804 Artist Kirbs has been working this year hard this year, whether it be performing with TheMSQShop, dropping singles like Victory Lap (shown above), or working on new music yet to be released. The interns wanted to sit down and chat with Kirbs about his process, new work, and what comes next. He is interviewed by Vy Truong, Max Olarinde, and Arianna Rackham.
Max: I know some artists come up with a flow before lyrics, some artists freestyle first, and some people put their pen before anything, what is your writing/musical process for making songs?
Kirbs: I fall in love with a beat first for sure and I’m a stickler for themes matching the tone of the beat especially with a vocal sample… it’s usually pretty obvious where it’s taking you thematically. I’m not a true “musician” in the sense that I don’t play instruments and my only real rhythmic strength is verbal. I take what I say too seriously to freestyle or even plan off of a freestyle. Although I am trying to stretch my process for this new album (and a new age in rap I haven’t really participated in up to this point) and kinda mumbling out outlines of some different flows. I have a large bank of writtens in my memory so I usually pull one and start fucking with it from that. Overall though, I approach raps in a very literary way so just like prose I focus on strong beginnings and endings. To me, it doesn’t matter how hot the “body” of the rap is if it’s not a super poignant beginning and ending so that kinda takes me a while sometimes. I’m not afraid to sleep on it for a while but I eventually come across something in life that spurns that stage-setting intro. Once I have that, everything else falls in place for me pretty quick. I’m all about internal rhyme. Very rarely do I spit something that just rhymes the last syllable. I love connecting as many dots as possible. But yeah it’s all about finding that first stanza for me then the pen just goes downhill.
Max: If you could make a song with any artist dead or alive, who would your first choice be?
Kirbs: Nipsey, Kanye, and Jay immediately come to mind. There’s a ton of other people I could go with based on different objectives but I’ll say Jay-Z because of the event that is— like what a Jay feature means to your status in the game and the fact that he’s been there and pretty damn solid in so many different criteria throughout my twenty-five-year rap life. My oldest daughter's name is Brooklyn primarily because Hov shit has meant so much to my life. My youngest daughter Athena's middle name is Cross for Nipsey— he passed at thirty-three like when Jesus passed. His own set got him killed and his youngest’s name is Kross.
Vy: I've noticed that you make various appearances, from shows to weddings. Personally, what was the most memorable performance of yours and why?
Kirbs: Yeah, I've done over fifty weddings over the last ten years, including my mom's in 2019. I was also the student speaker for my graduation at GMU. That's way up there too. I used to have some pretty big shows at GMU because it's easier to get big crowds, and I had a nice little following. One time I made friends with this guy named Bruce George, who is the co-founder of Def Poetry Jam. Look it up. Anyways, he made me enter the poetry slam he was judging in D.C., and I'd never done that before. That shit was a big deal to the people who did do it though. I placed third in it, and I was mad proud but also kinda embarrassed because I felt like I was taking away from the people whose passion that actually was. My favorite performance though was a show that OG booked me for in 2012 at this venue called Kingdom. It was big to me because when I had my oldest daughter is 2010, it kinda felt like I fucked up my dreams, but my crowd and I rocked the shit out of it and it was like "Nah, it's never dead."
Vy: How long have you been making music, and what has motivated you to persevere throughout all this time?
Kirbs: I started making music in 2002 back in eighth grade. I made parody records of all the hard shit on the radio and rapped about being a soft suburban dude. I evolved throughout high school and kept the same honest themes, but just made it more serious. Yeah, I'm fifteen and not "street" in any way whatsoever, but I should still be taken seriously as a rapper. I came out with four full-fledged projects in high school, and I was really good at pushing the shit back when it was like actual CDs. The internet became the place where music really happens when I went to college, and I got bitter that I no longer stood out. There were a lot fewer rappers when you had to like manually do shit! I kind of flip-flopped and got really focused and thoughtful about the craft, but I got farther and farther away from the grind. I actually haven't put out a REAL project since high school even though I've made fifty masterpiece raps and shit since then, but I always knew I'd make a serious project as an adult. Time, and confidence, really slip away as a single parent with an 8-5 corporate job and shit, so definitely a lotta doubt and guilt crept in. Honestly, OG Illa kept it alive for me a lotta times, just seeing how he never stopped chasing his passion for the shit. And then I have like real "fans" and shit that I felt indebted to. Not a million! Not even a thousand! But like 100 really good ones who really care and won't accept me putting it (music) down.
Arianna: How has being a father changed your views, and what ways have those views affected your music, if at all?
Kirbs: Haha, I always tried to keep cursing to a minimum, not from a moral high ground standpoint but just because I take the writing as a challenge and I think cussing is cheating with syllables. Ninety percent of the time if I’m cussing it really means something to the context of the rap. That didn’t CHANGE because of parenthood but it lines up nicely. My themes though DEFINITELY became about my kid(s)… I don’t flex normal “rapper” stuff, I flex being relied upon by a tribe. Also my oldest, Brooklyn has always loved my raps and started doing it herself as soon as she could string a sentence or two, together. I never liked freestyling off the top of my head until we both started on our car trips. She’s DIRECTLY made me a better artist in a spontaneous type of way. The kids also hold a proverbial gun to my head, like I have no option but to complete my art missions because I’m obligated to set an example for them, that you see shit through when you love it.
Arianna: I remember that you told me that one day you were able to give your mixtape to a significant figure while you were young. Who were they and what did that moment mean for you?
Kirbs: Lol the most notable one was when I was fifteen, I met DMX at a Walgreens in the West End of Richmond. I was tipped off by somebody in the camp he was going to be there and I just “coincidentally” happened to be showing up with my CD. I was used to old heads like Mad Skillz, (a Richmond legend) being super impressed that a kid had full-fledged projects completely independent in the early 2000’s, so I thought he’d at least pretend. He was also kind but I saw him throw it away as soon as he got outside. I got to speak to DMX again in November 2020 shortly before he died. It went much better this go around. I’ve had a lotta “run ins” but Skillz and DMX were the two that stood out the most! I have like a million “almosts” with major people but what those moments MEAN to me is just reinforcing that nothing comes cheap or falls into your lap you can meet every rapper/mogul in the game and still not get a “big break” you gotta make your own. Still trying! Can’t stop won’t stop.
Kirbs has an upcoming album slated for early 2022 called I'MPERFECTION. Make sure you follow him on socials and on streaming services to make sure you catch it first.
Check out his music, music videos, and other work here.
Written by Vy Truong (@avocavy on IG),
Written by Max Olarinde (@mobeige1 on IG)
Written by Arianna Rackham (@ariannarackham on IG)