In 2020, music holds very little boundaries. Downtown Kayoto embodies what it means to be a creative at the turn of the decade, transcending genres and marinading liberated beats with dexterous lyricism. His latest single, ‘Feels Like’, masters the essence of vulnerability. It’s a hit in the making, and topped our tracks of the month list for June. Comprehending that a tune with such transatlantic sonic influence came from Hull, Kayoto’s hometown, is baffling upon first listen, but the city is famous for being one of England’s most culturally enriching.
“It’s cool to be here, I can just do whatever I want” the artist tells us with an admirable tone of content. It is easy, in today’s current creative climate, to believe London is the key to prosperity, but Dowtown assures us it was Hull that provoked his anomalous palette. “I always say to people, I shouldn’t be doing what I’m doing career wise and music genre wise, I should be doing grime or more conventional r and b, but that’s not the case at all”. Famous for white post boxes, it is of no surprise that such an artist from such a city looks to subvert the ordinary - in this sense, he truly is a product of his environment.
Unlike America, where many states have had a definitive period of success in rap music, our capital has always been the epicentre. London-centricity puts an overcast on areas of the U.K., but Downtown Kayoto is taking the preliminary steps to changing this. “In the north there is not much fusion with the rap, indie and r and b. I want to take attention away from London and bring it north, by forming a bit of a movement. It’s tiring to see London get all the spotlight.”
Colours, which came out last year, personifies this willingness to not be defined by black British genre more than any. Assimilating neo-soul melodies into trap beats, the track is as west from the claustrophobic, concrete settings our capital's greatest musical exports have come from. Birmingham and Manchester have particularly decadent grime and drill scenes, but their similarities to London makes you wonder why someone hasn’t tried to generate a sound intrinsic to them.
Having heritage out of England has undoubtedly allowed, legally named, Chiko to see music differently. He grew up in Zimbabwe for three years, where one can only image the civility is vastly disparate from Hull. “The U.K. has really sculpted my mind set and attitude, everything here is at the touch of your fingertips. In Zimbabwe, it’s just not like that. Some people struggle to even put clothes on their back. When I think about it, it makes me really humble”. This contrast, Kayoto admits, has always made it difficult for him to feel fully accepted. “Being from Zim and Hull, you don’t really know where you fit in. I don’t look like the people from here, but I can’t speak Shona, my native language from Zim. So that’s why, for me and my music, I sit in the shadow realm of uncertainty”.
Someone who has done this so successfully throughout their career is Frank Ocean, and the entirety of Odd Future in fact. Fanatical skate rats with a meticulous outlook on music, the collective’s biggest strength was arguably never letting the press truly pigeon whole their movement, which is admirable for anyone who considers themselves a true artist. “Odd future for me epitomises a movement, they are up there with Wu Tang and ASAP mob. They literally built something, and found a group of people, the weirdos who could skate, like rap, like rock, fashion and wear vans."
Building something from the ground up, like Odd Future, has drawn attention to Downtown Kayoto from high profile DJs and artists. Jessie Ware and Hew Stevens picked his tracks for their BBC Introducing show, which would be enough to gas up any artist. “It was surreal, these are people that do this for a living. When they’re in the BBC headquarters, they were listening to me? I was the only artist she (Jessie Ware) really picked within that sort of space, so to get that from an artist that has had millions of plays and a solid fan base... I was geekin bro”.
Chiko is currently doing a degree up in Swansea, but with such exposure, a year out could be in order. Feels Like, the tune lapping up such radio attention, had been in the vault for a year before its release, but the prevalent contextual references feel notably relevant to our current times. “I’d describe the new single as being a semi professional representation of my life as it is”. From the opening line, it tells you I’m trying to go against the grain”, although the single holds personal connotations, its lyrics focus on identity in a broader sense. “Black African, I don’t need an apology”, the track’s opening bar, invigorates in the same way BLM protests emphasise pride among our country’s BAME population.
Despite being his most popular single to date, Downtown believes Feels Like is “the most risky song I’ve tried to bring out.” It doesn't conform to formula, and this is what makes the track so special; streaming services are supporting, but finding it difficult to put the tune on a specific playlist. “I can tell Spotify don’t quite know what playlist to put it on. Is it Indie? Is it alt-pop? I’d describe my sound as being alternative everything, alternative alternative. I like to throw in a few curve balls’.” It is unsurprising then, that Jaden Smith was one of Kayoto’s earliest music infatuations: "The first artist I think I really connected to was Jaden Smith, he was just that guy. I remember listening to cool tapes volume one and being obsessed with his flows. He wasn’t swearing, he wasn’t being weird with it but he was still making these moody lo-fi bangers”.
More recently, Avante Garde artists like Arca and Yves Tumor have been his source of interest. The former he heard through a Louis Vuitton menswear show he had watched in lockdown. Aesthetically, it is evident the Hull native takes influence from high fashion’s connection to music. Collaborating with local labels and receiving suits from Freddie Coombs for photo shoots are just a couple instances that accentuate his attentiveness to other art scenes. Tumor’s more veiled identity is a particular determinant of inspiration for Kayoto. “I try and do it a lot but he’s someone where you really question who they are, and obviously it really doesn’t matter. It’s so sick, I love that.”
Feels Like is the first of three singles Downtown Kayoto plans to release over the coming months - Do Better is next, which he thinks withholds a more commercial appeal. "I’m excited for everyone to hear it. It’s more mainstream compared to Feels Like. It’s quite an accessible song. I might go quite chaotic with the last single of the three.” Still in a period of experimentation, it seems the artist is just getting started. He has come to the realisation that his “Music might be too lit to call it a hobby”, and so do we. Listen to Feels Like below, and keep locking into our website for more on Downtown when it comes.
WRITTEN BY LIAM CATTERMOLE