It was September 2015, a Sunday evening, and Chicago rapper K’Valentine was driving down I-94 heading west into downtown. Normally, before she gets into a vehicle, K makes sure to say a traveler’s mercy prayer, but for whatever reason, she rushed it on this occasion. Feeling guilty, as she merged into the express lane, “I cut the radio down, said another prayer.” Then, “As soon as I went to turn the volume up I got hit. The guy that hit me was going over 100 miles per hour because he was drunk.”
Her car spun out, smashed into the concrete median, flipped over twice and landed on its back in the middle of an exit lane. “Some people faint, I was completely coherent,” she said. “I was upside down, couldn’t see out of one eye and I was just coughing up blood. I couldn’t move my arms, but I could move my fingers and my legs. I somehow got out the seat belt, then I tried to kick out the windows, but my body was exhausted and the windows wouldn’t break. My whole care started smoking up.” It seemed like this was the end. “I just started talking to myself. I was like, ‘K, you’re about to die,’ and I said it twice… Then I was tired. I closed my eyes like I just wanted to go to sleep.”
Fortunately, two bystanders hopped out of their own vehicles and rushed to her aid. They called an ambulance who rushed her to the hospital, where miraculously, not only did she survive, they discovered that she hadn’t suffered a single broken bone. “I always knew tomorrow wasn’t promised,” she said. “It just reconfirmed what I already knew, and it also renewed my energy and my spirit. It made me go harder at the things that I was already doing. It just cranked it up. You better get this done because you don’t know. You was kept this time.”
The near-death experience is ultimately what inspired the name of her new project, Here For A Reason, which drops this Friday on April 7 on Talib Kweli’s label Javotti Media. The album is an engrossing collection of 13 different tracks that cements K’Valentine as one of the most lyrical adept up-and-comers in the game today. In the record, she leaves it all on the field, tackling subjects like love, loss, dreams unfulfilled, the city of Chicago, and the importance of family.
I recently had the chance to talk to her new album, some of her early inspirations, what the media gets wrong about Chicago, as well as the relationship with her mentor Talib Kweli.
How did you meet Talib Kweli?
I found out that he was going to be in town [for a concert] through a friend, so I made sure I got myself a ticket. While I was there, one of my friends, happened to have another friend who was working backstage. I told her, ‘I got to get back there. I got to meet him!’ I waited in line for a photo, and when I got the chance to be next to him I told him how much I admired him, and how dope I thought he was and everything. I told him that I spit, I rap. He asked me, ‘How can I hear your music?’ I told him, to go to my website, ‘Or you can give me your phone number and I’ll text you the link.’ That was just me just taking a leap. I didn’t think he would actually give me his number.
Can you go back through your history a little bit before you arrived at that night, meeting Talib Kweli for the first time. How you discovered rap, how you started up in music?
Ever since I was a child my mother had always exposed us to music. All types of music. One day you’ll hear some Tupac playing, hip-hop, the next day you’ll hear some Alanis Morissette. It was just a well-rounded music. That kind of sparked my interest. Then I started writing poetry. It was funny because it was only when I got angry. If I was upset about anything, or my mom put me on punishment, or I was sad, that’s when I would write poetry. It ended up becoming my outlet and my therapy for myself during trying times. I guess combined with my strong love for hip-hop, it kind of transitioned into me eventually writing hip hop music. Rap is nothing but rhythm and poetry.
What were some of those first rap records that really grabbed your attention?
I would say the first artist that made me love hip hop was Tupac. It was sad because I didn’t really discover him until after he had passed. I was a little girl, but the way that he would speak and rap over the beat, I could relate. Even though I was this little girl and probably shouldn’t have been listening to Tupac because of all the profanity. It was crazy the things that you could relate to. It was Tupac who sparked my love for hip-hop, and it was Drake who made me feel like I could create hip-hop.
How did Drake inspire you?
I could have never foreseen this for myself, what I’m doing right now. I think it was partially lack of confidence. Just not thinking I could deliver in the way that I delivered. When Drake came on the scene, he said things that I feel. Drake has a good way of expressing the woman’s perspective. He’s still very manly but it was like, he wasn’t all hardcore. He wasn’t talking about violence, he wasn’t talking about selling drugs, but he was still able to get a message across, and he was still able to make you bob your head and relate to him, and being raised by a single mom, you know?
Can you talk about the rap scene in Chicago? What’s your view on everything?
I don’t know how clear my pictures is going to be because I’m not in the ‘in-crowd’ if you will. I am aware of a lot of the artists, and I even know some of them. Drill is really popular, the drill sound. Then you have Chance who has a whole totally different sound, but I haven’t really collaborated with a lot of Chicago artists. I’m hoping that that will change in the future. What I can tell you is that I know that it’s a lot of talent here. It’s a few different styles of music and rap, but there’s a lot of talent in Chicago. I know there’s a lot of people have their eyes on us, and I notice that more established artists, I feel like they look to us. The up and comers, to see who they can help, or who they can mimic.
What do you think the national media gets wrong about Chicago?
What they’re saying and what they’re reporting usually is true, but they’re wrong in that they don’t report anything positive along with that. It’s just always negative. It’s like, I travel often, and when I’m out of town and somebody says, ‘Where you from?’ and I tell them Chicago, I had a guy, he put his hands up like don’t shoot. He was playing, but that’s the stigma that’s attached to the city because of the media continuously blasting just negative images. Did they take a little nine-year-old boy, that had a conflict with his father, did they take him to school and walk him to the alley and shoot him twice in the head? Yes, that did happen. But, there’s also other, positive things that happened. I’m part of the Anti-Chiraq movement, and we have events here for children, and it’ll usually be sponsored by a Harold’s Chicken or something. We have performances and they give out school supplies. That’s the way to say, ‘Stop the violence,’ but also provide something for the youth to do, as well. You won’t see those images, you know what I mean? You’re only going to see the negative.
How long did you spend working on this new album?
I was probably working on Here For A Reason for maybe a year and a half. I recorded the majority of it here in Chicago. Some in Miami, and some in New York.
Can you break down your process a little bit?
Out of all of the producers I’ve worked with, I’ve only actually met one of them in person [Laughs]. Technology’s so advanced now you don’t really have to be there with the person. I would record something and send it back, just to get their approval, make sure they like it and everything. How I’ve always worked when it comes to music is, producers send me beats and then I listen to them and the one that I like, I get those, then I write to it, because to me the beat is what begins the song and then the lyrics finish. I always get the beat first, and then I write to it.
The song “Atlanta,” is that about a real person?
Everybody keeps asking me about that! My mom said, ‘Who’s that about?’ To be honest with you, I love Atlanta. I go there a few times a year and I just really have a genuine love for the city because aside from the weather, I love the unity I feel when I’m there. Physically amongst African Americans. I feel like they stick together. It’s just a different type of unity. I don’t feel it at home in Chicago. Atlanta has a special place in my heart. One day I was getting ready; I was listening to the beat, but I was packing, getting ready to go to Atlanta. Then the hook just came. ‘Atlanta, Atlanta, I miss you.’ Then I was like, ‘I got to build on this.’ It’s not about any one specific person. I was like, I’m going to write a song about Atlanta but I’m not even from there, so I’ve got to make it more creative than that. I want to compare it to a guy.
Oh, so kind of like how Kanye West talked about Chicago like it was a girl on his song “Homecoming?”
Can you talk about some of the challenges you’ve experienced as a female MC trying to break through?
Being a female in this male-dominated industry you have to be strong. You have to stick to your core values and your morals. You have to believe in yourself even more so than a male does because you’re going to get bribed, you’re going to be asked to do things, sexual things, in exchange for a favor. I’ve dealt with that. Sometimes, I haven’t been taken seriously, but that all changes once I get the mic in my hand. Being a female in this industry is no joke.
On the last song of the album, “Awards Show,” you tack on your own Grammy speech. Is that a vision board sort of thing? Is that one of your goals?
It’s something that I really do feel I can attain. I wouldn’t even say it’s a goal, though, because…I wouldn’t want to put that much pressure on myself. There’s people out here who deserve Grammys and haven’t gotten them, you know what I mean? I don’t think it makes them any less important, or their work any less significant. It would be nice to get one. I love watching the Grammys. I have had visions of myself accepting one before. The way I operate, it’s spiritual then natural. I do the work, but I also believe the that I have to speak things into existence. That whole song was about me speaking it. Even if you listen to the end where I am giving a little speech. I say, ‘I would like to thank the man in my life.’ I don’t have a man, but I was speaking one into existence.
When people hear this album, what do you want them to take away?
I want people to feel inspired, empowered. I want them to feel like they’re not the only one, because a lot of the time you’re going through something you think you’re the only one. I want them to feel like you could do anything that you want. I want them to be informed after listening to my album. I want women to feel good about themselves. Like, the first track, “She,” that’s like I’m bigging up my independent women. I’m telling them, “It’s okay, you don’t have to have a man. Love yourself, put yourself first.” You shouldn’t have to depend on anybody for that. If I had to sum it up I would just say I want people to feel empowered. I want them to feel strong. I want women to feel beautiful, I want the men to feel like kings.