When she talks, K. Flay uses big words.Nascent.Dichotomous. Alienation.It's the sort of vernacular that writers splay all over the page when they're trying to sound intelligent.
But Flay actually is intelligent; there's her dual degrees from Stanford in psychology and sociology, for one thing. Right now, as she phones in from San Francisco, Flay's speaking on the topic of identity, a fitting topic considering that the 26-year-old is in the process of creating one of her own. The thing is, however, it's not the one she originally had in mind.
With shoulder-length brown hair and an endearing smile, Flay is more Bethany Cosentino than Big KRIT; the newcomer is challenging our stereotypes of how an MC should look and act.
But she's also become one of hip-hop's most intriguing new talents. As shown on her breakout three-part mixtape she released in April — called I Stopped Caring in '96 — there's a grit beneath her privileged exterior. Flay spits rhythmic licks in terse, agitated fashion, with pristine enunciation and verbal posture.
“It was never something I ever thought I would do in a professional way,” says the woman born Kristine Flaherty, of her emerging status as hip-hop's girl-next-door. “People that I grew up with are like 'What the fuck? You're doing this?'
Flay was born into a stable, culturally homogeneous bubble in a tree-lined suburb of Chicago. She took up guitar at 11, and after connecting with Dizzee Rascal's Boy in da Corner at Stanford, became engrossed with hip-hop. There was “so much freedom musically, in terms of rhythm and rhyme patterns, ways to tell a story,” she says. “The fact that I could write and record, and (a song) was finished 15 minutes later was a revelation.”
After gaining a following on campus, Flay graduated and set up shop in the Bay Area, where she refined her production skills. “There aren't a ton of female producers out there that are visible,” she says. In the time since, she's lent her deft knob-turning hand to the official Santigold-featuring remix of Beastie Boys' “Don't Play No Game That I Can't Win.” Her upcoming debut EP, Eyes Shut, sees the multi-talent amalgamating dance, soul and rock grooves into a hook-heavy hip-hop hodge podge.
Onstage, Flay is a product of her own creation. She generates guitar riffs, beats, samples and loops, before craftily dropping slingshot rhymes atop it all. It's an environment, and mindset, she relishes. “It's kind of like a meditative state in a weird way,” she says of performing.
And what does Flay think about in these moments of meditation? “It's almost like in poetry, or if you read T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland,” she explains. “Eliot has allusions to all kind of shit throughout this long poem. It creates different layers of meaning because you're referring to something and how does that shed light on what you're doing.” And just like that, she's gone all intelligent on us again.
K. Flay performs tonight, November 21, at the Echo