in her corner to help navigate being a female in the space. It was a lot of pressure for someone fresh out of high school and having to grow up in front of a church and an audience.
So in 2017, she made the decision to leave.
“When I decided to leave, I made a public post, didn’t want to go out and be dramatic. I sought Godly counsel from my parents and my pastor. They backed it. I had a personal conviction to do it.”
She thanked everyone and announced it on Facebook.
“Here’s the problem I saw when I was talking about it in 2017. We’ve made CHH a religion when it’s a man-made concept,” Starks revealed. “I was automatically shunned and condemned. They substituted Christian hip-hop for Christianity. I was compared to certain people. Blogs and channels had made these posts. It was creepy. I’ve never even set down to know these people. We never broke bread. None of that and they are speaking on my decision.”
She continued, “The reason I didn’t go all out, it wasn’t a rebellion or worldy wild thing. I knew for myself it was what I had to do. It’s not always what you say, it’s how you say it. When you have a public platform, you have a responsibility.”
The whole transition out “did a number” on her as she grew into a young woman. People she considered friends stopped talking to her and others were texting her “how could you?” as if she betrayed them.
Starks wished people would have prayed about it and operated in wisdom and with insight. For her, leaving was a genuine thing.
“Now we’re beginning to see what I’m saying. It almost seems trendy. So many people are leaving.”
For her, she says nothing about her faith stopped, the only thing that changed was the package.
Rebranding to K.La
“Coming from a business decision, it was a hard and bold thing to do. I was 18 at the time and I was just finding my career,” said Starks. “The hardest part off the bat was rebranding and doing it properly. I had so many albums and features out there, so the question was, ‘Do I want to compete with that or take a step back?'”
For Starks, things got better. She took two and half years off and learned how to engineer. Everything she would go on to release was mixed, mastered, and recorded by her.
“It’s been liberating to explore my craft because I understand it better. At first, it was relying on people. That’s hard already,” she explained. “Having a new skill set, I got my feet deeper in production. I came back and it was a beautiful thing, I can create the sound that I always had in my head. The Lord also opened up doors for me to song write professionally.”
Now known as K.La, she said rebranding is a humbling process because it’s starting over as something new but with a shared experience of what you did before.
“It’s like you have two iPhones and you have to port the old info to the new one. You want to keep old fans but remember the goal is to create new fans. A maturing process that I’m grateful for. It’s the best decision I’ve made in my career.”
What She Learned From CHH
“CHH is just like any other industry. Learning how to move business-wise, what to do and not to do,” she stated. “I remember at 14, I put out my first album. I learned from so many different shows how to throw certain events.”
When she dropped her album, they rented out a penthouse in Georgia. Kayla knew how to “go big or go home” because everyone she was around wasn’t just a kid.
“I was never learning from my peers,” Kayla said. “It was always respect for them [older artists] because they’ve been doing it longer than me.”
She said navigating Christian hip-hop grounded her where she took principles and core values on how to treat people.
“What kid at 12-years-old had parents that invested in you every year and then at 14 pulled you out of school to be homeschooled so you could go on tour? Parents don’t do that,” she said. “I’m grateful, I learned a lot of things. In the same breath, just because someone has the title of a Christian, they are human as well. They are going to make mistakes and things like that. I’ve learned a lot of hard lessons behind the mic and conducting myself and contributing to my community.”
With growing up has also come confidence in who she is and what she will talk about. Her experiences as a young lady dealing with adults, artists, promoters, businesspeople while for the most part was good, there were some red flags and things that could have gone wrong.
“Back then I was a teenager. I’m 25 now. I definitely experienced on multiple occasions, things that made me question even collaborating with anyone at all,” Kayla explained. “In music, you link with people all the time. I’ve been placed in situations that made me feel uncomfortable.”
This harkens back to some of the talks around #CHHSexism a few years back when women spoke out about their unique situations within the genre. Many of the men in defense of how operations were conducted stated that they didn’t want to be alone with women in a studio, take them on tours, or even have them on their labels because of men and women operating together outside of marriage plus possible temptation issues. Obviously, it’s much more nuanced than that and for the most part, Kayla agreed with some of the men’s sentiments which is why she acted the way she did.
“I felt like it was always important to tell people what was going on and those people were my parents. Made sure my parents knew where I was at and could be there,” the rapper said. “I had a curfew and studios are often recording late so it’s very smart for any woman to not put themselves in a situation and protect their reputation. I’d rather be known as ‘extra’.”
She continued, “It’s important to always have someone there just for the integrity of yourself.”
Starks said she could only recall working with one woman engineer ever. This was also a reason for teaching herself.
“If you call yourself a believer, there’s just a certain level of productivity that you should be handling with excellence. You want to always be a light and not be in a situation that looks skeptical. That’s a character thing. Things can be done as normal and have accountability.”
Now, as of March 25th, 2022, K.La is officially in full swing as she just dropped her first full-length project under the new name and her first since being known as Kayla Starks. She’s excited for what the future holds and is going to continue to follow the path God set for her.