After another long day of making beats and recording vocals at her studio perched in the hills of Glassell Park, Kari Faux notices a vintage Patti Smith fanzine resting on a futon. Once she grabs it, Faux shows her collaborators, including longtime friend Malik “Black Party” Flint, how she wants to create a similar zine of her own.
As she points out different fonts and photos, Faux can’t help but gush about Smith. “I’ve been watching interviews of her and watching her, and I feel I can relate to her,” she says as she flips through the zine's pages. Like the iconic protopunk, Faux doesn’t care much for conventional wisdom and takes pride in doing her own thing.
Originally from Little Rock, Faux moved to Los Angeles last October. Before she set foot in the city, she was already regarded as one of the fastest-rising stars in hip-hop.
She met Black Party when they were both 16 through Facebook, and subsequently at a skating rink. One of the first things the two did after moving to L.A. was attend Tyler, the Creator's Camp Flog Gnaw carnival. Calling it “as inspiring as fuck,” Faux points to the event as proof that nothing is unattainable.
She went to art school in Atlanta (“It was a terrible!”), so she's as involved in her visual presentation as her music. She has a keen sense of how her burgeoning fan base expects to see her presented in videos and online, and relies on word of mouth, more than marketing, to expand her audience.
“Music should be communal and should be a thing that excites you,” the 22-year-old says in her confident Southern drawl as she sits on a table outside her studio. “I knew if I released it like that, it was going to make people talk. It comes down to, I don’t like doing what everyone else is doing.”
After escaping a tenuous living situation in Atlanta that stifled her creativity, Faux moved back to Little Rock with a razor sharp vision of what she wanted to accomplish in 2014. She laid out her plan with Black Party and another friend. Once they had their goals and guidelines in place, Faux says things started to finally happen, both creatively and critically.
On the strength of a well-received mixtape and a lauded South by Southwest performance, Faux suddenly has ears focused on her music. “No Small Talk,” with a humorous video she conceptualized, was a delightfully catchy nod to retro Southern rap that positioned Faux as someone who had to be heard. Her mixtape, Laugh Now, Die Later, landed her a slot as the handpicked opener for Run the Jewels before she left Little Rock.
Last month, she released her video for “Gahdamn,” featuring Childish Gambino, with whom she shares a manager. The video is her reaction to all the naysayers she’s seen on Reddit and other forums, who mistake her confidence for brashness.
“Everyone thinks I’m this ratchet diva and that’s me sometimes,” she says defiantly. She calms down, grins, and continues quietly. “People think I’m snappy and feisty, but it’s only when I have to be because I won’t get what I want. But I’m very multi-faceted and there’s many different sides to me. I’m definitely a nerd who got picked on at school.”
Faux attributes some of her fearlessness to growing up in Little Rock, far from music industry hubs like New York, L.A. and Atlanta. “The thing about Little Rock is that you have to find things to do,” she explains. “I’m not really interested in going to jail or being pregnant or anything like that. It can be annoying, but it makes you have to do things to be creative.”
By time the self-proclaimed “rap game Daria” (“I was only six when I first watched, but I understood her because nobody gets me”) walks back inside, Black Party and Doc Allison are ready to play her a few new beats that gravitate towards downtempo house and alternative dance music. Her first full-length, Lost in Los Angeles, will intertwine these sounds and introduce an artist who isn’t afraid to take risks at the early stages of her career.
Faux says that her live show will encapsulate everything she stands for.
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“I don’t want people to come see me and think that it’s just a concert,” she says. “I want it to be an event, and I’m just hosting it. If you have your arms crossed and just standing there, you better move to the back, because everyone’s gonna have a good time.”