If ever you needed an incentive to actually make conversation with your next Uber driver, keep in mind they may hold the key to the record deal of your dreams.
Take it from Kwaye, the 23-year-old artist who blipped onto indie/R&B radars earlier this year with his stunning debut EP Solar.
While attending the University of Sussex for American studies, Kwaye, who was born in Zimbabwe and moved to London at age three, took a year to study abroad at UCLA. Within the first week of his stay in Los Angeles, he met producer “Leong the Professional” over dinner with mutual friends. The night turned into a jam session, and the next day, Leong sent Kwaye two tracks. By the end of the week, the burgeoning artist had turned those unfinished tracks into demos. Cut to: an Uber ride home not long after when Kwaye asked his driver for the aux cord to play some tunes.
“On the playlist was [a demo of] ‘Cool Kids,’ and he was feeling it,” says Kwaye. “So at the end of the Uber journey, we swapped details, and it turns out he was actually a former label exec. He got back to me saying, ‘I played your songs for a friend of mine and he’s the head of an independent label, Mind of a Genius, and I’d love for you to come and hang out.’ So I ended up meeting [Mind of a Genius founder] David Dann. Later that year, I ended up signing to Mind of a Genius.”
Kwaye’s music is noteworthy enough: silky vocals paired with alt-R&B tracks produced by Leong the Professional. But there’s also his singular visual aesthetic, which has become inseparable from his music. All three videos from his EP immerse you in Kwaye’s creative vision.
His choreography, for instance, maintains an element of freestyle. “Michael Jackson is one of my pinnacle inspirations, but then people like Fela Kuti, who’s not a professional dancer, but the way he is on stage, it’s like the music is living through his body,” Kwaye says. “There’s a trend of me making sure at least part of [my videos] have a freer expression of what I’m doing because, if anything, that’s the most authentic thing. If I’m feeling the music and what the music is doing and it’s caught on camera, that’s just as real as it gets.”
Maintaining that authenticity is why Kwaye signed with Mind of a Genius. What sold him on the label was more than just its anti-industry indie vibe. It was also David Dann’s pledge to empower artists to make the music that’s true to them.
“He didn’t give me an offer to sign with him straight away. He was like, ‘You’ve got a space here if you ever want to come and create.’ It was never about signing at the beginning. It was just about him loving the music and wanting to play a part in making more,” Kwaye says. “And as I went to the studio more and more, the relationship grew, and by that point, I was so comfortable with the label that [signing] was something that I actually wanted to do.
“Mind of a Genius is somewhere you can absolutely feel comfortable–everyone is super weird and unique and quirky and themselves,” says Kwaye, who’s the fifth artist to join the label’s roster. “They’re all working toward the same goal, which is creating timeless music and doing it for the love of the music first.”
As freeform as it sounds, Kwaye does have a team that’s helping him develop as an artist. And when a team is involved, there are bound to be opposing viewpoints. Finding the harmony between remaining open to new ideas and staying true to yourself is a struggle for any creative–and one that Kwaye says he is equipped to handle as his career advances toward touring and his goal of putting out an LP.
“The most important thing is understanding who you are as an artist,” he says.
“If you understand who you are, people can’t struggle to define that for you. One of the things that I learned is to make sure you’re clear and honest about your vision. It’s really important that you are comfortable in disagreeing with the manager or label because, at the end of the day, they’re there for you.”
“I’m honest in myself and in the melodies of the music I put out,” Kwaye continues. “There are certain tracks that come out [from other artists] that are trying to fit the mold of other tracks that are out now. But you can’t let voices in the industry decide what the general public wants to hear. I’d like to bring a sense of boldness and creativity to the music scene right now and really make stuff that isn’t concerned with trying to sound relevant or current–just more concerned with trying to sound significant and real and honest.”