Disclaimer: This interview contains unedited language that may be considered NSFW.
From traveling the world to selling out shows in New York, the young Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Ken Rebel has a lot in store for the upcoming year.
Using the idiom “quality over quantity” is one of the better ways to describe Rebel, 22, who has amassed a following though having only released two projects and a handful of singles. In an era where artists strive to push out as much music as possible, the thought of the music being released is of quality gets overshadowed by the sheer number of tracks and projects put out. Rebel, on the other hand, has limited the number of releases he’s had in a way that makes the content he prepares to drop highly-anticipated by his fans.
“We just the young niggas tryna take the older niggas spots.”
Being labeled solely a “rapper,” so to speak, is something Rebel has made sure to deviate from.
“You’re an artist, man,” Rebel said. “If [you’re] out here and [you’re] putting creativity to your shit, [you’re] and artist and you shouldn’t let just anybody call you a rapper. All these rock and roll artists–all [of] these artists back in the day–they called themselves artists. They didn’t just put them in one category, you know what I’m sayin? They put themselves on a higher level.”
Rebel, who says he doesn’t have one particular sound to describe his music, described himself as always changing. “I’m a chameleon, you know what I’m saying?
“There’s nothin’ I can’t do. If it pleases the people, then I can do it. I’m just the type of artist that [is going to] express myself.”
His expression of creativity doesn’t solely come with the description of his sound. With more than 3 million views on a single YouTube video, Rebel gained a following after releasing his high-energy video for his Don Kevo-produced song “Underwater Rebel,” featuring his good friend–and Korean artist–Keith Ape.
Rebel said he directs all of his videos and this one isn’t short of the energy and passion that he emanates when he performs or speaks. The video features Ape and Rebel running through the streets of SoHo, “forming flash mobs.” Noisey writer Kyle Kramer wrote that the “crowd literally shut the street down and took off sprinting through the neighborhood” for the video.
Dongheon “Keith Ape” Lee, who Rebel said is the “best rapper from Korea,” is best known for his track “It G Ma,” which reveled in the United States after viewers noticed its similarity to OG Maco’s “U Guessed It.” After gaining traction, it quickly received the remix treatment featuring American artists Waka Flocka Flame, A$AP Ferg, Dumbfounded and Father and found a separation from the Maco track, becoming its own.
Before meeting Ape in Texas, Rebel met the Japanese Hip-hop artist KOHH–whose sound resembles that of Ape–at show they had together in Paris, France. KOHH, too, benefited from “It G Ma” as his verse allowed him to be further exposed to an audience outside of those who he felt neglected him in his home country. Rebel admitted a slight ignorance he had regarding the artists. “I thought [those guys were] all from Japan,” Rebel said about Ape and KOHH.
Hip-hop is the new Rosetta Stone…if you wanna be technical. Through music you can learn any language.
Though both are from very different areas, one of the things Ape and Rebel share a connection with most is in their music and the effort they put forth in all of its facets. The spark that comes with a Rebel performance is perfectly reciprocated from the energy that can be heard in his music. Rebel finds it best to ensure he performs with artists who are as energetic as he is.
“[Ape] is one of the only [artists] that can really perform with me because [Ape] be turnt,” Rebel said. “I don’t even be understanding what [Ape] be sayin’.”
Rebel believes Hip-hop is a factor when different cultures come together to link. Language barriers are broken as people memorize the lyrics to a song and, even if the song isn’t in their native tongue, Rebel said the music is teaching people to speak different languages. In doing so, they’d be able to research what was said or refine their pronunciations and potentially leave knowing just a little bit more about another language.
“I be catching myself singing Spanish songs [and] I don’t know [how to speak] Spanish,” Rebel said. “It’s a beautiful thing. That’s the magic of music, you know what I’m sayin?”
Though not currently on tour, Rebel said he plans to catch up with Ape and go on tour this summer. He said they’re planning a short tour and performing at a couple of cities in the United States with two international dates.
Though from New York, Rebel takes every opportunity available to travel. He recently traveled to Italy for an undisclosed trip that had him come back working harder than when he left.
With other artists starting to find their way into the spotlight, Rebel is one of the many to continue having on the radar. With
fellow artists–and friends of his–Lil Uzi Vert, Playboi Cardi and Lil Yachty, among others, beginning to get noticed, Rebel finds himself listening to more artists from the South–though Vert is from Pennsylvania–”because they’re hot.”
The effort Southern artists–specifically he mentioned those from Atlanta, G.A.–have put into their music in the past couple of years has been almost unmatched. With the rise of artists such as Young Thug, Future, Migos and Rich the Kid–to the artists who have already established a name for themselves–Rebel hopes to tap into that market, but still keep his music close to home. “[Some people] bite off New York swag and they take it back to their hometown and run off [of] that,” Rebel said.
While mentioning fellow Brooklyn artist Desiigner–who recently hit number one on the Billboard charts for his song, often thought to have been eerily similar to the stylings of Future, “Panda”–Rebel mentioned that Desiigner more than likely the Atlanta sound and made a hit with it.
“That’s what New York niggas gotta learn,” Rebel said. “Why do you think Jay-Z was doing songs with Pimp C and Bun-B? The south was winning, bro. He already knew what time it was. New York niggas are stubborn, bro. New York niggas too prideful. Once [they] get [their] egos off their little chests and shit, niggas would be better. We’d be in a better place.”
He mentioned himself and other artists, such as Joey Bada$$ and Flatbush ZOMBiES, who have made a stamp in the New York market, but finds it still difficult for newer and younger artists to get noticed. Rebel is used to selling out shows in New York and has even sold out shows with more than 500 people in attendance, but “it’s a little harder [for other artists coming up].” Due to the success of the market for Hip-hop in Atlanta, Rebel said he’s working on his next album in the city. He mentioned the talent there and their willingness to work. He said producers in Atlanta are more accessible and, with that, comes the ability to have your music done “10 times easier.
“New York producers only know boom-bap beats,” Rebel said. “Niggas don’t wanna rap on that. [They] want hits. Producers in the South run [the production market]. It’s too many talented [producers] out there [like] Sonny Digital, [the] 808 Mafia and Richie Souf.”
Working from Atlanta will allow Rebel to find a variety in production. He hopes to find artists with beats that don’t sound the same as every other rapper currently putting out music.
BRO WHERE ARE THE PRODUCERS WHO KNOW HOW TO MAKE GOOD BEATS AND NOT JUST TRAP SHIT
— KEN ЯEBEL (@KENNYREBELIFE) February 26, 2016
The struggle to find a sound in a market he calls home is why Rebel chose to branch out and work in different areas in order to find something that’ll stick–the beats being one of the most important parts of his search. He cites New York producers are good, but he’s looking for the club banger and “until then [New York] will still be stuck on stagnant.”
With his new found search, Rebel hopes to move forward with releasing his next project. His last single proves that his releases don’t come often, but are very well curated. He’s using his experience to help further his career that’s on its way up. He hopes his music can aid in the advancement of the culture.
“Hip-hop is the new Rosetta Stone…if you wanna be technical,” Rebel said. “Through music you can learn any language.”
A portion of this interview was redacted by request of the artist.