It is unquestionable that progress has been made since the 1960s. But black people remain disproportionately impacted by a bevy of social and economic challenges.
Birmingham rapper KD sheds light on the barriers so many blacks struggle to overcome on his album Green Acres. Known for boasting a player persona, KD's subject matter still manages to go beyond women and materialism on the project. He provides listeners with thought-provoking content, addressing social injustices, senseless violence and mass incarceration.
KD recently spoke with A Humble Soul about what he sought to convey with Green Acres, and explained the meaning behind the project's captivating cover art. He also talked about overcoming the "Birmingham mentality," refusing to compromise his integrity for commercial recognition, his friendship with DJ Burn One, and the current state of rap music.
AHS: You came up in Birmingham, Alabama. What was that like?
I’m from Birmingham, Alabama, born and raised. I was raised on the West Side. I lived in Ensley, Forestdale, West End. My daddy was a DJ in the army. Growing up on Daniel Payne, in the house in Ensley, my daddy used to play records nonstop. That’s how I came up in music in Birmingham. Basically, Birmingham, as you may know, is the third blackest city in America. You’re going to get that black culture. It’s one of the hoodest places, so you’re gonna get that. But you’re also coming up with the Civil Rights Movement, so you’re around a lot of people that experienced that. Coming up in Birmingham, you get all types of culture and things like that. And I just mixed that with the music.
You mentioned your pops was a DJ. Who were you listening to coming up?
I was born in the late '80s, so the first music I can remember is Whitney Houston and Anita Baker. But as I started to get older and develop my taste, the first music, as far as rap, I can remember is Biggie. I used to love Biggie, because I used to be kind of chubby like Biggie, so all of his songs I wanted to hear. The first album I remember hearing and liking was Ready to Die. I was a lil’ kid, but Biggie was one of the rappers I first remember hearing and, of course, Tupac. And as I got older, I got into the real Down South rappers like No Limit, Cash Money, and UGK. I like a lot of Texas music. When I first learned how to drive, it had to be the early 2000s, all we used to play was Lil’ Flip, DSR, Mike Jones, Slim Thug, Chamillionaire, all of that type of stuff. That was the first wave when we started riding. Oh, yeah, Three 6 Mafia of course. That’s like one of my favorite groups of all time as well. David Banner. Kanye, he’s a big influence, too. His early stuff, I really was into that. Was, too. Nas is one of my favorite rappers.
Oh, yeah, that was my whole life. In Alabama, of course, football is the king, so I played football, baseball, basketball — I played them all. I played football in high school, I was an All-State football player. I got a scholarship to Clark Atlanta [University]. I went there for a year. And I played for Alabama A&M University for a year as well. I played football a lot. I was also a straight A student. I scored a 29 on the ACT. Coming out of high school, I had offers to Princeton and anywhere pretty much. But when you’re from Alabama, where we’re from, [it's] temptation. Just because you may be good at sports, you may be good at school, the stuff you grow up around is going to bring that street element to your life. I wouldn't say it deterred me. To me, it’s just like a normal part of life. It’s just how we grew up. It’s a lot of negative stuff, and it can take you in a place that you don't need to be.
It's interesting to hear about your academic accomplishments. I don't hear you rhyme about this in your music. Was education a big thing in your household?
Growing up, everybody wants to go to college and parents want the best for their kids. My thing was, I wasn't necessarily always a good student, I was just naturally intelligent. I don't like to toot my horn or nothing like that, but that’s basically how that was. At an early age, I was tested and they used to wonder how I could read so far ahead of other kids. It was because my grandma used to have encyclopedias. I used to read them because that’s all we had to do. I would read them front to back, all the letters. A lot of black grandmamas used to have encyclopedias in their house, so a lot of people can relate to that. That’s basically how that element got into me. I read a lot of books still to this day.
When did you first start writing rhymes?
I used to do talent shows when I was five years old. My momma would put me in talent shows, and I would be rapping. It would be nursery rhymes or whatever, but I would be actually rapping. That was the first time I ever can say I performed or anything like that. But as far as writing rhymes, the first time I ever really remember writing a rhyme was when I was in 6th or 7th grade or something like that. I was imitating Tupac. I didn't really know how to write a 16, I just remember imitating Tupac on “I Ain’t Mad At Ya.” He was talking about sherm, I didn't even know what sherm was, I was just rapping. That’s the first time I ever really remember writing a rhyme. As far as after that, in high school I had a computer, and it had a mic coming out of it. All of the niggas from my school that wanted to be rappers would come over, and we would just record on the computer all night, after football practice or whatever. I would pass out tapes. My partner Hollow Ben, he was the only one in my hood that had a CD burner. I would record it on the computer, take it to him, and he would put [the music] on a CD. I would take them to school and pass them out, sell them at school and wherever I was at. And that was like 16 or 17 years old, that’s when I first remember actually recording. But the first song I did in an actual studio was a song by the name of “Polo and Nikes.” I put it on the Internet and Burn One ended up hearing it. He had just did Chicken Talk at the time. This was in 2007. I was like, ‘Man, Burn One, who just did Gucci tape, gone hit me up?’ That was pretty cool.
Well, it was hard to stop playing football, but when I started seeing people really respond to “Polo and Nikes,” it was shocking to me, so I went and recorded a mixtape called Last Man Standing. I put it out, and then from there I did another one called Playa President. That’s when everybody in Birmingham, Huntsville, Atlanta and on the Internet…that was the first time I saw people respond to it. It was like a lot of love. We took like 5 or 10,000 CDs, and we passed them out everywhere we went. And I seen the reactions and love I got off of that. To this day, people still hit me up about that, and it was the first one I saw on the blogs and things like that. That’s what really made me want to go hard with music like that.
You briefly mentioned earlier how you connected with Burn One after creating "Polo and Nikes." It seems like he's had a presence on pretty much every project you've dropped since Last Man Standing. How did your relationship with Burn One blossom after that project?
After we did the first mixtape, he was pretty much in Atlanta. He was making his rounds. I was still trying to learn as much about the music biz as possible. I really didn't know anything to tell you the truth. I didn't look up or read anything. He was taking me around Atlanta, showing me things, meeting people…we had common interests and a common ear, in terms of the type of music that we were interested in and actually liked to hear. And then he was putting my music out there, pretty much saying, ‘Hey, this dude KD, he’s dope. You need to check him out.’ And we would go over there in Atlanta, stay nights with Burn One, cook up music, go to a studio, go on the road when he was with Bubba Sparxxx or Wiz Khalifa or Yellawolf. We would go to the shows, kick it…we would be right there. That’s my partner for real. He’ll come to Birmingham, stay with me or B. Flat. We’ll go over there and stay with him in the A and kick it like that. It developed off just a love for the music. And when he got into producing, I was the first one to rap on a Burn One beat. A lot of people don't know that. And that sound that he developed over time was really from hanging around me, B. Flat, B. Kirk, and Walt Live. That was all of us just being in the studio making the type of music we wanted to make. That’s where that whole sound came from.
As far as B. Flat, we been working on music for almost a decade now. When he first started recording music, he had a studio in his mom’s crib. It was a legit studio. When I heard the sound, I was like, ‘Damn.’ I wanted to get over there and record because I didn't have anywhere to record. I went over there and recorded and saw he could make beats. From then, we started working nonstop. He recorded and mixed all of my projects. That’s how that started out. That’s where I recorded “Polo and Nikes.” That’s the first song me and him did when we went into the studio.
As far as B. Kirk, I’ve been knowing him since like the 9th or 10th grade. He didn't actually start producing until around the time I dropped The Playa Prezident. He started making beats, and I just started rapping on them. Him and B. Flat, they’ll get in there, B. Kirk’ll chop up the sample, Flat’ll add more instruments to it. That’s how that came about, off that common bond for loving the same type of music.
And all of y'all are part of Hollow Entertainment?
Yeah, that’s all of us. My partner Hollow Ben, when we were in high school, it was a group we used to call Da Hollows. And a lot of people got the misconception, like it was some gangsta shit and some street shit. But it was, like, we would be sleepy from sippin’ or smokin', so it’s like, ‘Sleepy Hollow.’ That’s what they call him, and that’s where it comes from. We all just started doing music together.
Let’s get into your latest project Green Acres. What's the meaning behind the name and cover art?
First, with the name Green Acres, it’s a restaurant in Birmingham called Green Acres. It’s a hood chicken place. It’s right there on 4th Avenue. In Birmingham, it used to be the black business district, where blacks had, before desegregation, businesses all up and down that one strip. Green Acres is one of them. You can go in there and get you a two or three piece chicken, some fish drenched in hot sauce…so, basically, it’s paying homage to blacks owning there own, and we see green acres ahead. That’s pretty much what it plays on, and it still represents where I’m from as well. Also, [it represents] soul food. We’re giving you soul food, serving it up in music. It’s all those things in one.
As far as the cover, my partner Joe Dent, he does some crazy artwork. I had this idea of just doing something eye-catching that’ll fit in the times. I had did a sketch of it. You’ve got everything about the news — the cops killing blacks and the dude in South Carolina that went in and shot up the church. Basically, it’s showing that stuff like that gets done in the dark…I’m exposing what gets done in the dark. You see police killing black men on TV in the light but nobody’s really talking about it. And in the middle, you see the drugs and everything coming out of the cup. It’s like we’re drowning that out in the music, because a lot of music ain’t addressing things that’s going on socially. Basically, what I was doing was, like, Yeah, we drown that out and tune that out in the music with everything that’s going on with the hoes, weed and the street shit and everything else, but it’s letting people know, I’m still aware of this stuff that’s going on even though I may be in these songs talking about other things. I think it represents the CD as well. I’m talking about all types of things in the music, but I’m still giving you social commentary on what’s going on.
If you know anything about Birmingham, Daniel Payne Drive is on the edge of Forestdale, Pratt City, Ensley, all of that area right there. When we were in high school, we would ride down Daniel Payne Drive. That was the exit that you take to get to the neighborhood that we would hang out in a lot. On the song I say, ‘I smoked my first blunt off Daniel Payne.’ That was the first time. My partner rolled it up. I was just telling you the story of what happened, and just taking you back through my life for real. ‘I smoked my first blunt off Daniel Payne, 16, the good ole days.’ It was something simple, but it shows how far we’ve come since then. How much of the world I’ve seen since then. That’s why I started off the album from that point. I was just talking about how I’m out in Las Vegas, in L.A., wherever, and throughout the album, I talk about all of the stuff I’ve seen since that.
You stick to the formula you’re known for on Green Acres. You’ve got the tracks that address social issues, songs about the ladies, and then tracks for vibing out. Tell me about how you combine all of those elements into your style.
Whatever I hear with the track, whatever vibe, whatever feel I get from it, that’s what I go with and write. When I put together a project, it’s like, I might say, ‘I’ve got enough of this on here.' I don't want to just keep bashing in the same point on a single project. I have a lot of songs that may have some of the same subject matter, but I notice a lot of albums now, a lot of rappers, they’re only known for one thing. They only talk about one [particular] thing. When you go back to Marvin Gaye, he had “What’s Going On,” but then he’s still got “Distant Lover” on the same album. I just feel like you should do that. With music from the beginning, like, Curtis Mayfield; I’m going all the way back now. He would have “Power to the People,” but then he would have “Miss Black America” or “The Makings of You.” Just having a variety of subject matter to give people different flavors because everybody don't want to hear me talk about hoes, they may get tired. [With my music], they can be like, ‘He talks about women on this song and then he talks positive about this.’ They may not want to hear me talk about cars. Everybody relates to something different, so I try to give everybody something they can relate to. At the end of the day, really, I’m just being me. That’s all I can do is be me and write how I feel at the time.
Your last project was released a while back. What caused you to take a break from releasing music?
Yeah, the last project I dropped was in 2013, Diary of a Trill Nigga. At the time, I was like 250 pounds. A lot of the things I was on, I had to step out of that. I had started stepping back from that whole persona. I kind of wanted to change up how I approached things, my image and how everything was. I started reading a lot of books, eating different foods. When you grow up in any type of hood environment, it’s just bad food, it’s bad stimuli, and everything is not positive for you. I just said, ‘I’m going to stop eating this food. I’m going to change my mentality.’ As I was changing my mentality, how I was seeing the world kept changing. I might record a song and be like, ‘I don't even want to put this out there like that.’ I kept changing how I was viewing things. I kept recording music. At the same time, I was like, ‘Do I want to come out like this? Do I want to come out like that? Do the people want to see me ballin’? Do they want to see some hood shit? What do they want to see?’ It’s kind of like finding yourself as an artist. Like I said, the first song that I recorded, “Polo and Nikes,” it ended up getting out there, so I just kept going like that. I never stopped, sat back and thought about how I wanted to be presented, what kind of image I wanted. I just kept going along with what I thought would be the best at the time. [Recently], I stepped back and started learning about the music business part, just trying to see how I wanted to be presented, not necessarily what I thought would just be cool at the time. The music game changed a lot during that period, and I felt like I had to change a lot with it. My mind was constantly evolving, so I couldn't just put music out there that necessarily didn't match what I was going through in my head.
The first book that kicked it off was The Mis-Education of the Negro. It made me think, ‘Damn, maybe all of this shit that people’s been feeding us is not correct.’ I read The Autobiography of Malcom X. That was one of my favorites. It’s so many books that I read. It just changed my mentality. I [realized] it’s a system that we’re in, and if you get caught up in the system, whether it be the streets, the food that you eat, whatever, it’s all set up for you to fail. I said, ‘Now that I see it’s set up like that, let me get myself out of the system the best I can.’ Even when it comes to the food you eat, freeing your mind, getting out of that mentality, that hood mentality, I like to call it that Birmingham mentality. I got a chance to mix and mingle with people. I was going different places. All nationalities, people from every background, just chopping it up with them. Even though I’m still representing Birmingham, I like to call it the Birmingham mentality because in Alabama, they say that we’re backwards, but it is the truth for real. I had a thirst for knowledge. And I stopped eating fried food, fast food, and just worked out. I changed myself physically and mentally.
Dig that. Getting back to the music, what were you hoping to convey with this project?
With this project, I wanted to show that I had taken things to another level, that I put a lot more effort into it. I did put a lot of effort into everything else, but I just wanted to show that I was a well-rounded artist. Coming from Birmingham, I didn't really know that people looked at me as just being a street artist. I never considered myself to be a street artist. Where we’re from, it was just how we naturally acted. It wasn't like I was trying to be hard or anything like that. I wanted to show that I wasn't just a typical southern rapper. I wanted to show I can rap about everything. I can sing. I’m singing on there. I sing for real. I wanted to show all facets, and I wanted to open people’s minds, too.
Singing is something you've incorporated into all of your projects. Coming up, were you in the choir? How did you develop that skill?
All my life, I have been singing. My mom would have us go to church, and I would sing in the choir. I used to sing solos all the time, but I kind of stopped singing because when you’re coming up and you want to be hard…like, when I first started rapping, I didn't sing. I thought that was for R&B artists. But when I first started singing, I was like, ‘Man, I’m just going to sing my own hooks.’ I knew how I wanted it to sound. When I saw all of these other rappers singing, like Pimp C, Z-Ro, and a lot of other ones, I thought that would bring a different element to my songs, being that I’m not just somebody rapping. I was going to drop a whole singing project. I got enough to do a whole project. I might still drop those songs, too.
You only have two features on Green Acres, Starlito and Scotty ATL. They both appear on "Cruise Control Part 1." How did that collab come about?
On my projects, I don't like to have other rappers on there. I like working with other rappers, but I try to keep them at a minimum because people want to hear what you’ve got to say. That’s how I feel. People like Curtis Mayfield, Willie Hutch and Marvin Gaye, they didn't have other folks on their songs, they really did their songs. As far as [Scotty and Starlito], I know them personally. I like to do music with rappers that I know personally. I got both of their numbers in my phone. When Lito come to Alabama, I get up with him. Me and Scotty, we’ve been doing music for at least five or six years. [With that particular song], we were just in the studio. We were in Atlanta at Cory Mo’s studio. I can’t even remember why we were in there, but that particular track was on, we started vibing and made the song in like 10 minutes.
We’ve got enough songs, old songs, that we could put out something like that. And a lot of people have been asking for that. I have had a lot of people say, ‘Man, I want to hear a KD and Scotty EP or album.’ The tough thing is that everybody is busy doing things. He might be going one way, I might be going the other. It’s just about that time to get where you meet in the middle, and you’re able to knock something out like that. I think it would be cool, man. I’m a fan of Scotty, from the beginning. A lot of our fans cross each other.
On this particular project, you talk about about the plight of black women on the song “Apologies.” What inspired you to create that track?
Nowadays, on the Internet, I didn't notice it until this age, it’s like a war of women on women. It’s back and forth on both sides. On Twitter you’ve got the black feminists and all this…I don't even know how to describe it. When I hear these things...most of the stuff I’m talking about are real experiences, not necessarily stuff that happened to me directly, but just things in life that I’ve seen. [I'm talking about things] you may have seen partners go through, or your homegirl or your family or just women go through period. But you've got to analyze, ‘Why is this happening?’ That’s pretty much what I did. I went back and took all of those experiences and put it together, as to why a black men acts like this towards a black women, and why a black women behaves in certain ways, so that we can have some type of psychoanalysis. I did it so we could break it down, why these things happen like this, why these situations occur, and what we can do to mend those things and get everything going how it’s supposed to be.
From “Across the Sky” to “Last Time,” you have been vocal about your frustration with not being recognized on a major scale, considering the quality of music you create. How would you rate your current passion for music?
I would say it’s the highest it’s ever been. A lot of times I would be like, ‘Man, I really don't want to be a part of this’ because it’s a lot of politics involved. But I noticed, in life it’s politics involved with everything. Certain bloggers, they won’t post your music because this blog posts your shit real heavy. It’s crazy. They want you to pay a certain amount of money to be on this site. Some advice that a person gave me a long time ago is, ‘Everybody’s got somebody that they want to blow up. You’ve just got to reach out to the people.’ That’s what I ended up doing. I ended up reaching out to the people. The music industry, it gets frustrating at times because you see so many rappers, they pretty much sell their souls. I don't want to expose nobody, but they’ll see a dude who says ‘I want to put some money behind you and help you out.’ They’ll go sign a deal with them, get the money there then go to another person and say, ‘Oh, you can get me here, you can get me there? Let me sign this deal with them.’ They do everything to get on, or what they think is getting on, but at the end of the day you ain’t won nothing. It just gets frustrating seeing all types of stuff in the rap industry. And then if you’re not in these types of circles, it’s like, ‘We see you, but we’re not going to promote you.’ But it’s like that in everything. It’s like that in sports. It’s like that in corporate America. The best fit person for the job doesn't always get it. It’s like, ‘I’m going to give him the job because I know his uncle.’ My passion for the music is going to be there. That’s why I took the time off. Well, I really didn't take the time off, I was still recording, I was still putting out music, but it’s like, I had to analyze myself. ‘Am I doing everything possible to be where I want to be? And, if not, what do I have to do to do that?’ That was another learning experience.
I’m outspoken. I always had a thing to speak my mind. I don't know why, I just say what I feel. As far as music, I think honestly rap is pretty much as good as it’s been in a long time. Of course, you’ve got the Golden Era, the mid-90s or whatever, or whoever you consider the Golden Era. But it went through the slump with the ringtone era and the ‘I’m just fin’ to make a catchy song/hook’ era to now it’s like a buffet. If you listen to the radio, you can get the radio songs. You can go on the Internet and get whatever you want to hear, whatever your taste is. It’s broken down. People just want to stream music. It’s new ways for artists to make revenue so they don't have to necessarily rely on making catchy songs. I mean, you can still make catchy songs, but if you’re smart and you know how to monetize the music, it’s ways for you to do that. People are buying music again. People are streaming music and artists are getting paid off of that, so you don't have to necessarily make music to fit into one type of place. You just do you. And with social media, people are able to see the real artist. They’re able to see how they are as a person. I think music is about as good as it’s been in a while. You’ve got artists that ain’t scared to be themselves. They don't have to fit in a box so they can sell records and get a deal. They can really be themselves, and it stands out when it’s like that.
Before we wrap up, do you have any upcoming projects?
Yeah, I’ve got so much music. I put Green Acres out just to reintroduce myself to the world. I’ve got videos coming out. I’ve got so much music, I could drop two or three or four projects just like that. But I want to push this for a while and when the time feels right, I’m gonna drop some more music. And reach out to other artists to get new vibes and new flavors.