2015 was a busy year for lyricist, songwriter, producer and performer Keita Juma. With the release of two full-length albums (Chaos Theory and Nights In Space A Short Film), a performing slot at the Field Trip Music & Arts Festival, and the success of his Chaos Theory single “Come Over” becoming the first indie rap single to reach #1 on AUX TV’s Top 25 video chart, Keita Juma has established himself as a impressive indie artist in Toronto’s current music scene.
What makes Keita Juma so interesting is his artistic approach to creating music. Raised in the U.K. and then moving to Mississauga in his teens, Keita Juma has had an array of musical influences. Inspired by innovative hip-hop artists such as Outkast and Busta Rhymes and his love for jungle, dance and hip-hop music, Keita Juma’s sound is fascinating. Infectious, often sexy beats pulse under poetic lyrics that grip your attention. An autobiographical lyricist, Keita Juma albums are like carefully crafted scrapbooks of his life. Chaos Theory reflected his transition from the working world to his time as a stay-at-home dad with his newborn daughter while his latest album, Nights In Space A Short Film, explores everything from the history of black culture to sexy interludes.
Over the years Keita Juma has watched the city’s hip-hop culture evolve. “I feel like there’s a full generation removed from that Screwface Capital, right? There are kids that are graduating high school that only knew Drake from the beginning, so they only know a cool Toronto. They only know us to have a #1 rapper and we didn’t have that before. Ten years ago we were kind of looking for that figure to help bring our people at least into the culture of going to shows and supporting merch and stuff like that. And it took Drake to have like, a run of years.”
Stories Behind The Songs sat down with Keita Juma before his performance at the Wavelength Music Festival to talk about the stories behind his music, how Outkast changed his view of what popular music could be, and what’s up with the local hip-hop scene.
Keita: I’d say it’s close-knit. It’s very close-knit. A lot of the people who are popular right now or who have been making moves, they were around ten years ago. Even down to Tory Lanez. Tory Lanez was that 16-year-old rapper who was trying to get on Hip Hop Canada but everybody was still kind of doing relatively the same things around the same time and just building. So, I’d say it’s close-knit.
Would you say that Toronto’s hip-hop scene is collaborative? Can you talk about 88 Days of Fortune?
K: 88 Days of Fortune is kind of on a hiatus right now – at least for my involvement. I don’t find there’s a lot of collaboration between the artists or rappers per say, but I do find with producers and with mixed media artists there are a lot of collaborations. Painters and artists, directors and artists, those things have been happening. Between artists, I just feel like all of our sounds are just so different that you kind of have to spend a lot of time together to craft something that makes sense without it feeling like it’s a forced song.
K: He’s like family. I’ve been collabing with him since I was like, 15. He’s like the one person I’ve continuously collaborated with. I met him in Grade 9. He had headphones on and I was like, “What are you listening to?” It was that typical music conversation. All of my friendships with people who I’m close to started off with conversations like, “Check out this album.”
K: Right now, off the top of my head, it’s between Aquemini and Stankonia by Outkast. There are U.K. rap albums that had a big impact, even Canadian rap albums, but in terms of artistic direction and my sensibilities and what I actually want to find a balance of doing, like making music that’s my music but can still be popular, I feel like Outkast had that perfect balance.
K: I heard Aquemini in Germany for the first time. I have family in Germany so I was in Iserlohn and my cousin, he gave me this cd, it was a burned cd and it just said Aquemini on it. I listened and I didn’t like it at first.
K: Well I had a routine of buying cds every week when I was a kid with my allowance so if I went to the movies one week, I couldn’t buy a cd. I started to go to the movies more and I didn’t have money for cds so I was looking through my collection because I was on the bus a lot. I saw the cd and I was like, “Ah, I haven’t really listened to it, let me listen to it.” But that was Aquemini. Brendan actually put me on to Stankonia. And Brendan’s like the lyric police. Anybody who knows him knows he knows all the lyrics. He’ll call you out if you mess it up. He was singing the lyrics to “Gasoline” [“Gasoline Dreams” feat. Khujo] and I was like, “Woaaah… that’s what he’s saying?” And even “Bombs Over Baghdad” [“B.O.B.”], I was like, “That’s what he’s saying on the hook? That’s the chorus of a pop song!” That’s just amazing. That balance.
K: Conceptually, I usually come up with the whole album concept first. I didn’t want to call it “Butterfly Effect” but I wanted it to be the album that sparks everything. The small thing that creates the wave that builds. I was still working the job that I was working back then and then the other half of Chaos Theory I was a stay-at-home dad because my daughter was born midway through it. So it’s kind of a balance of wanting to get away from this kind of structured working life. Also, with every project, I just try to analyze my surroundings so it’s like a snapshot of my view or my take on things at that time. “Belly” is dealing with the pressure people put on you to purchase a house but not understanding the weight of that purchase and what it means you need to do in terms of working and there’s a cause and effect to those things. “Ancient Body Language” is about that moment when you don’t know what to say but you feel like something is happening. All of those experiences that happen, I just tried to create a story out of it. And Nights and Space is the same thing.
K: Um, well, I’m naturally optimistic so, Chaos Theory was the project that spawned everything and Nights and Space is the project that puts me in space. It’s more of like nights on the road. It’s kind of a set of reminders. “Pyro” I wrote for my girlfriend to really just remind me whenever I’m performing it on stage. “Freely” I’m reminding myself to navigate this space with pride but also respecting other people’s spaces. “So To Space” I actually produced that on some weird like Pink Floyd-type stuff – in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the first scene when the apes are going wild and they hit space, if you press play, that’s what I produced it to. The intro. That’s why the intro’s so long, because it’s matched up to that. And I was going to change it for the record – I was going to shorten it because I was like, “It doesn’t make sense! I start rapping like 40 seconds into it!” But, like, whatever. It is what it is. “Cotton Candy” is just for like, parents. It’s like an interlude for parents when the baby goes to sleep. Just cause you’re a parent doesn’t mean you’re old. “Grill$” was like, frustrations, like, let’s rile everybody up. This is a song I want everybody to play when they’re getting ready to go out there. “Holy” is like the heaviest song of the project. It’s about my experience in learning about the history of black Americans, black Canadians, even black Brazilians. I was finding that out in my mid-twenties and when you explain that to somebody, they’re like, “No, this can’t be true.” And it’s also in reference to Toronto slang, you know, when people are like “HO-LY!” I got my cousin to say that at the beginning too. It was my cousin who I actually wrote my first raps with.
K: I was 12. I feel like it was always going to happen but my cousin, she was in the Etobicoke School of the Arts and her and a couple of my other cousins were writing raps and I have an uncle who still makes music in Germany and another uncle who makes music here so production was always something I wanted to get into. Writing was something that just kind of came at 12 and I spent most of my younger years trying to be either Method Man, Redman or Ludacris. One of the three. I was that kind of wild kid. I was loud. I wasn’t necessarily the class clown, but I was loud. My friend who actually grew up with me and Brendan, who also raps, he and I wanted to be Method Man and Redman so we’d always rap together.
K: It’s kind of just a callout to people in general. I’ve always had this kind of notion to get involved. I guess I get that from my father. He’s the kind of person that will stop and ask. I feel like we, as a people, if we see something weird happening, just mention something. Like, stop being a bystander. For my personal experience, and dealing with police, I feel like a lot of young black men and women kind of need that sometimes for somebody to ask if everything’s okay. In Mississauga, from about 14 to 17-18, I was stopped by the police most of the time when I left my house and I didn’t live in a bad area. Like every weekend, every Friday night that I went out, I got stopped. Friday, Saturday, once a week at least. I’d just be walking. I have no criminal record, I haven’t committed any crimes. And I haven’t had, like, a situation where I’ve been attacked by the police, but I’ve also seen situations where somebody’s been talking to the police and I’ve just said, “Are you okay?” and they were like, “Yes” and it was just like, Okay, keep moving. I’m not going to fight a police officer, but I’m going to be eyes that you have to deal with. We just kind of need to look out for each other more when something seems odd. The collective we.
K: I thought what Beyoncé did was great, personally. Beyoncé’s just been known to kind of like, be the safe pop star that doesn’t really take a stance and have to address it. I felt like pressure was mounting on her, just as an individual. You know, she’s a parent now and when you have a child, your views on everything change. She did it in her Beyoncé way. I feel like they’re dwindling in size, but there are still people who have small views on those things – that’s the scary part. Embracing the history of the land that we’re on – it doesn’t mean to say that we can’t be better now but it does mean that we can’t just forget what happened. You know, I live in Mississauga – that’s clearly an indigenous name to a city, right? In terms of myself, even in my practices of meditating, I recognize that it’s indigenous land that we’re on and I have to show respect to that, you know? I feel like what Beyoncé did is really just the beginning of acknowledging these things and just having an open discourse with each other because I feel like that’s a conversation that helps.
Follow Keita Juma:
Twitter: @kjforshort Instagram: @keitajuma