Kari Faux on her new album 'Lost en Los Angeles' 

No small talk.

click to enlarge CONTROLLING CULTURE: Little Rock rapper Kari Faux is recording in L.A.
  • CONTROLLING CULTURE: Little Rock rapper Kari Faux is recording in L.A.

"I'm hot. I'm black. I control culture."

The words headlining Little Rock rapper Kari Faux's Instagram page wield the same power and self-assurance that pulsed through her 2014 EP, "Laugh Now, Die Later." That swagger certainly makes its way into her recent release, "Lost en Los Angeles" (Wolf & Rothstein), but it's the swagger of a soul grown older. It's matured, mixed with shades of vulnerability and wonder.

After a rapid ascent to fame and a whirlwind stint in L.A., Kari Faux is back in Little Rock, and I spoke with her recently about her new album. The title track is a slow groove that begins with a siren loop and moves into a dreamy snapshot of Faux as a pioneer in Southern California, simultaneously enchanted and disoriented: "Mountains stacked for miles and miles/Living life in the domesticated wild/Before I got here, I was a child/Now I'm here, tryin' to figure it out." I asked Faux, whose real name is Kari Johnson, about that sense of displacement.

"You know how you work on something for so long that you don't even take a step back to realize what you've created? That's kind of how I am. I'm always really critical of myself, and I'm always thinking about what I'm doing, and how can I do more, and then I take a step back and I'm like, 'Shit, how did I get here?' "

It shouldn't come as a shock to any Kari Faux fans that she found little time for reflection after the success of her debut EP. Her choice to make tracks in L.A. was, in part, thrust upon her by a surprise endorsement from actor and musician Childish Gambino (Donald Glover), who liked her song "No Small Talk" so much he wrote an additional verse. Conceived as a birthday gift for Faux's friend Shanice, who inspired the track's punchline, the video for "No Small Talk" is a comedic throwback, one Faux describes as a "DIY" piece. It includes a particularly sarcastic segment in which the word "EXOTIC" is superimposed over a freeze frame of one of Faux's Asian-American friends. The word flashes up in an 8-bit font, one you'd likely recognize from its heyday, when it was used to display words like "Donkey Kong" and "Space Invaders." It's fun, but it's also a dig at the way women are sexualized based on their ethnicity.

"Yeah, it's like, 'Oh, she's so exotic.' She was born in Arkansas — what does that even mean?" Faux said.

"Lost en Los Angeles" is produced by Faux's longtime collaborator and fellow Little Rock native Malik Flint (a.k.a. BLACK PARTY, of Flint Eastwood, Weekend Warriors), and if "No Small Talk" represented the dawning of Flint's sensibility for a 1970s/1980s aesthetic, then Faux's new track "Supplier" is its stylistic offspring. A synthesizer-driven dance groove, the video is filmed in disco-era soft focus. Were it not for Faux's modern flow and a passing reference to a text message, one might think the whole ordeal was a steamy champagne advertisement, perhaps filmed on Donna Summer's yacht circa 1978. The album version of "Supplier" that appears on "Lost en Los Angeles" has a gorgeous outro that was missing from the previously released video, an ethereal fade-out with strings and breathy background vocals.

The same lush instrumentation is present throughout the album, often as a platform for Faux's spoken-word interludes, like "Don't," a warning and admonishment to a future partner about the perils of becoming too complacent in a relationship. I told Faux they remind me fondly of the interludes from Outkast's "The Love Below." She said I must be pulling her leg, that I "must have read somewhere" about the album being her favorite.

click to enlarge ae_feature1-2-69e28d31c8b2fa57.jpg

Another track, "Fantasy," employs a plunking upright bass, a tinkly piano arpeggio, and a clipped saxophone riff that sounds like it's being played in reverse. Faux's cadence in "Fantasy" has the measured rhythm of a jump-rope rhyme, as if it could accompany a hand-clapping game on a school playground. Lyrically, though, it's decidedly adult: "I won't caress your ego/I'll only snuff your pride/I'll probably leave you empty/If our bodies do collide." The song's hook comes across as staunchly feminist: "I'm no man's fantasy," despite a caveat thereafter ("I haven't got the chance to be.") Like most labels, "feminist" is one with which Faux admits to having a complicated relationship.

"I already know this is gonna be a feminist anthem. I'm cool with it. I didn't have that intention, but I'm not mad at it. Empowerment of women is not something that I'm against. I don't necessarily call myself a feminist, but I believe in the empowerment of women, so maybe it makes no sense that I don't call myself a feminist?"

Faux talks often about her longtime collaboration with Little Rock's Flint, but I asked about another Malik: the recently deceased Malik Taylor (a.k.a. Phife Dawg) of A Tribe Called Quest, which Faux referenced lovingly on her first EP.

"Honestly, it made me realize how separated the hip-hop [communities] from now and the hip-hop then are. I wish everybody could come together, old and new, and teach other. You know what I mean? There are so many people that are like, 'Oh, you don't know anything about him.' Even if that person doesn't know anything about A Tribe Called Quest, or any of the music from that era, then teach them. The same goes for old people. Teach them what's cool, what's hip. That's how hip-hop stays alive. That's how we move the culture forward."


Speaking of Kari Faux, BLACK PARTY

  • New music from bLAck pARty, The Body, Love Ghost, The Wandering Lake and more

    November 18, 2015
    Fayetteville's The Wandering Lake — the recording project of Brian Kupillas — released a new set of songs on Bandcamp this week and they are predictably great. The EP, "From James' Garden" comes after, Kupillas says, "what felt like a long drought of spirit." Find him on Tumblr, where he posts new music plus photos of elephants and body-builders. /more/
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    February 25, 2015
    BLACK PARTY, the rapper and beat-maker who fled Little Rock last November for L.A. with friend and collaborator Kari Faux, just released a new single, "Dancing," that sounds a little like Phil Collins and N.E.R.D. and, I don't know, DMX — pure robotic soul. It's a departure for the rapper-turned-singer, though he hinted at the direction on last year's mixtape, "Prototype," which seems to have disappeared from the internet. /more/
  • New Kari Faux video, 'Gahdamn'

    January 15, 2015
    Recent L.A. transplant Kari Faux, who made our shortlist for Arkansan of the Year this week, released a new video this morning for her single, "Gahdamn," the opening track from her 2014 tape, "Laugh Now, Die Later." The clip features Childish Gambino, who gave her a huge boost with his remix of her song, "No Small Talk" (excerpted at the beginning here), and her frequent collaborator and fellow Little Rock native BLACK PARTY. /more/
  • Top 10 Little Rock albums of 2014

    December 18, 2014
    Here are the Little Rock albums we listened to more than any others this year, the ones that meant the most to us and that we’d push on any out-of-towners who asked what was new in the Little Rock music scene. /more/
  • Exit interview: Kari Faux and BLACK PARTY

    November 6, 2014
    Two Little Rock rappers say goodbye to Arkansas. /more/
  • New mixtape from BLACK PARTY, 'Prototype'

    October 16, 2014
    Little Rock's BLACK PARTY released his long-awaited (at least by us) new tape "Prototype" this afternoon — check it out below. Also, if you missed it, here's his new video, for "Hilaro Springs." featuring Google Maps and a psychedelic purple field that looks straight of "What Dreams May Come" (courtesy of Times visionary Kenneth Bell). /more/
  • Donald Glover (Childish Gambino) remixes Kari Faux's 'No Small Talk'

    October 2, 2014
    Rapper and TV star Donald Glover ("Community") released a new mixtape today, "STN MTN" (that's Stone Mountain to those of you not from Georgia), hosted by DJ Drama no less, and the highlight is a remix of a song by Little Rock's own Kari Faux. "No Small Talk," which we previously labeled the Song of the Summer (was I wrong?), was produced by Kari and BLACK PARTY, and though I probably prefer the original version, this is big news for Arkansas and, who knows, might be Kari's Drake-cosigning-Migos moment. /more/
  • Marvin Berry, Emory Jr., Dead Anchors and BLACK PARTY

    September 3, 2014
    By the far the best band in Arkansas named after a scene in "Back to the Future," Marvin Berry is a brand new project featuring Little Rock music scene stalwarts Andy Warr, Will Boyd, Chris Michaels and Dave Hoffpauir. /more/
  • New mixtape from Cool Chris, 'Leftover Gram$'

    August 20, 2014
    Cool Chris, of Little Rock's Young Gods of America collective, has a new tape out this week, "Leftover Gram$," the follow-up to his April release "Trap Conversations." Local beat-makers BLACK PARTY, Mach Soul and iamNAWF all show up, and Chris mostly takes a mellow, vibe-over-substance approach, letting the production take the front seat. /more/
  • New video from Goon des Garcons, 'DIRTY BOYZ 2K14'

    August 18, 2014
    Here's the latest video from Little Rock's Goon des Garcons and the Young Gods of American camp, a clip for "DIRTY BOYZ 2K14" that opens with a solid minute of druggy ambiance and is enough to make you want to quit your job and go nocturnal. /more/
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