By Graeme Wiggins
VANCOUVER – It could be argued that rap music right now is at a creative zenith. The availability of a storied history of music at creators’ fingertips have found an audience which seems open to concepts and feelings once less common in the rap game. Illinois rapper Kweku Collins is a perfect example of the result of these situations.
In the song “Aya” from last year’s Grey EP, Collins sings about an “Evergreen type affinity” and in his videos, forests figure prominently. This stems from his youth more than from his hometown of Evanston, Illinois. He explains, “Evanston is called the city of trees. They have it on signs and stuff, but when I was a kid I was born in upstate New York so when I was growing up, to get from one town to another, you had to drive down the highway with trees and hills. And the further north you get there are mountains. We’d go camping in the Adirondack Mountains in the summer. That’s where my celebration of the forest comes from.”
His most recent video, for single “Sisko + Kasidy” takes this forest interest and adds a dose of post-apocalyptic sci-fi. “I can’t remember if the concept for the video came before I made the song or not. Sisko and Kassidy being a reference to Star Trek Deep SpaceNine. Captain Sisko and Kasidy Yates. I’ve always been really into sci-fi. Since I was a kid I’ve been into Star Wars and Star Trek. I’m a really big Firefly fan too. I’ve always wanted to incorporate that into the world I’m creating with my heart. So we sat down and came up with the idea of like a post-apocalyptic world kind of like Wall-E, where humans have abandoned the earth to seek refuge elsewhere and still come back to find out what happened. Also I just wanted to be a spaceman.”
The poster used to promote the upcoming tour emphasizes this energy, featuring him leg up on a monitor in an iconic rock star pose. The poster was inspired from an unlikely source for a young rapper, Thin Lizzy, which he discovered from a record store band shirt and researched who they were. ”What I connected with was that the lead singer [Phil Lynott] was biracial (black and white). And growing up, whenever I find someone who really looks like me, and when he talks about growing up in Ireland, not fitting in and struggling to find his way, I connected with that; it resonated with me.”
While he’s been to Canada before, performing as an opener, this is his first time headlining and it will feature something new to him: performing with a live band rather than just a DJ. “This is the first time since high school that I’m performing with a live band. So I will say up until now it’s been me and a DJ and my live performances have been energetic. My favourite performers are performers that are electrifying to watch. Performers that give their all.” Collins is interested to see how it goes, it being a bit of a trial by fire: “With the live band, this will be the first time we perform on stage together. I’m so stoked. In rehearsal I’m usually laying down so I don’t know what to expect from myself.” With his “evergreen type affinity” being energized by the lush Pacific Northwest backdrop, we can probably set our expectations pretty high.
Kweku Collins performs November 30 at the Biltmore Cabaret