by Sam Robinson
Last month Kevin Burgess (best known as KB) released his sophomore album Tomorrow We Live, an album filled with rich production and masterful rhymes and melodies. Having not caught up with the Reach Records artist since his 100 EP of last year, last week I spoke with KB about the new album, racism, Will Smith, and eating bald eagles…
SAM: How did you decide on the sound of the album? There’s plenty of your staple trap but there’s also some bright pop sounds on here…
KB: Going through the album – it’s what I’ve been through and being grateful for what God has done. And going to sleep and being woke up in the middle of the night with Calling You at 3am, and I’m rushing to go and handle this crisis. You leave the crisis and you have this moment where you think through things. Then the next song is Drowning where I’m actually dealing with the gravity of the situation, and how we all need to be saved. You might not be suicidal, but we all have lived, and do live at times, self-destructive lives. We need someone to rescue us. Then I’m going into the next morning with Crowns & Thorns (Oceans). That’s what the sound comes from and the ideas… I didn’t want to be all over the place. I don’t think the album is all over the place. But there’s a particular brightness that represents day, and a particular darkness that represents night. That’s what I wanted the album to be, and I hope people can follow through it.
Did you ever think you’d be releasing an album with a pro-golfer as a guest? How did Imma Just Do It come about, and why stick Bubba on the track?
I never thought I’d be doing a song with a golfer! [Laughs] But Imma Just Do It called for it. It’s about taking risks. Why would we put Bubba on there? Because Bubba’s a risk! He came into the studio and he actually can hold his own. I wrote a verse for him and really, he came in and we crafted it a little bit more to make it right for him. And just for fun, he likes rapping, so I said, ‘Hey! Have some fun on my song, Bubba!’ And I thought he killed it. It’s appropriate for the song.
There’s a lot of African sounds on this album, and you recorded some of it in South Africa. Why did you decide to record there, and what do you think it added to the album?
I have a love for the motherland and the different culture ethnicity. I remember – I think I was in Kenya and getting to meet Masai warriors and being intrigued by how they live and how they dress. What their economy is like. I think I’ve been to eight countries in Africa and I’ve loved every one. I just feel so inspired and moved in Africa. So we had an opportunity to go to South Africa and do some music, so I jumped all over it, brought the team with me, and yeah – we just tried to soak in the environment. I think that it added a lot of perspective and brought a freshness to the project. It was instrumental in giving this new KB that I think that has been birthed out of my own growth and also the creative pushes that I got in being over there.
The track I Believe is a call to action – can you tell me more of how that song came together, and the message behind it?
I Believe came together through really being inspired by that chant. I had heard another artist actually do something to that chant and I reached out to that artist – ‘Bro, I wanna do this as well, what do I need to do?’ The producer was totally cool with it. So we took it a whole different direction and rode on the back of that wave that the nation was moved by during the World Cup, when everybody was chanting ‘I believe that we will win!’ That phrase is just about endurance, hope, it’s really about what Tomorrow We Live represents. So, I had to bring that to the forefront. I’m looking forward to doing some things around that song after the album has been out for a little while.
I’m in Australia, and what we hear about racism in the US (and events like Ferguson) is that things are pretty grim. Do you think the church should be doing more today, as we wait for tomorrow? How do you want to use your platform to make an impact?
Great question. I’d say Tomorrow We Live is not primarily about waiting for tomorrow. Sitting in the waiting room and waiting for the doctor to come out. It’s about activity. It’s about the fact that the W is on its way. It’s like knowing – think about in Jewish culture with engagement in marriage when a groom would choose a bride, he would go to her and say, ‘I want to marry you.’ He would talk to her father and everything would be arranged. He would then leave, go back to his father’s house and prepare a place for her. With his own hands, he would take the time that he has apart from his bride to build a place that’s habitable for her and his new family. He only does that because he knows the reality of tomorrow – tomorrow she could be here.
And that’s what we do. We have this relationship with Jesus, and we are literally working before he comes because we know he is coming. That’s what tomorrow does, it inspires activity, not passivity. I want to encourage the church to be very active. If we believe what Jesus said about ‘on earth as it is in heaven’, we should be trying to as best we can make the earth that we live in more heavenly by our presence, by our actions, how we serve, what we care about, what we fight for. If the image of God is being devalued in a people group, we should find that as a priority and a great offense to the kingdom of God. That is the climate that we live in in America. Unfortunately the civil rights movement was not three-hundred years ago, it was fifty years ago. Fifty, sixty years ago. People who are alive to this day were not allowed to drink from the same water fountains as other people in society. That marginalisation is not a distant past. It’s very recent. I’m 26 so for me, that’s forty years ago.
So this is something that we need to realise we have not recovered from and though segregation may not be legalised, there is still a changing shape. Racism is a changing shape. It may not look how it looked sixty years ago, but it still exists because sin is here and we want to be careful to push against those things. To try and eradicate those things and be the voice for those who are oppressed. That’s what Jesus was about. He said ‘I have come to preach the gospel to the poor and the oppressed, and to set the captives free.’ And there are indeed a people group in America in addition to our all of our sin problem that the social issue fits inside the category in which Jesus cares about. Yes, the church wants to be very careful to empower those people, which I think is the answer. It’s more than holding conferences, it’s more than writing blogs, it’s more than just having conversations. We have to come up with plans to empower the disenfranchised, so that they would add to society and begin to be affirmed in what they were made to be.
Always & Forever has a real cool 90s Will Smith vibe on it. How did that song come together, and what’s the message behind it?
Yes! Will Smith definitely influenced that song. I didn’t know he did, but everybody kept coming to the studio saying, ‘Dude! This sounds like Big Willy! I like it! It’s a 2015 Big Willy joint!’ [Laughs] What inspired the song was my constantly going to weddings, constantly being at receptions, and that’s the type of music you play. I remember them playing a Will Smith song at this wedding, and I knew I needed something like this. I want to be able to listen to a cool, solid, 90s Will Smith vibe-like song that we made. I want that! Where is that? Since it wasn’t there, I wanted to create it. And I’m not the biggest Will Smith fan, as far as his rap is concerned – I think he has some really dope joints and I think that I would be if I listened to them more.
Do you have a favourite track of his, though?
I wasn’t really hip to him around that time… I just remember that one line: ‘Cigar in my mouth, I don’t bite it. It’s for the look, I don’t light it!’ That imagery! It’s just cool, chill… Where is that in Christian music? I want to make it! I know some people won’t get it, and some will think I need to continue making Zone Out, but I’m not bound by the opinions of people, I’m bound by my calling and I’m inspired to create. That’s what I want to do. That’s where Always & Forever came from.
Calling You is a very confronting track, and the storytelling is chilling. Why did you choose to share the story on the album?
I chose to share this story because I think the reality of suicide is a very dark reality, and I know that darkness is something that I wanted on the album because there is darkness in the day. Night is a part of every day. That’s an analogy for our lives. Suicide is on the rise in America, and I wanted to make a song that I addressed from a personal experience that I had. But I also wanted to make something that said ‘hope is calling you’. I tried to paint a picture in a way that if you were struggling, you’d say, ‘Man, I want to hold on – I don’t want to die. I want to keep fighting.’ That’s where that song came from.
You lift our eyes to a greater tomorrow on this album – how do you hope this album will challenge and impact its hearers?
I really hope that people would not underestimate the power of hope. Hope is really something that you grab on to through faith. I’m hoping that people will walk away challenged and impacted to believe harder. Because God has not forgotten us. God is not taken aback by the little issues in your life. God’s schedule isn’t thrown off by the big issues in your life. God is using all of those things to tell a grand story of how hope rescues and overcomes evil.
What’s your hope for tomorrow?
I want to say that this isn’t a hope like, ‘I hope we win’, but it’s an expectant confidence. It’s faith. It’s that I know that Jesus is not dead but alive. And since he’s alive, I live life! I enjoy it! ‘Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die’ is another way of saying ‘YOLO’. But, there’s nothing wrong with eating. There’s nothing wrong with drinking. But Paul’s point is that they’re pointless and there is a point now, if Christ got up from the grave. So we still eat, we still drink, we are merry because we’re not ignorant! These things aren’t based on ignorance: ‘Hey, we’re going to be dead tomorrow so it doesn’t really matter,’ or should I say, it’s not based on the fact that we’ve only got one life anyway so we might as well live it up. No. It’s because we don’t just have one life. It’s because we have an eternity that we do all these things and we sacrifice when we need to because tomorrow we live. That’s my hope. I try to live my life that way. This stuff is not just for music, it’s for lifestyle.
Any chance of a trip to Australia sometime soon?
Hopefully, man! I would love to come out to Aussie. There’s nothing on the books as of now, but maybe you could be instrumental in making that happen! Last time I was there I had an amazing time. The food was great. I did try that weird Vegemite – that was disgusting, I don’t know how you guys do it. I hope I’m not offending you. But I literally almost threw up. Outside of Vegemite, the kangaroo is awesome. Actually, it’s interesting how you guys eat your country’s animal. If we did that here, we would not only be fined, you would go to jail for eating a bald eagle. But I bet it’s delicious! Maybe not as delicious as your kangaroo. But anyways, I hope to get out there soon.
I wouldn’t want to try eating bald eagle – they seem like they’d be tough. What’s next for you?
I’m really going to push hard and really spread the message of this album, through teaching and through concerts, and writing for the remainder of this year.
Thanks so much KB!
Thank you for your time.