Artist Spotlight: Kota the Friend

Kota the Friend’s new album says he’s back in Brooklyn…and it’s “Good to be Home.”
Interview by Samantha Ding

photo by Samantha Ding

RFB: You’re from Brooklyn, born and raised. How do you feel that has shaped who you are as an artist and as a person?

Kota: It has made me cultured. I lived in downtown Brooklyn, which was the epicenter of community and culture, and had the Manhattan feel of busyness. In the 1950s, my great-grandfather was the only black person to own property in his community in Carroll Gardens and that’s still true even to this day. I grew up on two sides of Brooklyn: in my relatives’ neighborhood I was around a lot of Italian kids; at home in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill I grew up with black kids. Being around two different types of people, I learned so many different things, listened to different music, everything—which gave me a unique, diverse perspective on the world and life. It was a situation that’s usually unheard of, because neighborhoods are so racially separated. The fact that I was blessed to have these two different neighborhoods shaped my music, because my music is inclusive. Other people can relate to my experience, because it is about everybody—because I know everybody.

RFB: How has the Brooklyn you know changed since then?

Kota: Back in the day we had so much fun. Growing up downtown, you weren’t too far from Bed Stuy or the uptown areas. I grew up right in the middle—it was like running the world. Just on Myrtle Avenue alone, there were so many different cultures: people outside playing dominoes, playing checkers, playing chess; kids running up and down the street blowing bubbles, playing hopscotch. Summertime was a whole vibe, and every day was a block party. I went out into a world of my own, so I didn’t have to go anywhere else.

RFB: A lot of your songs are named after places, like “Chicago Diner,” “Sydney,” or “Brooklyn Bodega.” Why is that?

Kota: I’ve always had an obsession with traveling. Coming from New York, everything was here, but I knew there was more to see. Now that I’m going to so many places, I pretty much name a song after the vibe of a place—I could name a song after a place for the rest of my life. When I make a song, I want people to think of that place. When I say “Chicago Diner,” it’s the actual vegan restaurant in Chicago. My songs become kind of like a travel blog because I’m too lazy to actually write.

RFB: You’re coming out with a new album very soon, on May 15th, called “FOTO.” What can we expect?

Kota: It’s going to be the best shit ever. I got experimental with it, but at the same time I stay true to who I am. I don’t really know how people are going to take it, I just know that it’s going to be the best representation of who I am as an artist. Some of the stories I’m telling are things that I haven’t thought about in years; some of these songs I couldn’t even record because I was too busy crying in the recording booth.

There’s a lot of great artists around the country right now and I’m trying to bring that energy back here to New York. I can make cool shit without having to sound like I’m from somewhere else: I still have my New York twang and sound like I’m from Brooklyn. With this new album, I’m bringing it all the way home. I talk about real things that are actually happening, the streets I really came across and the people, dead and alive. In my previous albums, I felt like I was trying to escape where I’m from because I had been here for too long. But now I’ve seen the world, so when I come back home it’s a different vibe. Everything looks different—I even miss the dirty New York air. I’m happy to be home and the album says that. In fact, one of the songs from the album is called just that: “Good to be Home.”

Keep an eye out for Kota the Friend’s new project, “FOTO”, dropping May 15.