Growing up in East Oakland, California during the notorious ’90s, Kamaiyah remembers being surrounded by music. “Too Short, E-40, 3xCrazy, The Luniz, Digital Underground, Tupac… I fell in love early on,” she says. “Even now certain songs trigger certain memories: ‘Scrubs’ and ‘Unpretty’ by TLC, Jennifer Lopez’s ‘If You Had My Love.’ There are no boundaries with me when it comes to music.”
One of rap’s most promising emerging talents, Kamaiyah is injecting a fresh perspective and an unyielding passion into the genre. She’s been on a mission since she was a foster kid sneaking into the local Boys & Girls club to watch 106 & Park. “Most artists from the Bay rap like they’re talking to each other,” Kamaiyah explains. “I’m talking from a Bay Area perspective but to the world!”
By the time she was 8, the fledgling, young artist was already crafting her own material. “I used to write girl versions of songs that were already out,” she laughs. “Like Bow Wow’s ‘What’s My Name’ became ‘Meow Meow Meow...’ The first song I recorded was called ‘Shine.’ It was about me trying to make it, trying to shine.”
Kamaiyah’s determination to succeed led her to dive full on into music. She delivered a knockout first performance at the Boys & Girls Club. A connection with local producer CT Beats would later kick things into overdrive. The two developed a bond and began working on a batch of material. “Our chemistry is like Missy & Timbaland,” she quips. “I tell CT what I’m looking for and he delivers. He’s my day one producer.”
In 2015, the pair recorded Kamaiyah’s blockbuster debut single, “How Does It Feel.” The song, which features her imagining her own success and has logged close to 750,000 SoundCloud plays, almost didn’t happen, though. She went to the studio to record a different track.
“I had been working as a security officer, doing a 12-hour graveyard shift, and wanted to write something that would make it cool to be broke again,” she recalls. “Once I heard the beat, ‘How Does It Feel’ was done in 15 minutes. I felt something in the studio that day...” Kaimayah proceeded to go all out, spending “car note and rent money” on videos to promote the song. “You have to take a risk and believe something is possible,” she says simply.
Kamaiyah’s efforts were rewarded when the industry embraced her single “How Does It Feel,” which paved the way for her critically acclaimed mixtape, A Good Night In The Ghetto. “I wanted to make an album that would sound like a female on Death Row Records in the ’90s: Jewell, The Lady Of Rage,” she says of the collection, which has earned rave reviews from Fader, MTV, Stereogum and 2DopeBoyz.
“I came up with the name of the mixtape and just built stories around that theme. I wrote and recorded the entire thing in two weeks and everything I recorded I put on it — 13 songs and three skits. I go into things like a visionary. I’m confident it sounds like what it’s supposed to sound like.”
Produced mostly by CT Beats, with contributions from Trackademiks, DJ Official, WTF Nonstop, Link Up, Drew Banga, P-Lo and 1-O.A.K., the project opens with the lively “I’m On,” a toast to achievement that has more than 200,000 SoundCloud plays. Another high-energy cut is “Fuck It Up,” which features platinum recording artist YG and has over 300,000 SoundCloud plays.
Kamaiyah shows another side of her artistry with the reflective “For My Dawg.” “The song is about two people in her life who recently passed away. “I knew I had to express those emotions instead of keeping it all bottled up inside of me,” she says, “So I had my manager schedule a closed session to write a tribute. ‘For My Dawg’ is the result.”
A Good Night In The Ghetto encourages listeners to own up to who they are, to live life to its fullest and to persevere through life’s valleys. It’s something Kamaiyah’s done her entire life, overcoming personal tumult to become one of the few female rappers from the San Francisco Bay Area to generate a national buzz.
As her career has blossomed, she’s been able to focus on new types of goals. “I never had my own room, my own space,” she says. “That’s all I ever wanted. Today I have a house. Now that I’m financially stable and able to take care of my people and myself, my focus is on becoming spiritually rich.”
Kamaiyah’s well on her way.