by Sam Robinson
One of the best releases of 2014 so far is the 100 EP from KB. It’s a punchy record that recently debuted at number one on the Billboard Christian album chart (and you can read my review here). I got to sit down with KB (Kevin Burgess) to talk at length about 100 including production, recording, the theology behind it all, and what’s to come next. I was hugely encouraged by this interview and hope you will be too.
SAM: KB, congratulations on the new EP 100. It’s amazing, has it been great seeing the tweets and responses rolling in?
KB: Yeah, it’s been awesome. I’ve been encouraged by a seemingly overwhelming response. I like the quantity, that’s good, but it seems like the quality responses as well like folks are saying ‘I want to be different.’ ‘I feel different.’ ‘I’ve been impacted or shaped by this.’ It’s been good, man.
SAM: Are you a numbers guy?
KB: That’s a great question. I have to by definition – it just comes with the territory of being a professional recording artist that numbers do matter to a certain degree. They’re not the foundation of which we stand on. So if they come, we want them to. We ask the Lord to bless it that way. But if they don’t we don’t feel like something was lost if we gave everything that we have.
SAM: Well the number that’s important on this record is 100.
KB: One hundred! Yes!
SAM: Obviously that number represents a lot. Could you share with me why that number is so important to you?
KB: Yeah. 100 is important to me because it’s the symbol, especially for our culture, for someone that’s leaving it all on the floor. Not trying to be measured: give a little of my life here and a little bit there. Or in the moment it’s synonymous with beast mode and anything that implies ultimate exertion of your energy, your power, your time, your efforts. There are few other phrases that can describe the heart of the one that we follow. We follow the Lord Jesus Christ. So when I think about the song  – ‘All I really know is 100’ – what I’m really saying is that the only example that I have before me is the man Christ Jesus who descended to this world, wrapped himself in human flesh, lived 33 years, and got on a cross and accomplished the most powerful defeat in history. He defeated sin, Satan and death and then rose in all victory, and he says ‘Follow me, and this type of living’. So when I look at that, if I know him, then all I know is 100.
SAM: And I love that across this album you’re challenging listeners to give God their everything, but you make it clear that it’s not about our works but it’s actually responding to what God has done in Jesus.
KB: Very true. That’s what it is. There’s a lot of people out there who give their everything. People give it to drugs, they give it to basketball. The list goes on forever. You can go out and in your own strength do a whole lot. But what we’re aiming for is a reward that supersedes what we’ll be given at the end of a pay period from an employee. It supersedes what we would get from the Academy Awards or from MTV – you name it! We want a reward that is eternal, that is stored in a place where moth and rust can’t touch it. And that is to hear ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.’ Since Jesus secured that for us, if we believe it, if we know that’s ours in him, then the only response would be giving our works to his causes.
SAM: Now you’ve said on Twitter that you classify the style of this record as “cinematic trap”. Did you come up with this term?
KB: You know what? I actually did! I’m not the most musical guy you’ll ever meet, I love music but… Yeah! Cinematic trap is the only way I could describe what I wanted to do with this new project. It has taken a lot of the elements of my last album [Weight & Glory] that I loved and then teaming them up with the sound of the culture right now – I think trap is running things. And I love it – I’m a hip-hop lover and resonate with it. That was it!
SAM: Some of these tracks just shapeshift like crazy. The first track Give My All does that, just when you start to get used to something it changes – and that’s a good thing! It starts with those textured harmonies and then to that bouncy trap. What was your vision for the song Give My All?
KB: I sat down with my team: Joseph Prielozny who is the head of production at Reach Records, he’s also a really close friend of mine. I sat with him and another producer that I work with in Atlanta named Dirty Rice. And I told him that I wanted an introduction track where I could explain the concept of the project. That was one of the last songs that we did and I was like ‘Man, I want something that is ballad-y, something really pretty.’ I wanted to try and balance it with this rugged, rough, punchline heavy flow – but over something really pretty and I had an idea from a song that I heard from another rapper.
So I gave it to them – I call it giving them the scent, letting them smell it, and they just take off. The first thing that they did was start off with that [sings] ‘one hundred…’ and then it went into that super trap thing. I thought that we got too much trap right now, and as the introduction we should just curl back, but then I said: ‘What if we make it both! What if we make it really pretty, and trap, and see what happens?’ So he sent me the beat back and the way that it flowed was just moving. It was delicious to the ears, man! So that’s how that came about. It ended up not being just an introduction, we made it into a song. I wrote some more to it, and that ‘I give my all’ part at the end and it turned into a full song as opposed to just an introduction.
SAM: I was listening to it for the first time while walking down the street and yeah – the way I was walking was shifting, it was changing! [Laughs] How long it took to put the EP together?
KB: It probably took about three-and-a-half months altogether. Some of the songs were rolled over from the summer, or at least one of them. So 100, the title song, I actually had the beat for that back in February 2013 and we just did different stuff to it. At first it was a remake to another song that I was going to give away for free. But PKs – which is some of my favourite producers – they remade the beat and sent it to me and I was like ‘Man this beat is way better than the song that I’m trying to put it on.’ So I ended up rewriting some new stuff and wrote a new hook to it, recorded it, and it was just OK, we felt like it could be better. So I tried something else and they didn’t really like it at all. Then we got Andy [Mineo] on it, he put on a hook. I went behind him and layered him with the [sings] ‘All I really know is!’ I put that behind him with the harmonies and stuff, wrote some new verses, and then by the time it was done it was January of this year. Some songs took a lot longer, but I would say the majority of the project was knocked out in three-and-a-half months.
SAM: What’s the process like making an EP in comparison to making a full-length album?
KB: It’s always strenuous when you’re sitting down to put a project together. You just feel the ground that we work on is resistant. It pushes back. You feel these bursts of inspirations and when it’s clear and creative and you’re excited about what you’re doing. But then it’s like – ‘Ohhhh I’ve recorded this verse fifteen times! I’m tired, I’m done, this hurts!’ It’s strenuous. I tried to make this a mini-album. I wanted to tell a story, I wanted to have continuity, to sort of accent the cause which was the theme of the album – 100. I wanted every song to accent it. The difference would be if it was a full-length album it would be that strain times two. So I think that separates the two.
SAM: I’m keen to know actually – 100 follows on from Andy Mineo’s Never Land EP. Is this a new strategy for Reach Records to be dropping tasters? I mean, I was aching for more by the end of 100. Is this the strategy, to give us tasters as we go?
KB: Yeah – and I concur. That’s been the consistent critique: ‘Why in the world is this not an album? You should have more songs on there!’ For me, it sort of happened that way. It wasn’t an aim. The same thing happened with Andy – well, a little different. Andy was wanting to do an album but there’s a lot that goes into that. There’s scheduling that has to happen, you have to connect with distributors. It’s not just ‘Let’s just make an album and put it out,’ there’s a long process. So you don’t want to be silent for a long time, you want to keep music before people, yet it’s not always viable to make an album. The EP is the perfect compromise. That’s what my situation was as well.
SAM: We’ve talked a little bit about the track 100 (feat. Andy Mineo), but to me – and even this whole record – it seems a study into Colossians 3:17: Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Would you agree that this is the focus?
KB: Absolutely. I mean that is a focus of the Bible. Let me put it like this: God has a monopoly on happiness. He owns it! And anything that makes you happy is a borrowing from the source. The owner has said ‘I got you figured out because I made you and I know what it takes for your joy to be full,’ and it is finding it – obviously – in the source where he can be found the brightest and the strongest which is in himself. And he said that the means by which you open your capacity for more God is commitment, it’s discipleship, it’s: I am literally opening myself to his will and not my own.
That’s the theme through the Scripture – finding yourself in that vein – and when you do you worship him, and you see that stuff begins to open up. And then on a practical level, I’m thinking a lot about just empowering people. God is Lord of heaven and earth. He’s concerned that we do well here, it’s definitely not prosperity gospel: that we are to be rich and living like kings and riding in Benzes. But surely he’s not saying that he wants us to all be broke, hurt, always living at risk – no! The proverb says: ‘Lord don’t give me so much money that I forget about you, but also don’t make me hurt so much that I wanna steal. Give me what I need.’ I think you see that just on a practical level: ‘When you do more than what you’re paid for eventually you’ll be paid for more than what you do.’ The idea, just on a practical level, the Lord is OK with this, is that when you begin to give your all in your job or whatever it is, things happen! Doors open. We live in a universe where if you are diligent, if you work hard, the ground must response. If I toil, if I plant, if I’m a hard worker, then I should expect a produce.
SAM: I love that your music is so centred on Jesus, I think that’s so important for someone of your influence and in that sphere of the world of hip-hop. A reader of Reel Gospel, Samantha, sent in a question for you. She asks: How do you keep humble in the hip-hop world when often boasting is a big part of that?
KB: Yeah. I’ll say this. Let me just relate and say hip-hop is very conducive for a boastful heart. And all of us like to be praised. Nobody hates being praised! You like it. We naturally want to be affirmed, lifted up, it feels good. So when you are flexing on a track and people are blown away by it, it inflates you and you want more of it. So you continue to go deeper. So let me say that everybody on some level feels that ambition for more praise. ‘I’m not cool with just being good, I want to be the greatest.’ I need the ESTs and the ERs. Greatest, better – that’s what you want to be described as, that’s in us. So I think for me, I am so happy that I am a Christian because God has promised us the Spirit to check us on that and produce stuff in us that wouldn’t naturally come out. So what I do is, I’m constantly reminded of who I am and who God is. Let’s put it like this: you could be the largest bodybuilder in the world, but if you go stand next to Mount Everest you are going to come off extremely small.
And the same thing applies for this brother right here. I could rap better than Jay-Z, Biggie, Lecrae all put together! But when it comes down to it, I am using nothing but what I borrowed from God. What do I have that I haven’t received? I didn’t breathe a certain way in the womb to come out able to do anything that I do. It’s happened. I can work, but even as I improve upon my gift, it’s still God’s energy and oxygen that I’m using to do it. I recognise who I am: a jar of clay. I recognise how God is. Why do I need to be so impressed with myself when I have Mount Everest in my relationship with the Lord that I can gaze at. If we’re going to look at something, let’s look at that. I’m not going to brag about a hole that I dug next to the Grand Canyon. You are familiar with the Grand Canyon, right?
SAM: Yes! I’ve been there!
KB: You’ve been there? OK! So I’m not going to brag about a hole that I’ve dug next to the Grand Canyon when the Grand Canyon’s behind me! That’s a fool.
SAM: That’s great. And I believe you were saved after hearing the gospel on a hip-hop record?
KB: That’s very true. I met a brother who I was in school with, he said he was a Christian. […] I went up to the table he was eating lunch at one day and said ‘Hey bro, I see you got a CD sitting next to you that looks like Lil Wayne. I thought you were a Christian, what’s what about?’ He was like ‘Nah, this is Christian music!’ So he gave me the CD – on the front cover was a guy with dreadlocks and I checked him out. I took the CD home, it had eight songs on it. I loved every single song. Eighth song was a gospel presentation and I’ve been pursuing the Lord ever since.
SAM: Praise God! On this record you’re open about your struggles. The track Doubts makes that pretty clear. I love the way that you put that track together – it seems towards the end there’s a shift towards hope as you mention the Spirit. What can you tell me about that track?
KB: Yeah. I wanted to – not trying to go too deep – I wanted to address something that I think is pervasive in Christianity today. There’s almost this sense that our relationship with God is mainly designed to give us a type of freedom that doesn’t include suffering or struggling. A type of freedom that helps you live above reality: you’re just not affected by anything. I wanted to in some way humanise my experience because I know I could give that all for these songs. I’m sounding victorious: going on mission trips – I just got back from Africa, I almost died for the glory of God! It can come off like this dude isn’t a human! I remember thinking that about rappers before, even before I was at Reach there were some rappers on there who I was wondering: ‘Man! I wonder if they sin? They probably just take communion and pray all day!’ In fact, I was struck when I got around the guys that they were like me! They go to movies, they have friends, they eat good food – they don’t just fast and pray and float on clouds all day. They’re men.
So I wanted to bring that to the table and say: Listen! Until we die God has ordained that there will be pains, thorns, wrestles that will not defeat us, but they will be present with us and we will make war against them until the day that we die. Then when we die, and look back on these lives, we will see how those issues help shape us into God’s very own possession. That he presents us spotless in his presence on that day. I wanted to say with Doubts that I am a man. I am broken. Everything about me is fallen. But there is something in me that is being renewed which is my heart and the image of God. It’s bringing me to this place of struggle. Romans 8 says that because we have the firstfruits of the Spirit it causes us to groan at the fact that we haven’t been redeemed yet! The Spirit of God is in me and so I desire for this to be gone, but the fact that it’s there does not mean that God is somehow done with me, or so offended that I’m a walking contradiction, but it’s there for me to make war against. So instead of letting my doubts turn to denial, I’m gonna doubt my doubts and trust God.
SAM: Is it hard being honest on a record, like that?
KB: Yeah it is hard. That’s a very good question. I’m just not the dude that’s been transparent before in the past. So I thought twice – not so much with Doubts but with Crazy – there was a few times where I was like: Man, maybe I shouldn’t put this song out. I don’t want to be so vulnerable where I’m admitting that sometimes it bothers me that I can write a song that I think is better than anybody in the mainstream has put out, and they walk home with a million dollars, and I’m still here in my situation. I feel so vain and small. I don’t wanna talk about that. But I found it to be therapeutic to doubt my doubts, in that respect, and to just let it out.
SAM: Were there any funny moments in the making of this EP?
KB: Yes! A lot of funny moments. Probably the funniest moment – Kamikaze was a struggle. We got the young lady in to do the song. Firstly we found this young lady on YouTube. Prisca has a song called Kamikaze – that’s actually a sample from her song. And her song was a nice song, it was pretty, but it was a ballad and it was about… I guess some guy was talking to her and – Prisca if you see this I hope I’m not butchering your song – but it was something about ‘If he approaches me like that again I’ll go in for the kill, for a kiss, or something like that’. And so we got the song, we got it in, we made this whole song around it, got her to come in and sing over the song, and then we started letting people hear it. I’m telling you brother, when people heard this song they were in the studio like ‘What is this?! This is huge! This is like movie music!’ Everybody loved it. It was everybody’s favourite song. And right when we were going to mix it we found out that we could not use the song. Her management hadn’t approved it yet, which is not fault to them, they just hadn’t approved it. And they were vetoing it. So – I was like: ‘Lord… what is your plan in this? Why would we be so lifted up, for you to say: Gotcha!’ [Laughs] Long story short it ended up working out, obviously it’s on the project. That was probably one of the funniest moments where it was so upsetting it became funny. Comedy. This is really happening right now! We’re about to lose this song!
SAM: Well I’m glad it made the record, it’s great!
KB: Thank you, man. The Lord is faithful. He knew what he was doing the whole time.
SAM: Another reader, Allison, sent in a question. How did going to Bible college help you with your rapping?
KB: Yeah, great question. I’m enjoying this interview. It helped me because in a artist as mine, he needs to have clarity. He needs to know exactly what is he pursuing? What is he trying to say? Because if he is confused, the listener is going to be confused all the more. I think you can see that a little bit in – I won’t name no names – but some of the guys that are ranting all the time they really aren’t sure what it is – they know that something’s wrong, they know that something needs to be done about it, but they’re not exactly sure what it is. So they sound crazy when they try and resolve it. So for me, Bible college helped to establish me as a thinker, and also it enriched my love for the Lord because the more you know about God the more you fall in love with him. That’s how I feel about my wife in a lot of ways, the more I learn of her, the more I see her in action, the more drawn I am to her. That’s how good relationships are. So my affection for the Lord went up, and also I know what I’m trying to say… So I’m talking to people in an interview or in conversations with industry cats, I’m fairly sure – not all the time – what it is that I want to say and I think Bible college really helped me to arrive to that place.
SAM: Now around this release you’ve been doing online devotionals. What’s been the response to that?
KB: Man, that has been good too. The Lord has been kind in that! The first couple of days the folks at Overflow projected that 4,000 people had already signed up for it. And I don’t know what happened at day three or day four – whether it was 4,000 then nobody afterwards, but the hope is that they continued. With that, a lot of folks are commenting on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, just passing pieces of the writings they put up and say ‘This has affected me today,’ or ‘This is what got me through,’ so I’ve been getting non-stop a lot of that. So I think it’s been going very, very well. Some of my peers have peered in and read them and say they were encouraged by them. I think that it’s helped out by giving the project reach, pardon the pun. It’s given the project reach where it takes you deeper – I’ve even had people tell me that they hear me talking as they’re reading it. It’s like I’m having these conversations with thousands of people all over the world through these devos. And I’m talking to them about The Lord which can be life-changing.
SAM: I want to talk briefly about the last track Crazy, because production-wise, it’s insane. It’s another one of those tracks that shapeshifts – you’ve got the reggae, you’ve got the trap, it blowed my mind hearing it. How did that come together?
KB: Man, that one was fun, man. Really what happens is we finish the song, then we just start looking at it and we say: ‘We need something else. Something is missing.’ And sometimes when we take those rabbit trails we gotta go home, go to sleep, come back in the morning, look at it and say ‘What if we did… and we tried out…’ Man, sometimes we strike gold. So we tried this Jamaican thing on the hook, and we thought ‘Man, that’s cool, but it doesn’t really fit the beat. We need to bring something in!’ ‘Well, let’s bring in a Jamaican feel! Let’s bring some guitars in!’ [Sings guitar part] So we brought that in. I said ‘Man, I still feel like it’s missing something.’ ‘Well, let’s try to do a sample!’ Where we had that ‘God with me, God with me. Go-Go-God with me’. ‘But that still seems a little too empty. What if we scratched it in?’ So then he give it this hip-hop thing ‘G-G-G-God with me.’ [Imitates scratching sound] You know what I’m sayin’? So it started to form, but then ‘Man, we need a bass line! Cos it still feels like some of the soul is missing!’ What’s the soul that you get from reggae? Well it’s that beautiful bass. So we put a bass line in there. Then Tyshane who made the beat, he heard it and he said, ‘The 808 isn’t trappy enough. I wanna switch out the 808,’ so he put new drums in! And then, when I finally heard it, when I put everything together, Joseph he did that thing at the end. I don’t know where he got that from, the piano thing and the [scratching sound], the drums, then it cuts off then comes back [scratching sound] – that was all him! I had no say in that, I just heard it and loved it. That’s how it came together! It’s just pushing the envelope. I’m not saying that I know everything about music, or the way that we do it is the best, I just know that what we’ve done is just: don’t settle. There’s so many things that we tried and just deleted and went back to it. So if you have the space to really push, then do it! Sometimes you’ll strike gold and have something that people love.
SAM: I haven’t yet listened to that song in my car, but when I do, I’ll have the windows down.
KB: Yes! Yes! The way to do it!
SAM: I’m keen to know what’s next for you? You’ve released this EP, can we expect something more soon?
KB: Yeah of course. I did this thing called 1st and 16th last year and I’m gonna do it again this summer. On the first and sixteenth of every month in the summer I’m dropping something new. We got something planned to do some remixes of some of the classic Reach Records releases. Hopefully you can look forward to that and keep up with me at whoiskb.com
SAM: Great. Lots to look forward to! KB, thanks so much for your time and I’m loving that all this music you’re making is simply to God’s glory and that you’re giving it your all and encouraging us to do that as well. So yeah – all the best with 100!
KB: Awesome. Thanks so much man, I really appreciate it.