Yola Ktwo Talks Travel, Classic Rock and Evolution
“You know, everybody talking about getting tired of their day jobs. I know that’s one job I’m never gonna get tired of.” When talking about his occupation, there is no stopping. No 9-5. Minimal sleep. Just mind over matter. Pursuit, persistence, and perfection. These three characteristics are sewed and arranged into every one of Yola’s songs. It doesn’t matter what it is—whether it's the calculated mixing and mastering that is completely done by him, or the constant vocal performances and bars that are developed to perfection in each song—consistency is what Yola is all about.
Yola gathers influence anywhere he can. He is like a chameleon—adapting and assimilating to any environment he is thrown into. He twists and contorts every influence he comes across into his unique and vivid style. It can be the homegrown Austin roots that he holds with great pride. It can be the first-time visit to LA where he locked himself in the studio for hours on-end, not letting anything distract him from his goal. Or, hell, it can be at his home studio in Hempstead. No matter where he is, Yola will scratch, claw, and ponder like a hungry lion anxious to attack prey for days on-end to create a fluid and beautiful track. That’s what separates him from the rest of the pack.
I had the luxury to interview the Austin native Yola Ktwo and pick his brain about various topics like Stevie Ray Vaughan, food from all over the country, and Netflix. Read down below to tap into the creative mind of Yola Ktwo!
Marty Gross: Well, the first question I have to ask you is, how do you pronounce your last name?
Yola Ktwo: K-Two.
Alright, I just want to make sure for the rest of the interview (laughs). You were raised in Austin, right? And you live in New York now?
Musically speaking—which city do you think had a bigger impact on your musical trajectory: Austin or New York?
Definitely living in Austin; it’s my roots. The city has a pretty good history of good music and good underground music. So, I had to start there first before I could believe in going anywhere else to do this shit.
The roots are essential! I'm not too familiar with Austin’s scene, is it pretty good out there?
I love Austin. Austin has 6th Street, which is filled with nothing but bars, music, and fun, bro. And also, artists come through for South by Southwest.
I was actually supposed to go there to work for my cousin at that festival this summer, but shit fell through. I was so hyped to go because so many good artists go there.
Hell yeah! Well, I live in Roundrock, which is like 10 minutes from Austin.
Yeah, I live in Milwaukee right now because I go to school there, but I live 30 minutes out of Chicago, so it’s a train ride away to hang out and have fun.
My homie is from Milwaukee, so I be hearing about it a lot.
It’s a lot of fun. If you ever come out here, let me know. We got some good bars out here and we got The Rave.
I saw you dropped a bunch of music videos. Whether it's “Toxic,” “Hush It Up,” “Mix That,” “Tellin Ya,” or “Dammit I Said,” what do you think is the importance of putting visuals to your music?
We only got so much as far as creating music in the studio. With these visuals, we are trying to paint what comes out. That visual has gotta capture the most of it. If it's not exactly on it, we're trying to just make sure the visual is rocking with the song. The visual has gotta make a good movie or a scene behind the song.
First off, awesome. I watched a bunch when researching and they were awesome. They do a good job of matching the song to the visuals. Speaking on that, are you a big fan of movies at all?
Oh, okay. So, I grew up in a place where I didn't really have TV and cable like that, but as I got my own crib, I got into a situation where I started just doing the Netflix thing a little. It’s been music since I’ve been born, in a way; TV was like was one of those things where I just didn't really give it that much attention.
Both of my parents are really big into movies, so we always use to do Redbox movies.
Okay, I lied. My family used to have a tradition every Friday, where we would get three Redbox movies and we had to stay up and finish them! Yeah, that was the best family game to play.
Do you have any favorite Austin artists besides yourself?
Yeah, I have some favorite Austin artists. A lot of them I’ve known for a while, and I know a bunch where I met them through music and I just fucked with their music heavy. There’s an artist out there named Kie That Wierdo. Yeah, I know it’s a weird name, but it’s unique. She got some sauce; she goes hard. She was just like me—doing it from a young age and has gotten way more serious as she has gotten older. Once you start from a young age and you basically breathe it, you are going somewhere, for sure.
There is not enough respect for female artists. They can go hard as shit. I love Rico Nasty, Amaria, Kali—all of them.
My bro loves Rico Nasty. He plays her music over and over.
I see you rolling up right now... Are you big into strains and stuff?
My favorite strain?
Yeah, what is it?
Blue Dream, right off the rip!
You can't go wrong.
Hey, Blue Dream right off the rip! I went to LA and smoked LA Blue Dream; I’ve been all over Texas and smoked Texas Blue Dream. It ain’t never did me wrong!
I bet. What’s your favorite piece to smoke out of?
I roll papers to toke, but I love Backwoods.
You can put the most inside of it; it’s efficient. So, I saw on Twitter that you said you sampled Stevie Ray on a song, right?
There are certain waves and sounds that I'm hearing throughout other genes; I'm like, “Damn, that’s beautiful.” And so, Stevie Ray is from Austin and I learned about the city legends and shit. I really loved his story and how he played the guitar, so I’m definitely going to listen to more of him.
Both of my parents are huge Stevie Ray Vaughan fans, so I told them about how I’m interviewing this guy who sampled Stevie and she told me a fucking crazy story. So, my uncle was a guitarist and he was in Muddy Waters’ band and he would go on tour with them. He opened for Stevie on the day he died in the crash! I was talking to her and was like, “How have I not heard about this?!”
Wow. That’s crazy, bro.
You listen to any other classic rock artists?
I want to learn the best classic artists and learn more about them. I just need do more research and listening; I need to have an answer that’s valid before I answer that question. But speaking on the sample, if you know Stevie Ray Vaughan, it’s got a little taste in it. If you know Stevie, then you will recognize the sample.
I saw that, sadly, because of COVID and everything, your tour got cancelled. What destinations were you looking forward to?
Austin, and definitely doing some shows up here in New York. I would love to do some little shows up here, but mostly Texas because that's where my people are. I got a lot of people from school and from growing up realizing that one kid who was doing music is now making some noise.
That must be so cool to go back home and see all of the friends at your show.
When I look back to one of my first shows, I was just like, “I have to keep doing this every day.” That’s one reason that keeps motivating me to make music—just to perform every night. You know, everybody talking about getting tired of their day jobs. I know that’s one job I’m never gonna get tired of.
I feel like performing must be such a surreal experience. Doing shows must be so electric.
At my first show, the people were loving the music, so I felt like I was there with them. It was a little taste of what it's gonna be like.
Speaking of concerts, have you thought about doing any online concerts?
Yeah, we're setting that up right now. I’m trying to learn more about that Twitch shit.
Obviously, there is nothing like a real concert. But with the interactive chat, you can still get some sort of connection.
I just have to make sure this shit is best for my fans. I don’t care how as long as it’s best for my fans.
I will definitely tune in—no doubt. Since you're in New York right now, are there any good restaurants you have gone to?
Bro, I love Guac Shop and East Coast Burgers. Wowwwwwwww. They trippin’ out here, bro. I was addicted to East Coast Burgers. I would get their mac and cheese burger all the time.
I will try them out when I get the chance. What’s Guac Shop like?
Just a really fucking good Mexican grill. It’s so fire.
There are probably great restaurants all over New York. Chicago has a good food scene—even though I am super biased—but I gotta explore other places.
Texas has the best barbeque, and that’s my favorite. But New York is amazing, too.
I can imagine. I've never been to Texas, either. What am I even doing?
You trippin’. You have to go to Texas—Austin, for sure.
When I was going through Instagram, I saw that you have a super cool and unique sense of fashion. Do you have any favorite stores you go to?
I love ASOS, because our clothing guy—who's making all of our merch—has some clothes there. I shopped at ASOS three times before I saw his clothes in there, but I saw he was grinding hard and I was like, “Damn, bro, this is my go-to store now.” Then I bought some more stuff.
I gotta check that store out. You've been to LA—do you get cool clothes there? I feel like they got cool shit over there.
Actually, I didn’t. It was straight music the whole time I was there. I was in the studio locked in; I didn't even go really anywhere. I went to the beach for the first time. You know, it's crazy—I'd never seen a beach until last January. It was crazy.
Well, that shows you’re fucking dedicated. I think if I was in LA, I would get way too distracted.
That was my first time there, too. I was like, “No, I gotta get to work.”
Hell yeah! Good for you, man, because I cannot say I would do the same. Way too many distractions.
I don't get distracted easy because I'm just determined. Not even just for music, either. Whenever I set my mind to something, I don’t play with it.
That's good, because I'm the opposite—my mind shoots in a bunch of different directions. I gotta make it out there sometime to see a concert or go to a festival or something.
I think the concerts and music vibes in LA are the best because its people coming from all over since that's the one place you want to end up. Yeah, that's it. I don't wanna end up in LA, but when you get there grinding and you see that people put in the same effort and work as you, it’s a cool thing. That's the music capital, for sure; when you are in it, you’re in it.
Yeah, I get you. When you’re big, it's either LA or New York. Where do you make most of your music at?
Right here at home. I mix and master all my shit.
For real? That's impressive as hell.
I started mixing and engineering before I started rapping, because I wanted to make sure it sounded perfect.
A lot of people started producing before rapping, or rapping before producing, but I feel like there aren’t too many who mix and master first. How do you think this affected your development as an artist?
The mixing is the most important thing on a song; I don't care what nobody says. That shit needs to sound clean with no sloppiness. There's no slack, and you need to make sure if you messed up on that line, then fucking re-say it. That’s what most rappers do. They just stay with it and don’t try to perfect it. You need to keep it beautiful and clean. That’s it.
I feel that so hard. I feel like I will hear some guy who has really good bars and even a decent beat, but the audio quality is just trash. It distracts me from any of the credibility.
Sometimes it’s okay because the song would be fire for that mix, but most times, people just slap a mix on the songs and it just sucks.
It must be super nice that you make all your music in your house because if you get an idea, you don't have to drive to the studio. When you make music at home, you can just be like, “Let's make it right now.”
It’s right here. I can just turn a computer on and get straight to it.
I feel like sometimes you might even lose the idea on the way to the studio.
You’re right, though. That happens to me a little bit, but once I look into my notes, I usually can get it right back.
I saw on Instagram that you had a picture with Lil Tecca. Are you friends with him at all?
No. He didn't really speak much; I didn’t even speak much because my team was setting up shit. We killed the show, and after, he was just like, “Yo, who was the photographer that took our pictures?” I said it was my dude John, and then he was like, “Bet, you killed that shit,” and that was it. I hit him up because he was close to me a couple of hours after the show. I was like, “Yo, let’s lock in,” and he never hit me up even though I know he saw the message.
Damn. That’s weird to see connections fall through like that.
At the time, we both weren’t that big yet; we both had just crept up on 30-40K and we were both on our way. But to now, from that point, I followed a whole different pathway.
Damn straight! You’re mixing and mastering all your shit, you got hella great music videos out, and you got fire songs. You will be a top dog soon! You got a fan right here, too.
Thank you, bro. Motherfuckers like you who gas me up and share this energy with me—y’all are gonna be involved, as well. I’m gonna remember it, and this is gonna be my annual fucking interview. When I blow up, I'm gonna make this shit legit. I always remember where I started.
That means the world to me, dog.