Rapper K-Riz survived two unexpected disasters on his journey to Peace & Love
The rising Edmonton artist looks back at one of the most challenging years of his life
Beyond the 6 is a CBC Music series that highlights hip-hop artists and scenes across Canada, beyond Toronto. This month, we talk to Edmonton rapper K-Riz about his latest album, Peace & Love, and how it almost didn't come out because of the pandemic and a car accident.
Written by Renato Pagnani
For Edmonton rapper K-Riz, the road to release his sophomore record, Peace & Love, came with many detours.
Early last year, K-Riz was excited about his progression as an artist in the years since his debut album, 2016's Fresh Air, and he was ready to share that evolution with the world. The album was locked and loaded, and K-Riz, born Jerome Henry, was considering possible summer release dates.
Then the pandemic hit. Like many other artists, K-Riz made the decision to hold Peace & Love back and see how things shook out. But as weeks turned into months, it became clear it would be some time before there was light at the end of the tunnel.
Then, in June 2020, K-Riz got into a car accident, breaking his back. His spine was shattered, but by some miracle, his brain wasn't damaged.
"After that happened, I wasn't in the right place to think about putting out the album for a long time," explains K-Riz over Zoom from his home in Edmonton. "Peace & Love is a mindset, and I was in a very different mindset after the accident, especially creatively. I put it on the backburner mentally."
While healing from the accident was full of its own ups and downs, the recovery process gave the rapper an opportunity to reevaluate his life and let go of things he had been holding onto for far too long.
"I literally couldn't do anything else," he laughs. "All I could do was roll over in bed, grab a pen, grab a piece of paper, and write. I hadn't really been in that space, like, since I was a teenager."
What emerged was a four-song EP titled The Room, a reference to both the physical space in which K-Riz was confined for six months and the soul-searching introspection he was able to do during that recovery.
But after the release of The Room this past December, his attention returned to Peace & Love — his friends and family wouldn't let him forget about it.
"To be honest, I even contemplated not releasing it at all," says K-Riz. "I didn't want to go backwards. But a lot of people in my life kept telling me that the music was great, that if making it helped me process things in my life, it might really help others do the same, too."
Last month, Peace & Love was finally released on Calgary-based independent label Mo Gravy Records. Full of loose, jazzy instrumentation with basslines that don't walk so much as seductively slink, and dense, intricate verses from K-Riz, Peace & Love is an inward-looking project that avoids falling victim to self-indulgent solipsism.
Over the course of the album's 14 tracks, K-Riz attempts to make sense of the highs and lows in his life with a clarity and emotional vulnerability that recalls Kendrick Lamar at his most unguarded.
"Overcome any obstacle that is placed before me," he raps on opener "Peace (Intro)," defining the modus operandi for the rest of Peace & Love, which balances processing interpersonal trauma with his desire to fulfil his potential. Later in the song he adds: "After all of my relationships failing, I've got to take the time and focus on being the greatest." It's a tightrope that he walks successfully throughout the album, fighting to stay open in a world where it's easier to throw up a shield and keep others out.
The album's title suggests K-Riz's struggles are in the past tense, but Peace & Love is more a goal for the future than where the rapper finds himself on these songs. On "I Don't Trust You," K-Riz wrestles with conflicting desires — wanting to find love but finding it hard to be vulnerable enough to let someone in.
"Emotionally I'm at rock bottom," he admits on "Save my Life," which addresses the emotional scars caused by his mother's absence when he was a child. But even when addressing heavy topics, there's always a glimmer of hope pulling K-Riz through. He never succumbs to nihilism, and uses his experiences as fodder for personal growth and catharsis.
"Music is therapy for me," he says, "and processing the things that happen to me through rap is part of what helps me grow as a person."
K-Riz, who began rapping at the age of 12 as the Kid Charisma, comes from a family with deep musical roots. His uncle, who was also a rapper, scored hit single "Mogadishu" with hip-hop duo Hero. K-Riz's grandfather played jazz music, and his father was a DJ — and one of the first to spin hip hop and R&B in Edmonton in the '80s.
"I think I'm a little more calculated, and a little more musical," he says, of his own growth in the five years since his debut. "I take more inspiration from R&B, classic blues and jazz and try to turn my voice into another instrument rather than just say stuff over a beat."
Those R&B and jazz influences are prominent on Peace & Love, which incorporates live instrumentation throughout the album's lush, layered production.
"I've been working with an Edmonton band called the HonorRoll Music Collective for a few years now, and with this album I wanted to make sure we made music that we could translate from the studio to the stage," explains K-Riz.
Although it still doesn't get the national shine that Toronto's rap scene does, Edmonton's rap scene continues to grow, and it's artists like K-Riz who are leading the way for the city known more for its hockey players than rappers.
In fact, an Edmonton-born rapper — Rollie Pemberton, a.k.a. Cadence Weapon — was recently awarded the 2021 Polaris Prize for the best Canadian album of the year for his album Parallel World. "I want to show everybody, all the young artists listening right now, and watching this, you don't have to be from Toronto," the rapper said while accepting the award. "Your experience is valuable. Your art matters. Coming from Edmonton, I don't want you to forget that. The Prairies got something to say."
K-Riz concurs with Pemberton. "Edmonton is in the same position Toronto was in the early 2000s. There are so many rappers that do fantastic work here, and there's going to be someone that, if it's not me and the rest of us at Mo Gravy, comes along and puts Edmonton on the map. It's coming."
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.