A conversation with Vancouver rappers KIDS

In a scene that is relatively small, and thrives off of who you know and how relevant you manage to stay, Vancouver rap artists KIDS have been making consistent noise for the last four years.

KIDS — Kelvin Smoler, Justin (Mizzy) Mejia, Jakub Yakuvelli (Evolved) and Ryan Munro — recently stepped off their biggest show to date, opening at the Vogue for Joey Badass. The members hail from various northern communities — as far north as the Yukon Territory. I sat down to talk with them about where their success has taken them since their formation in 2010, and what direction they are headed in an industry that is somewhat challenging to navigate.

Q: You guys have been pretty busy during the last few weeks, just having opened up for Joey Badass at the Vogue two weekends ago. That must’ve felt like a pretty big milestone for your group.

Munro: Joey Badass was a huge milestone for us. For a couple years, we have been talking about ways we can find that bigger stage and that bigger audience. We have been doing shows at nightclub venues for a long time, rocking in front of crowds from as small as literally one, to packed little bars with 400 people. The opportunity to rock at a venue like Vogue in front of a sold-out 1,300 people felt like a dream come true in itself. Obviously, we want to reach further and keep moving but we really owed it to ourselves to take a moment, bask in the adrenaline, take in the crowd and do our thang.

Mizzy: Absolutely! I’ve wanted to hit that stage since moving to Vancouver six years ago and to do it with one of the best artists out right now is a blessing.

Jakub Evolved: It definitely felt like a taking the next step kind of moment. Many more to take, but it was a fun experience.

Smoler: It’s one of those milestones where I feel we need to shoot for and expect more often. Thrilled to have performed there, but now I’m hungry to do it again.

Q: How did that show come about?

Munro: Easy, we took the promoter hostage and made our demands accordingly.

Mizzy: We requested to be on it through Jay Swing of Timbre Concerts and he helped us link it, along with David McCulloch. Big ups to those gentlemen, they’ve always been great to us.

Smoler: More indirectly, we’ve worked hard to get where we are. I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunity, but I know we deserved that spot.

Q: Did it feel like a natural progression for your group based on how things have been going for you in recent years?

Munro: I think so, some might say we were overdue but rocking a show of this magnitude with this big of a crowd wasn’t premature. We have seen many artists come through Vancouver that we felt we were perfect to open up for and subsequently had to watch them pass by. Which isn’t easy.

Mizzy: It felt like a long time coming, that’s for sure. We’ve worked very hard and set a standard for whenever KIDS is booked. We always bring high-energy sets and warm crowds up nice for any major acts we’ve opened up for and have proved we can draw a crowd as well.

Q: What does KIDS stand for, and where did that name come from?

Mizzy: Kinetic Intelligence Developing Soul! We sat around a dinner table and knew we wanted it to be an acronym, like many artists we grew up listening to, and this is what came of it.

Smoler: Easily recognizable on the surface, with a cerebral undertone. Mizz, Jakub and I were all the young-uns in our friendship circles back in our hometown, or the “kid” of our crews. So the name was fitting.

Jakub Evolved: I feel the group name and my name are not far removed from each other. Growth in motion.

Q: How did all of your members meet, and who came up with the idea to create the group?

Mizzy: I met Jakub through my producer/brother MD, who introduced me to Kelvin and Munro is Kelvin’s uncle. It was a group decision. After Kelvin, Jakub and I had done a small central Canada tour, we knew we had some solid chemistry and enjoyed rocking stages together. Munro joined us a bit later and was a utility dude. Swiss Army knife, if you will. He held down merch for us and was on a couple jams and would join us for a track during our first cross-Canada tour with Masta Ace. He then rocked full time with us and has since added more skills that help the group.

Jakub Evolved: Kelvin and I met through a mutual friend (Deja aka Steve Egger) who brought us together along with about nine other artists to work on a project called “Voice of the Streets.” About half of these artists were friends and fellow students with Deja at Columbia Academy, the other half of artists were youth attending social service programs in the inner city in which he facilitated a portable studio to work with these youth. We made a 12-song mixtape if my memory serves me correct, on which every artist was involved with approximately three songs. Kelvin and I were not on any songs together, but over the course of creating this project and the other half dozen or shows we did as a collective over the next year and a bit, a mutual respect was formed. Kelvin then moved out of the city and approximately two years later when he returned, my neighbor – a young lady from Whitehorse who knows Kelvin, said I should reach out to him as he just got back into Vancouver. She didn’t know we had met previously and the synchronicity was like a sign. She reconnected us at that point and we started getting together to work on jams. We started working on a project called “Stereoscope.” This project was put aside for the sake of group development as KIDS was subsequently formed about a year later, maybe a little sooner, my timeline gets all skewed so bear with me. Nonetheless, I think it remains an interesting fact that that project is still unreleased even though it was started before the first KIDS project or anything that’s followed, but we will release it!

Q: Individually, where are you each from, and what were your backgrounds?

Munro: I was born in Toronto. My childhood was spent in West Vancouver but often bounced around between North and West Van during high school. About a year or two after graduating, I moved up to Whitehorse and spent about 10 years working in the trades. I moved back down in the fall of 2010 to continue my academic education – but that was short-lived and now I roll with these thugs.

Mizzy: I’m born and raised out of Kenora, Ontario. Went to Durham College for Music Business Admin and that’s where I realized this was what I was going to do for the rest of my life. After school, I returned home for a bit and then ended up coming out to Vancouver in November of 2009 and it has been continual growth ever since.

Jakub Evolved: I was born in the Czech Republic and moved to Canada with my family when I was either three or four. We moved because my dad had legal issues that were threatening our family’s security. My mother had been imprisoned briefly and, through her, threats were sent to my father regarding our family’s vulnerability. We snuck out of the country into Austria with only a couple suitcases full of clothes and money. From Austria we were flown into Buffalo, New York, and eventually ended up in southern Ontario where we met our sponsor family and stayed with them for a little while. The early years in Canada were very nomadic. We lived on a tobacco farm one summer where I remember preparing my own breakfasts for the first time. We eventually settled in a town called Wawa, Ontario. When I was nine, my parents split up. Fearing he would lose the custody trial, my dad came up with a plan. We sold as much of our stuff as we could with one-week notice, packed up his rickety lil’ car and headed west. My dad always wanted to keep going west, my mom wanted to settle as she was getting sick of the constant movement. Anyways, we made it to Nelson, B.C. before our little getaway came to an end. We were at an outdoor market in Nelson when the cops got us. Word is my dad abducted me and my mom hired a private eye to find me. I was flown back to Thunder Bay, where my mom and new step-dad met me and took me back to Wawa. I lived there until the end of Grade 12, with the exception of Grade 11 when I lived in Saut Ste. Marie – I moved there to play basketball in a bigger city, but got myself kicked off the basketball team. The coach and I didn`t get along. When Grade 12 finished, I moved out to B.C., lived with my dad for eight months and attended Selkirk College in Castlegar, before finally moving to Vancouver two or three months before my 19th birthday.

Smoler: I’m from Whitehorse, Yukon. My folks have been split for as long as I can remember. However, they remained well in contact and have always supported me. I moved between houses every two weeks. In the middle of elementary school, both my folks moved to different houses, from one neighbourhood to another. Music was my way of finding personal comfort. Regardless of how I was feeling, I always found music to resonate with my mood. I went from listening to Nirvana, to getting into more heavier music. Grade 8 came around and I went through a huge change in music interest: hip hop. Guess who got me into it? My unkie Munro! I started as a fan of the genre, then ended up freestyling at parties. Which got into writing, recording, performing, making beats, mixing, and most recently, mastering.

Q: Were there any experiences that were vital in preparing you for this career path, or that gave you an advantage to finding your success in the industry?

Mizzy: I always knew I was interested in performing, it’s probably the Filipino in me. My grandmother told me to stick with music before I was even making it, so when I think back on that it feels like fate. College definitely helped me to create a solid network of people that have worked within the industry, and I saw a lot of the ins and outs of how the business side worked. I also gained a lot of confidence in my skills and my hunger continually grew.

Munro: For me, it’s almost been a process of elimination. I was writing and rapping and spray-painting trains in my early/mid teens but I just never took it seriously. It was always a hobby and although it was fun, I never thought of the hip hop I knew as a career path. I almost joined the military in Grade 10, then after that fell through, the choice was reduced to trade work or a career path centred around academia. I moved up north and did the trade thing for a long time. I was an ironworker for a couple years, then eventually found myself busy doing telecoms work, wiring buildings and doing service work. I’d like to think I gave it a good shot but in the end, I dreaded the thought of doing it for decades. I moved back to Vancouver and tried college but, neither the ends or the means, were something I looked forward to. I feel confident that this is my calling. I think I have a unique outlook on the world. I feel it has many problems that I can shed light on, and this poetic position I find myself in, is way too therapeutic for me to let go of.

Jakub Evolved: Two friends of mine growing up, Jamie Montgomery and Tony McGuire, were very influential in starting me as an artist. They really nurtured my early development by encouraging me and facilitating opportunities for me to be active. There have been a lot of people along the way who have been there to make me believe in myself and help me do the things I need to. From these three guys in KIDS, to James H. n Lex D., who were the first guys in Vancouver to really take me in and put me on, to the various artists I work with in varying degrees and the close friends who show their belief in me on a regular basis. I know this may seem like a tangent to your question, but I don’t know if I was ever prepared, I don’t know if I am at this point even, the music industry is a tricky thing that I don’t fully understand, but I am a devoted artist and it is all these people who believe in me that are the most vital aspect of any success this humble artist may be fortunate enough to see.

Smoler: I was part of a group in Whitehorse that only lasted throughout my time in high school. As the crew dissolved, I was very much invested in the career path. This made me realize that I had to go for self. I worked a year after high school and saved dollars to go to a school, where I learned how to operate in a studio. Immense growth on beatmaking and always writing to new songs. That’s also when I met Jakub.

Q: Was there ever a time that you doubted your vision as a group, or struggled finding direction within the Vancouver industry?

Mizzy: I’d be lying to say that doubt doesn’t creep into my mind from time to time. But overall, I know that KIDS has unlimited potential.

Munro: I think you’re crazy if you don’t. The whole reality of this industry, and many others like it, is that the least among us can make it to the top. The best don’t always rise the way we feel they should. Some do, but not all. Doubting your direction allows you to explore alternate avenues. The road of forward progress in the context of being a successful artist isn’t always clearly marked. I think cultivating and maintaining a small sense of uncertainty is healthy for an artist.

Jakub Evolved: I struggle with doubt daily. Something is amazing one day and shit the next. I have a hard time accepting who I am at times and this reflects in the creative process as I develop bipolar relationships with my works, jumping from excitement to loathing and back. Not accepting one’s limitations can serve as fuel but it can also have a poisonous effect on the psyche. Finding the right balance here has been difficult for me — but that’s an internal look. To reflect your question onto the Vancouver scene; I’d say there are moments when we can feel and see the progression and then we hit ceilings and reevaluate. I think our process has been something like this. The city has a small scene, so as we have sunk into it, we have come to understand its inner workings, opportunities and limitations. There are some unfortunate aspects to the scene and its mechanics but it is also full of great people and artists and has been so crucial to our development. I couldn’t thank Vancouver enough for how it has enabled me to become and grow as an MC. Parts of me wish I was even more involved in the scene and its cultivation, but I very much enjoy being a recluse and creating. All in all the doubts and struggles are learning curves and everything is what it is, you just have to work with it.

Smoler: Yes. And yes. But one thing has remained true: While I keep myself constantly busy, I inevitably surround myself with people who resonate with me. Our intention may be different, but the kinship motivates each other. Maybe a plan fell through, maybe an argument results in a burned bridge… Fuck it. I know if I grind, with my best intentions, I will remain happy.

Q: Has the progression of the group felt like a natural evolution?

Mizzy: Like anything, it’s had growing pains but that also has contributed to where we are today. Without those growing pains, late-night grinding and terribly attended shows, we wouldn’t be where we are today.

Jakub Evolved: Life is constant evolution and it is our acceptance and understanding of this process that determines how natural it seems to us.

Smoler: The third word in our acronym: “Developing.” It’s consistent for KIDS.

Q: Have you developed a loyal fan base in Vancouver, and how far have you promoted your work in Canada?

Mizzy: We definitely have a loyal fan base and I’m hella appreciative for people that are constantly in our corner and helping to promote our work. We’ve gone coast to coast and up north as far as Whitehorse to promote our work. It definitely is its strongest in Van and our hometowns but continually grows every time we get back to a city we were previously at. We’ve also been gaining traction on college radio with every release, specifically in southern Ontario and all over BC.

Jakub Evolved: We don’t have the biggest fan base at this point in time, but we have some very loyal fans. For example, my dude Young’n’Free, a young native cat from Vancouver who I used to make music with when I was doing social work — he’s all over everything we do online, sharing, commenting, showing love. I used to work with and guide him in the studio, now he’s facilitating his own program downtown, enabling other kids to make beats and record. It’s so cool to see. He just invited me down to his program to join him one evening and I thought it was the coolest thing, how the tables turn and things change. Bit of a tangent I know, but I wanted to share the positive story and I think its relevant, cuz he is one of our most loyal fans.

Q: What was the most rewarding show that you’ve played so far?

Mizzy: That’s tough because shows have been rewarding for different reasons. Joey Bada$$ because of reach and who we were opening for. Mindbender in Kenora because it was big and my hometown. The Pocket Change tour stop in Kenora, because the city really showed out and was wild. The first show in Montreal with Masta Ace, because we got invited back for the Under Pressure Festival based on our set. Almost any show in Whitehorse because we tend to get paid our worth and beyond up there.

Jakub Evolved: On the first tour we did, the one Mizz mentioned, where Kelvin, Mizz and myself toured Northern Ontario, our first show was in Wawa and it was my first time back since I left five years prior. It was a crazy night, full of nostalgia and foreshadowing of what was to come. I definitely view the night as a marker of the start of something new and the personal tie adds emphasis.

Smoler: Last summer, I worked in Whitehorse with a really talented dance company, called Borealis Soul (boSo). Aside from being lucrative, this opportunity led to touring among the Yukon. The shows were small, the stages were shabby at times. But the creation for it forced me out of my comfort zone. Some of the production led to being instrumentals for KIDS. That was huge for me: to watch myself go beyond what I thought I could do, and cross-genres, only to translate it into an identifiable vibe these dudes can get down to.

Q: Besides making music together, do you spend a lot of time together outside of the studio?

Mizzy: Absolutely, these dudes are my family out west and their support goes way beyond the music. I know I can count on them whenever I need them and my immediate family loves them and always asks about how the boys are doing. Even my 80-year-old grandmother asks how my singing friends are doing whenever I talk to her on the phone.

Jakub Evolved: I used to spend more time with the guys. These days, however, I am really enjoying being a recluse, hiding in the studio we have in the house I stay at and chipping away at various projects on my plate. I don’t often leave unless I have to.

Smoler: I live with Munro, so yeah you could say so. Ha!

Q: Do certain members take on specific responsibilities for different aspects of your projects and production?

Mizzy: Yeah, we all try to handle different things. Kelvin is our sound engineer and is a wizard on the boards. He’s taught us how to record tracks, but overall he does most of our production, all of our mixing and has started doing mastering as well. He also is our accountant, does some of our social media, provides the vehicle and Yukon beers/good times. Munro does a lot of our visual work, from graphic design to managing the website to video editing, and he learned this stuff so we could be more self-sufficient. I like to handle a lot of the business end, such as being the point of contact with promoters/show bookings, some of the marketing/social media and organizing a lot of our releases online, etc. A lot of the boring managerial stuff. I also dabble with video editing as well. Jakub does some of our show bookings as well and also street/online promotion.

Jakub Evolved: I really just rap and contribute to the artistic process. I’m full of ideas and the influence of these ideas reaches beyond what the credits say.

Q: How much of your music is made by you, and do you use outside producers or other collaborators?

Mizzy: We do a lot of it in-house but have worked with outside producers as well, most recently with Kemo of the Rascalz, which was a blessing. I personally like doing full-length records with my brother MD of the Boomsday Alliance because we have a solid chemistry from building over the years. We’ve done some work with our fam over at Observatory Records, Billy Bishop, Wax Monk and, of course, Ali Dahesh.

Jakub Evolved: I strictly rap and don’t make beats so I am always working with producers. I am fortunate to have a slew of talented producers and beat makers in my corner, from Kelvin, to Billy Bishop, Wax Monk, Pashak, MD n Ali Dahesh — these guys keep me inspired and loaded up with work. KIDS do collab with various producers, but I personally find we do our best group work when working with Kelvin’s production. Something about keeping it all in house that makes the magic most accessible.

Smoler: Collaboration is something I love, but I find it’s best when money isn’t involved, and the session is in-person. To me, the art is so much more understood by contributors. But my favourite influences are those who are MCs and producers. I work really hard to continually expand my craft, to impress these guys … but more importantly myself.

Q: Is there anyone that you would be really interested in working with in the future?

Mizzy: Pharrell! He’s always been one of my favourite producers. My wishlist is pretty huge though and in no particular order: Premo, Marco Polo, 9th Wonder, Pete Rock, Flying Lotus, J Cole … I could go on and on. As far as rappers, there are too many to name, but I hope they are organic.

Jakub Evolved: I`ve always said, the first person I’m gonna pay big bucks for a feature is Charles Bradley. Time will tell. A rapper – Pharaohe Monch. Producer – Large Pro.

Smoler: A producer I’d love to work with is Shlohmo. For an MC, damn, it’d hafta be Mick Jenkins.

Q: Besides your group projects, you all have been working on various individual projects as well. How does scheduling work with such busy schedules?

Mizzy: It can be hard to organize at times but we’re all dedicated to the success of the group and make time. Kelvin once said to me, “Excuses are bullshit, you can always make time,” when reflecting on creating/going to the gym or whatever it may be. This dude now is at the gym daily and is constantly creating. I would say this kind of thing is what helps inspire me to work my hardest and make time to build and jam. I also genuinely enjoy kickin’ it with these cats, so that also makes it easy.

Jakub Evolved: I can be pretty flaky. My mood is all over the place and I am kind of unpredictable. I am devoted to my craft but not so much my worldly responsibilities. This is an issue that I have to work on, but I’m just trying to reflect honestly. I definitely cause the most frustration for the group and the people in my life in general.

Q: What works do you have out right now that people can pick up?

Mizzy: Oooo man, just head to http://KIDSMusic604.bandcamp.com or http://www.kidsmusic604.com and you can cop any group work. We also have our own solo bandcamps, mine being http://fightclub.bandcamp.com and http://jaymizz.bandcamp.com.

Jakub Evolved: Last year on Valentines Day, I released the Black Madonna mixtape. This year on Devils Night (Oct. 30) I will be releasing “Peasants.” (https://jakubevolved.bandcamp.com/). Another group I am part of — Observatory Records https://observatoryrecords.bandcamp.com/ — released our first record “A Calling” in June, and will be releasing another EP before the year is done. My dude Wax Monk will be releasing his first solo project Bloom, which I am excited about as well.

Smoler: Check out kelvinmusic.bandcamp.com, to hear my weird music.

Q: What is coming up next for KIDS in the near future, and what are some of your goals for the next year?

Mizzy: A lot of releases, more videos, securing grants and touring. Next year, I think we’ll be touring the States and hopefully another continent.

Jakub Evolved: KIDS x Kemo Vol. 2, then 3. TheyKIDS (a collaboration with Thunder Bay-based production company They Media), and eventually the official follow up to “The Hazing.”

Smoler: Expect more music. More experimentation. I can’t wait to show you the upcoming material.

Q: Can we expect you to be touring anytime soon?

Mizzy: We’re considering at a ski-town tour early in the new year.

Q: What advice would you give to other youth trying to break into this industry?

Mizzy: Build as many relationships you possibly can and maintain them. Be genuine with people. This industry is small and is two degrees of separation, so be mindful of how you go about your business. I’d also say don’t be scared to ask for what you want, because no one is gonna hand you things in this industry.

Jakub Evolved: I think I should be receiving more advice than giving at this point but I’ll say this: I’ve experienced a minimal amount of success, so I think it has more to do with ways of the world than success. It is easy to lose yourself in the world and success can serve to enhance this effect. I subscribe to no religious denomination, but I do believe in a soul, spirit, a greater intelligence, whatever you wanna call it, and I’ve definitely watched myself turn against the principles I had set out with. Granted, with growth comes change, but lately I’ve been resonating with the story of Dorian Gray and it’s not pleasant. I’ve watched myself corrupt, Ive probably committed all seven deadly sins. I have changes to make in myself and work to do on myself. I believe you gotta take care of yourself, mind, body and soul, and that’s the most fundamental thing. Make that and authentic art and expression your top priorities. Everything else is the sideshow — don’t get caught up. I know I have and I’m paying the price for it.

Smoler: Don’t. Stop.

Q: Where can people follow your progress, and find out about future events?

Website: http://www.kidsmusic604.com: Twitter / Instagram: @kidsmusic604; Facebook: facebook.com/kidsmusic604; music: kidsmusic604.bandcamp.com; join our mailing list: kidsmusic604@gmail.com

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