Growing up, KayPaige didn’t see artists like herself in the media. But in 2021, where prominent Black women are pushing boundaries across genres, the 25-year-old musician is making her own mark on the industry with a fresh perspective. The full-time media student sees the world as her oyster, previously living in England and Korea, and her passion projects over the years have developed her skills in acting, content creation, graphic design, and music. These experiences have helped her create a brand as a uniquely global and multifaceted creator, dabbling in everything from storytimes to reactions to her true passion: music.
Speaking candidly, she hopes to defy expectations that limit her artistry, whether it be through genre or language. Her latest single, out today, is the high energy track “So Right to Me,” with a feature from Korean-American rapper Ted Park, signed to the well known H1GHR Music label that dominates the Korean hip-hop scene.
This isn’t KayPaige’s first foray into music, but it’s arguably a huge step forward in solidifying a sound that’s uniquely hers. EUPHORIA. spoke to KayPaige to discuss her latest release, building a brand as a Black global artist, and the power of social media.
So you’re from Massachusetts, and your family is in Connecticut, but you recently moved to New York. What drew you there?
Honestly, I love how much is going on, from Boston, to New York, to Seoul, there’s a lot of stuff going on and I feel like New York is like the hub for that. But also the program that I have I really like here. The graduate program I’m in. It’s hybrid, so I’m doing both virtual and in person, which is nice to see people’s faces. I mean, with masks, but still.
Is music something you decided to pursue recently or have you been working toward it for a long time?
I’ve been obsessed with music for a long time since I was little, with my mom playing Aretha [Franklin] when she’s cleaning. And I remember she forced me to memorize Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” when I was way too young to be rapping lyrics to songs. And my dad had me with Motown and stuff like that, so I’ve always really liked music, but I didn’t start making music seriously until my final year of high school, and that’s when I really buckled down, and at first nobody took me seriously. When I started taking myself seriously, and people started taking me seriously was around 2019 and 2020. And I make music wherever I am and I just happened to be in Korea, and so it just flowed organically almost.
Wow, why were you in Korea?
So I had a degree in economics and I was getting ready to go into the finance world, prepping for internships, and I was just like, yo like this is not what makes me happy, this is not my path. It’s a pretty formative time when you decide what career you’re going to take on right after college, and so I stopped it, and was like, something I really want to do and really enjoy is living and traveling abroad. I did a little bit of a stint in London studying and traveling, and that was something I really wanted to do, so I just ended up there like that. And then Korea has some of the best teaching opportunities ever, especially for people coming straight out of school, so it just made sense. I feel like it was almost fate lined up, it was just supposed to happen like that.
See I didn’t know if you planned to do music when you went over there or if it just kind of happened?
Yeah, it’s funny, because I was making music, and I actually had a group with my brothers, called Young, and we were doing well, we had a couple good performances, and we did some stadiums and stuff like that, and it was funny because I was getting ready to go to Korea anyways, and they were like, “we’re doing this group, and you’re about to leave” because I was the one who kind of created it, and I was like, we’re going to do this, we were getting a little bit of an audience, but I was like yeah, we’ll keep it, we’ll keep going with this YouTube channel, we’ll do it like that, we’ll promote stuff. And how I got the biggest audience was, I had no idea reaction videos were a thing, I was like, “oh, like BuzzFeed, we’ll watch a video,” and we had a couple subscribers on the channel, I woke up in the morning, we went from 100 views to 100,000 overnight. And then it just kept going up and up, and people just really resonated with our reaction for some reason, and so it was like everything I do just keeps connecting with Korea so yeah we were watching K-pop reaction videos.
Yeah, you definitely stand out more in the K-pop world.
Yeah, there’s this huge community that I had no idea about, but it’s also this huge Black women community, like massive, I was so surprised to see that. I feel like I saw more Black women in Korea than I saw anyone else. A lot of the Black women I met out there weren’t fans of K-pop or Korean culture, they just happened to want to go there.
Have you done any songs fully in Korean?
There’s one that’s called “Chase Me.” Me and my homeboy are on it together, it’s kind of cool because I do mainly English, but then I also do some parts in Korean. Then he does mainly Korean with some parts in English, we come together on the chorus. Sometimes I do. I do it less now because it feels a little forced, it might be a little corny, especially because it’s not a language that I speak all the time, so I’d really be forcing myself to rap in Korean. If it’s a project where we’re doing an international thing and it’s supposed to happen, I love that, like Spanish or Korean or whatever. But, not just because.
So how did you end up connecting with Ted Park? He’s a solid act in K hip-hop.
He’s signed to H1GHR Music, he works with Jay Park. I saw Ted Park for the first time when I first heard K hip-hop. I just happened to go to festivals in Korea and find out about them. So one day I was out there and I saw him on stage, and I was like, yo, he’s tough, I like his music, and I kind of looked into it and didn’t think too much about it, he was just another dope dude on my playlist. Until a little bit of time passed and I recorded “So Right For Me” and for some reason I heard him on that track. And I felt like, with his melodies, with his flows, it would sound dope. I literally just reached out to him, he saw my DM, he listened to some of the tracks I sent him, and he really fucked with “So Right for Me.” I didn’t even call it out specifically at first. He was like, no this one’s a banger, so he hopped on it a couple of days later, and yeah, he was super dope to work with too.
Did you guys meet up or just work on the music?
We just worked on the music, but now I’m in New York and he’s based in New York, so I know he’s been all over the place, but definitely gonna try to hit him up to meet up and maybe do a promo or something like that. I know he’s working on some big things right now so I don’t know how available he’ll be before my release.
You know what frustrates me? I feel like some of the best things in the world come from cultural exchange. I know there’s a lot of discussions about things like that, I really strongly believe that, but I think respect is the crux of the issue. A lot of it comes from respectful cultural exchange. You can’t want the culture but not want the people.
Such a good point. So this is a single release; would you drop an EP or album sometime in the future?
I think I definitely want to release a full body of music like an album at some point, but it’s something that I’m going to do over a long period of time, it’s not something I just want to throw out. I like working single to single because it allows me to focus more on each song. When I’m in a space to sit down and craft a full album I definitely want to get to that soon, but for the time being, I really like working on singles, and I think my audience so far fucks with it too.
What’s your plan right now as far as your career?
I’m really loving building an online community. I feel like it’s so global and meaningful in a way that gets dismissed a lot of times. It’s just the power of the internet and the communities that are built there, and I genuinely feel like I’m building a community with my people on the internet, so I definitely want to keep that going in every facet, from TikTok to Instagram, doing my own thing. And kind of expanding doing more long-form content and that kind of thing. That’s my biggest focus honestly, just creating that community and having things like the music and the storytimes and all that. And talking about not just the music but real life things, because some of the things that we’re talking about come up in the videos that I do and in conversations with my listeners in my audience, so I want to do that. And having a million followers wouldn’t be bad like you said.
That’s true. It’s just as important to have an audience as it is to work on your actual music. Do you care if being a social media star is your come-up?
I mean, music obviously is the start, and that’s why I started, and that’s why I’m doing what I do, but to be honest, I’m always going to make music. And if I had no interest in doing anything else I would still be in my basement recording stuff myself, so I definitely want to get as many people to hear it as possible, so whatever does that, I’m down. I have a background in acting, I studied acting for four years in performing arts school, so I love doing that kind of stuff. I do graphic design, I do all that stuff. I love to get in as much as I can.
And for New York, do you plan on staying there long term or is it more of a temporary school thing?
Once I can get past these rats, I’ll stay long term. LA is also dope, but New York feels more familiar to me, that East Coast vibe. And also what’s going on, I love it, Madison Square Garden is a 20-minute walk, I feel like this is where I’m supposed to be to do what I want to do. But I also do want to go back to Seoul, I plan on going back there super soon like the summer and do stuff like live shows. I’ll always be all over the place, but I do like the idea of keeping New York as my base.
Who are your musical inspirations?
When I was a kid I loved Sugarhill Gang and the Jackson 5 when I was super young. But I also grew up on Beyoncé and the idea of her was always so amazing to me, especially because I grew up in a majority white area, from preschool to eighth grade, and being told or believing you’re ugly. I used to see Beyoncé all the time and she would rock her braids or something and would be out there doing her thing and I would just be like wow. I could be beautiful too. It’s one thing when your mom is telling you Black is beautiful, but its another when you’re actually seeing yourself. I’ve loved Beyoncé since I was young because she did that for me honestly. Still, even now, I feel like she’s excellence in every way, with everything she does. Lately, I really fuck with Doja Cat. I love her music and her sound, but also the fact that she does what she wants to, and she’s got a weird ass personality. I was obsessed with The Strokes, the rock band for a really long time. I’m inspired by random jingles I see on TV, just like a melody, it’s my favorite thing in the world.
Would you consider yourself a hip-hop artist or more pop?
I call myself a pop rap artist, because I wouldn’t consider myself an MC, and I’m also not like a singer, I’m something in between. I mean, I can get low, but I don’t tend to use that in my songs, I like the feeling more of that poppy rap melodious sound.
You expressed some challenges with people boxing you in as an “urban” artist. Are you in the process of looking for management or are you thinking you’ll go full on indie?
Right now I’m indie and things are going kind of well, but I’m also open to working with whoever shares a vision with me. I definitely want to work with management specifically, but I feel like, with social media and the internet, it’s not necessary. You can do so much. Frankly, if you’re not able to resonate with people directly, then there’s nothing that management or a record label could ever do for you. So, I feel like I need to focus on building that before I do anything else.
Sometimes they do try to box you in if you don’t have it figured out yourself.
Yeah, because like I said, I was going to labels, and they were telling me, there are fans of global music, or music in other languages, and there are people who will be fans of you, and the two things aren’t going to coincide. They were trying to market me as a regular urban artist, so it wouldn’t be possible for me to get the audience that I did if I was constricted by someone who had a traditional idea of what kind of artist I should be. Based on my audience so far, that’s not the case. Of course I love hip-hop and pop, but there’s no need for that box.
Love that. What do you want new listeners to know about you, and what are your goals for this release?
I like to make music for living, so I feel like if you listen to my music, I want you to feel like you’re having a good time. Especially with this latest single. I really want to make my listeners proud. They support me so much. I don’t like saying followers, but just like my fam, I feel like they support me so much through what I do. They’ll tell me, this is so much better, that is so much better, and I genuinely want to make them proud. I want to make music that people enjoy, I hope that this gets to a wider audience, maybe I can connect with some people who wouldn’t have known me before. I just want to continue moving in the direction that I’m moving in.