Interview: KOTA the Friend Talks About Introduction to Music, Influences​, and Headlining a Tour

Ahead of his show in Boston, Spencer Bernard sat down to talk with KOTA the Friend about his early introduction to music, influences and headlining his own tour. Here’s what he had to say:

Welcome back to Boston you were at the Middle East in January opening for Cracker but how does it feel to be back headlining your own tour? 

I mean it feels great. We came to pretty much to the same venue it has the same name but it’s a different room and now we’re doing a bigger room so it shows progress. Now it’s sold out and it wasn’t sold out before. Everything is kind of just forward progression. Just keep moving and I’m happy to be here again and I can’t wait to get on the stage. 

As the headliner how has your mindset and preparation changed when getting ready to perform at each show and how do you try and create an experience for fans that they couldn’t otherwise have just by listening to your music? 

I just try and be my authentic self, honestly, just like I try when I’m making music. The more I can do that the more I feel like I can connect with [my fans] and they can feel like they left knowing a little bit more about who I am. Seeing me in person, shaking my hand, taking a picture with me and just getting the experience of what the music is and who’s behind it. That’s all I could really think of. You know there are some things that you can’t get just from listening to music. When you see the person perform it, it becomes even more real. I just try and give my best.

You’ve talked about your early fandom of music and how you were exposed early to genres like R&B, jazz, and soul how were you first introduced to those genres?

Just listening to music in the house. Parents, cousins, brothers, aunts you know just hearing it, singing it. It was always a part of me watching it on TV.

Were there any artists in particular that you remember first hearing? 

 If you ask my cousins and my aunts I was a big Mary J. Bilge fan. My brother put me onto Jay-Z early on. I was a Nas fan, Biggie, really everybody who was popping in the 90s. That’s who I was really put onto.

How much did your early exposure to music influence your decision to start playing trumpet if at all? 

I don’t think it did. I think when I was in elementary school, they told us we had to pick an instrument so decided to pick the trumpet and it just so happened that I was good at it. I don’t think it really has any direct correlation. Playing the trumpet has definitely helped me create my career now but I don’t think the music I was listening to at the time affected it.

To what degree did you being a fan of groups like N.E.R.D The Beatles and Pink Floyd influence your decision to start your own group like Nappy Hair? 

It was just good music and I wanted to create that with other people. I looked at other people and they started bands and Pharrell, who was the man back then to me and still is, I just saw how he got together with people and created good things. Things that he normally wouldn’t make and it really put me in a place where I wanted to expand and I really wanted to try new things and see how I can take what I got and connect with other people to make some magic. 

As you became more interested in hip hop and started rapping over Jay-Z and Biggie instrumentals how did you blend together that passion for hip hop with your love for Jazz, R&B and even Rock into your music? 

I mean I don’t think I every really discriminated against music. I probably had some point where I was like man I only want to listen to hip hop. It is hip hop and R&B you know it’s in a way all grouped together. Because at the same time we were listening to Jay-Z or we listening to Ja Rule or whoever, we were still listening to Usher’s Confessions which is the softest shit ever. It was a combination of everything. Like hip hop and R&B was our culture and that was what we listened to.

In addition to being a fan of Biggie and Jay-Z, after hearing “All Falls Down” you became a big Kanye and especially a big “College Dropout” fan could you speak to both Kanye and College Dropout’s influence on you and your music?

Really the lyrical content. I’m a big Jay-Z fan but I never sold drugs to that capacity you know I never did anything like that. I wasn’t a gangbanger, I didn’t know about guns or nothing. So Kanye came out and he was kind of just cool kid who rapped you know. It inspired me to just be myself because I watched him be himself.

You made it known that your not into all the materialistic items that are usually associated with hip hop like in “Hollywood” when you say “Smack you if I see you wearing Gucci”. Could you elaborate on your stance on buying designer brands and other luxury items? 

I just watched how it kind of deteriorates my community. Like people just going so hard for material things. It never really does anything good for you. A material thing loses value as soon as you buy it. So it doesn’t help me in my personal life and it doesn’t help anybody else in their personal lives. I watched it kind of destroy hip hop ruin hip hop in a way where artists go broke over that stuff when you don’t need to do that. I just feel like it’s so unnecessary and that’s why I speak out against it and I speak out against that lifestyle. Everybody can do what they want to do but I’m trying to influence the younger generation coming up. Like you don’t need all of this stuff to be cool you can be cool just by being you and in turn, you’ll save a lot of money and a lot of heartaches by thinking that you have to wear this or get this chain or do this thing to be cool.

Going back to “Hollywood” you talk about being perceived as becoming more Hollywood which although you dispute you understand how people could think your Hollywood so I’m curious as to where the inspiration for the song came from and if there have been people around you who’ve said so? 

It’s just people acting differently. People acting different around you. People treating you like you’re different or saying that your different or saying that you changed. My response to that is like yeah I changed, but for the better, you know. I’m trying to better myself and I care about my family and I care about my friends and I care about everybody that has helped me get to this point. But as far as the people that haven’t helped me get to this point and the people who are asking me for favors but have never done a favor for me, it’s like I really don’t know what to tell you. I made it here because I have these people with me and I’m still with these people and you can call me “Hollywood” all you want because I’m not responding to your messages but man I’m busy. Man, I got a family. Man, I got a son. I got friends who have been there since day one but you feel like you deserve a spot.

You’ve said it’s important that people be able to thrive mentally, emotionally, and spiritually what has lead you to that conclusion?

I mean just being depressed. Being sad all the time. Going through a lot of stages of depression and wanting to get out of it and the need to be happy. You want to be happy, you want to look at yourself and appreciate who you see in the mirror and you just want peace. Cause it gets tiring when you go day after day after dafter of just struggling. Mental struggle, emotional struggle, financial struggle. And so you want to create a situation where you can thrive in every aspect of your life. I really devote my life to that. To moving forward in that direction and that path.

Finally, what can fans expect from you over the next year?

I just want to do this tour. I want to do as many shows as I can whatever happens. I want to tour. I want to keep on traveling the world. I want to work on my next album and spend as much time with my kid as possible. That’s it.

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Post and photos by Spencer Bernard

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