Photo credit: Christian Zidouemba
“We’re a bit penalized. For sure, [radio stations] are going to prioritize the stars, Drake and company, instead of local artists. That’s the difference when you’re an English-speaking Quebec artist.” Koffee K is categorical: the road to success is harder for rappers speaking the language of Shakespeare in Quebec.
Real name Christian Zidouemba, he believes that English-speaking artists are somewhat out of the public eye in Quebec, “unless you really make it” outside the province. He’s not wrong, the gap is wide between the success stories, like Kaytranada or Arcade Fire, and emerging DIY artists.
To remedy this, Koffee K has launched a first single in French in 2019, “Diva”.
“It was to give me visibility in Quebec, and it still worked very well.” He had carved out a place for himself in the media sphere, with interviews in several major media outlets. “I’m probably going to release another song in French in collaboration with a Quebec artist… it could be another string for my bow.”
Moreover, if he had to choose a term to describe himself, musically speaking, he would choose “versatile”.
“My music, I’d say, can correspond to many vibes,” he says. “When I was growing up, I listened to a lot of different styles of music – electronic, rap, R&B, rock, metal, reggae, dancehall… It’s reflected a bit in my versatility as an artist. I’d even like to make a rock album one day. I would like to explore as many genres as I can.”
His new song, “Human Drug”, stands out from his discography and his most popular tracks, often in a lighter trap mode. In this R&B serenade, Koffee K depicts his emotional dependence on his girlfriend. “When you’re in love with someone, you develop a habit. And when you’re cut off from that person, you can go into withdrawal,” he says.
He’s recently begun to refine his style to write songs with more complex lyrics, with the aim of connecting even more with his audience. “Over time, I’ve started to make songs that go deeper, where I tell stories about how I feel. Someone once wrote to me one day to tell me he was having suicidal thoughts, and one of my songs helped him with that. I’m happy to be able to do good and at the same time do what I’m passionate about,” he says.
Looking at his Spotify profile, where more than 50,000 different people listen to him every month, you can see that references to drugs are omnipresent in his work, with tracks like “Xans”, “Backwoods” and “Lotta Dope”. However, he never intended to glorify or promote drug use. “By the time I released ‘Xans’, I wasn’t doing drugs anymore. It’s been eight months since I quit smoking. Every song I write about it is part of my journey… but I don’t want to advertise it.”
Although KK produces instrumentals and provides them to other rappers, it’s the German beatmaker ALECTO, whom he met on the web, who composes and records the majority of his tracks. It wasn’t until 2019, during a trip to Los Angeles, that he was able to shake his hand for the first time. After a call from a club promoter inviting him to perform at his establishment, he travelled to California. He took the opportunity to network with a number of players in the field.
“I don’t think I’m going to have to leave Quebec to achieve my goals. There are artists from Montreal under contract with major labels who are doing that today. But I’m going to have to go there more often, make contacts, lead a kind of second life there. The more I think about it, after the virus, I might go back and forth to L.A.,” he predicts.
The COVID-19 pandemic inevitably had an impact on Koffee K’s career, as he was in the midst of negotiations with several Montreal and American labels. “Everything is in slow motion,” he laments. While waiting to sign a contract with a record company, he will be content to release singles.
From a local perspective, the 21-year-old rapper laments the flagrant lack of solidarity between the 514 hip hop artists. “I would say that the rap scene in Montreal is pretty exclusive gangs. People don’t help each other enough. Everybody wants to be the Montreal Drake, the first person to really break through and put Montreal on the map,” he says critically. Compared to cities like Atlanta or Toronto, where Young Thug and Drake built empires in their respective area codes, the big names in Quebec rap often prefer to go it alone.
Koffee K’s ultimate goal is to collaborate with the artists he admires the most: Travis Scott, Dom Kennedy, or Snoop Dogg, to name a few. “When I’ve seen artists like them on stage, I realized that they’re human like you and me. It made me realize that it was possible to work with them someday.
“All of this, representing Montreal,” he hopes.