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downtown kayoto



11 min

Downtown Kayoto is the Zimbabwe born, Hull raised artist mixing pop, soulful R&B, rap and 00s indie into his genre-blending tracks. The melancholic songwriter has been making noise online, receiving co-signs from Jessie Ware, Zane Lowe and Nick Grimshaw as well as being nominated as Radio 1’s Future Artist. With stand-out hits such as ‘Karma Called’ and ‘Hello World’, Downtown Kayoto is back with new single ‘NAVIG8’, merging smooth R&B vocals with alt-pop beats.

Speaking of the track, Downtown Kayoto tells us “I wrote a lot of it in the night and outside. At the time of lockdown, I felt lost but strangely hopeful of the future, I was studying during the day and pursing creative interests through the night and in between school trying to find a place to live in.” It feels like a coming-of-age project; “The expression in ‘NAVIG8’ comes from how at this point in my life, I felt as if I was navigating every single aspect of my being, my future, my relationships, my character as well as my place in the world.”

We caught up with the emerging artist about ‘NAVIG8’, the journey of experimentation finding his sound, and how legendary albums such as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Blonde influenced his creative process. Scroll to tune into CULTED’s latest playlist, featuring the best of Downtown Kayoto and his favourite tracks of the moment.

Downtown Kayoto
Downtown Kayoto ©

How does it feel to have your debut EP NAVIG8 finally out in the world? Is it pure joy and energy or did you have any nerves surrounding the release? Has it got you feeling relieved and ready to relax or hungry to get back in the studio?
I am absolutely over the moon, this project has been something that has been in the works for almost over 1 1/2 years now, the hurdles and obstacles that I have had to overcome, with the lovely help of my team of cause, have been difficult but I’m happy that I saw something through. in short without waffling, I’m happy that the project is out and there for people to listen to and use as they will, however I’m hungry to continue to learn develop my craft and overall become better. I’ve had to draw a line in the sand let this project go and find my next medium.

The inspirations from the EP feel like they draw on a number of different eras in music. There are notes of 90s R&B, 80s Disco & Funk, early 2000s Pop-Rock and Punk, Drum & Bass on tracks like ‘Hello World’, as well as contemporary hip-hop elements in your bar/lyric construction. In your opinion, what was the initial inspiration sonically for this EP? Are you very fluid with your approach to crafting music instead of tightly defining what sound you want to make in advance?
I would say blonde by Frank Ocean was probably one of the main inspirations I initially drew from. Upon subsequently realising that I didn’t necessarily hold Franks vocal ability birthed a desire to somewhat makeup for this natural lack of ability by implementing and experimenting with more rap/punk/rock based sonics. Finding beauty in chaos, whether it was a super distorted guitar or a drum and bass break beat, these moments of genre mixing and implementation just came from me realising I wasn’t Frank Ocean lol. For certain sessions I would go into the studio with the intention to play around with a specific genre, if I wanted to make a pop song in the moment I would go in with the goal of making memorable hooks and easy digestible lyrics in comparison to me going into a session kind of free-styling it. Moving forward I want to be an artist that is able to do both, not only because I don’t want my sound to be set in one space but I’m very hands on when it comes to downtown Kayoto as a brand and business. I have a desire to be resourceful and efficient when I can and sometimes that means being painfully honest with myself. I wouldn’t go into a session with the desire to make an experimental rap song if my intent was to make a straight forward/ easy digestible pop song… I want to play around with the meaning of being commercial but also having the freedom to make stuff that doesn’t fit in the mainstream.

How has your general approach to beat-selection and writing changed since the early days of making ‘Colours’/ ‘2fast’/ ‘Attitude’? Do you think you have fully found your sound or is it a constantly changing process of self-discovery and experimentation?
When I was making songs like colours and 2fast I was just making them to mess around and make a song I could share my friends. Experimentation was in the forefront, but so was just having fun. My lyrics would pretty much be non-focused, I would sometimes poke fun at music I would hear on the  radio and that was in heavy rotation at the time. Talking about girls and relationships, despite me being 15/16 at this time and not in a relationship, I would get my beats off YouTube and record them in a day. In comparison to now, everything that I make his tailored to me and my tastes and if I am trying to emulate a sound that is foreign from what I know, I consult with people who execute that genre as a higher level for help and guidance. More emphasis is being placed on lyrics and composition now that I can control the arrangement of the tracks. I’m not bound to a classical pop song structure and this is especially useful when it comes to making songs with alternative compositions. One thing that has remained constant from the days in which I made 2fast is a strong sense of melody. Melody is usually the starting point of all of my songs, if melody does not interest me I don’t finish the song just out of boredom. I don’t think I’m ever going to find my sound, but I do believe that with every single song that I make I get that one step closer. After all, when you reference “your sound” you’re just referencing the sound of all your previous works put together.

What producers did you work with on this tape? Do you typically like to work with a small tight-knit group of producers so they learn your process or do you prefer to constantly switch it up and work with whoever is around to hear fresh takes on your work?
With this EP I worked with 4 extremely talented producers in which I’m proud to call them friends first and foremost, before referring to them as being collaborators. The title track ‘NAVIG8’ came from my very first session with the producer Duncan Boyce. I asked him to play some chords that would make me feel something, and he played the chords for ‘NAVIG8’ and I was extremely moved. We moved onto perfecting this song and a year and a half later it was done. ‘Hello World’ was made with a producer called Frankie Scocoa. This was the first song me and him worked on together, he was able to push the song from being in a classical R&B space to a D&B/R&B blend. ‘Karma Called’ was made with producer called Jack Laboz. I told him that I wanted to make a pop song and from the jump he knew what was good. With that one, we got stuck on it for awhile because we felt it was missing something. Subsequently we ended up asking a very talented violinist to help us add strings to the composition and it came out great. ‘PFL’ was made with the talented writer/producer from my hometown, by the name of Stewart Baxter. I worked with people who very much understood the assignment and guided me through the process of making their respective songs. It was collaboration and this is something that I’m going to continue to emphasise as I move forward.

Downtown Kayoto
Downtown Kayoto ©

The music video for the title track ‘NAVIG8’ was wonderfully original and so beautifully put together, conjuring up a whole world for the EP to sit in. How hands-on are you when it comes to creating the visual aesthetic for your music? Do you see music videos and album art as a continuation of the music and something that is crucial to be involved with as an artist?
When it comes to art or anything visual that will accompany the music I’m very hands on. I always aim to create very captivating artwork because this will be the first thing that a viewer/listener will come into contact with, so by that logic, the more eye catching the better. But with this you also need to bear in mind that the artwork has to relate to the song/music video because this will be the link that remains when somebody goes from watching the video to listening to the song. I aim to maintain visual coherency, this usually takes a long time to do so because I will sit on an image for as long as I can before I know it’s the one. I work with a very talented graphic designer by the name of Chris Fassoli who helps me execute my vision to its entirety, and together we have crafted the final images and artworks for this EP. Alongside this, I work with a talented director that goes by the name Louis Lincoln. Me and him will sit down and craft the video concept, making sure that it relates to the meaning of the songs in question, but aiming to deliver at the highest level. In the future I would want to have visuals that can go toe to toe with the likes of slowthai, Tyler and Skepta. I don’t think that all artists have to be hands on when it comes to visuals because some artists are not too concerned with that stuff. It’s possible to outsource this role to a creative director who will be able to accurately and precisely execute their vision whilst the artist focuses on another part of the process, whether it be involvement in the engineering or the pitching of their music. At the end of the day, the artist has to be the one that signs everything off.

What was the hardest track on this project to complete? What made it so tricky to complete? Is this the track you are most proud of from the EP for this reason?
‘NAVIG8’ was the hardest track to make only because sonically I’ve never made anything like it and it was the title track so it had to encapsulate all of the central themes into a 4 minute song. Also I’m not the best singer, so the creation process was full of vocal retakes. On top of this, I recorded everything in my room so there was that added pressure but it came out beautiful. I’ve created what I initially set out to make and I couldn’t be happier. It’s a song that perfectly encapsulates how I felt for the past two years. 

If you could play NAVIG8 to one musician/producer in history to get their thought, who would it be and why?
Kanye West, only because my beautiful deep dark twisted fantasy Influenced me to make this song, in particular the song runaway.

Additionally, If you could perform it live in one country in the world that you haven’t yet, where would it be?
The United states

If you could only listen to three albums the rest of your life, what would they be?
Yeezus, IGOR, Trapsoul, Blonde, Heaven To A Tortured Mind

Downtown Kayoto
Downtown Kayoto ©

Lastly, name 5 tracks you’re loving right now and why?

Above not below- Roy Blair
I love Roy Blair and I think that his project graffiti is a very solid body of work and this song in particular is beautifully sequenced. The lyrics hit very hard and it has a very strong melody.

The Dress- Dijon
Dijon is the GOAT and he smashed it on the most recent record, his knack for songwriting and composition is next to none and this ones been in my rotation recently.

Feel no ways – Drake
I would argue this is Drake’s Best Song. It’s packed full of honest songwriting and emotion, something that I’m hoping to include in my music moving forward. The instrumentation and production of this song is ahead of its time, Drake really hit the nail on the head with this one.

Guava tea- Choker
Choker is somebody that I look up to when we talk about an artist who is truly genre fluid, he manages to tell a story not only through his songwriting but through his use of unconventional song structure.

Interference- Tems
This song is unapologetically vulnerable. She pours her heart into a three minute percussion-less song which left me putting this one on repeat after first listen.