Mind, Body & Music: Kida Kudz
It’s early March and London is still open. Most people are commuting to work as normal, the weekend’s football is assumed to be going ahead, and nobody is wrestling in the supermarket for toilet roll. The coronavirus is more a story about the other side of the world, with ‘social distancing’ not yet in the national lexicon, but the increasing appearances of anti-bacterial hand gel acknowledge that some threat to everyday life may be looming.
When Kida Kudz arrives at the GAFFER studio it’s only the greetings that are unusual, with any instinctive handshakes or hugs met with the cleaner, safer fist bumps, or elbow taps. With those awkward exchanges out of the way, Kudz spots the photoshoot’s weightlifting bench, and seizes the opportunity to get right to it and squeeze another workout into his day.
Kudz’s visit comes at a big time in his career and life, following the recent release of his debut project, Nasty. Behind the scenes, he had made sure it was ready before the end of last summer, so that he could prepare properly for the arrival of his newborn son. “I made sure I finished my tape before my baby came,” he says. “It just made me more responsible and chilled. All I care about is music and my family. Before, it was everything and music.”
There was a time before music was the priority too. Born in Nigeria, Kudz was sent to live with his father in Kent at 14 years old. Beyond more familiar teething problems as an African immigrant (“being a ‘freshie’, I couldn’t even communicate with people bro”), the self-styled Garden of England was simply too quiet for him. “It was this sweet place, and I didn’t like it because I was from a very rowdy place.” His aunt’s house in Plaistow, East London, was much more to his liking. “I think without Plaistow, I wouldn’t have really cared about the UK like that,” he says. “When I saw there, and my people around – a Nigerian barbershop across the road – I could see it wasn’t really that bad out here, and that was the genesis.
“Before I came here, I wouldn’t say I was really into music but I had started writing raps. When I got here I had the opportunity to use my auntie’s computer and I went on YouTube listening to beats, writing to Lil Wayne ‘Sky’s The Limit’, trying to get my head around the music stuff. I didn’t know how serious it was.”
Still missing Nigeria, Kudz was very soon back with his mother, but music now had his full curiosity. Then came the TV show Peak Talent. “I was listening to the radio on this Nokia phone – white screen, black writing – and I kept hearing this advertisement for talent show auditions. I went by myself. I didn’t tell anybody, and then came back like ‘I got in’. My mum was wondering where the hell that came from!” Kudz, still 14, went on to win the entire season, and there remains a core of Nigerian fans that have followed his music journey ever since. “If I didn’t think outside the box and chase music, I think I’d be stuck in the streets doing some crazy stuff,” he admits. “My talent show was like a message from God, I can’t lie to you.”
Returning to London a few years later, it’s been a much longer, much happier stay than the first attempt. “It took a decade to get my way around things and learn stuff,” Kudz says. “That really helped me with my music, those cultural differences blended together is what I make now. This country made me who I am, you know? I call it my second home now.
“The UK means a lot to me, and Nigeria means a lot to me. That’s where the perfect balance comes from. That’s me listening to old school BBK, Wiley, Chipmunk’s Westwood freestyle, Giggs, SN1… all that, to an African kid with just afrobeats. Coming over here and blending all that together I think has made a great thing.”
Balance is a word used often by Kudz in our conversation, especially around his relationship with Nigeria and the UK. Balance, in considering longtime Nigerian fans as well as those he has gathered more recently in Britain. “Over here they’ve known me since two years ago, but back home? They’ve known me for ten. When I drop music now I know they feel me spiritually. They’ve seen the growth so it’s very important that back home I’m keeping it on lock.”
Kudz may well have introduced a number of British artists and influences to his Nigerian audience. His appearance on Ms Banks single ‘Snack’ felt like a breakthrough moment for the both of them, while on Nasty he is joined by MCs Chip and Jaykae. “I’ve made songs with three grime artists now, and nobody has really clocked it,” he says. “I’m kind of the first afrobeats artist to do that kind of thing. I learn from them, then I’ve gone to add my own stuff and brought them back to get some of their sauce on what I do. It’s a very balanced sound that everyone can feel comfortable with singing or dancing to.”
The third grime artist Kudz is referring to is the godfather himself, Wiley. “He had never done no afro tune, so that made me feel a lot.” The infamously flaky MC even showed up for the ‘Bounce’ video. “He took a flight for me bro!” he says, as surprised as anyone else should be to hear that. “He’s my best friend you know, a proper big brother.” Despite his enjoyment working alongside others, he doesn’t plan on making it a habit. “I don’t want people thinking I need extra help. I never did any help to survive.”
With his next project already “70% done”, Kudz has plenty to look forward to, including a holiday to Nigeria with fiancee Tanika (a singer who also features on Nasty) and their son, in view of a more long term move together. “I love summertime in London, it’s the best thing ever,” he says, “[but] when I’m in Nigeria, it’s always summer! There’s the street love, the organic shit with real supporters, I need it.” Are his London days really numbered? “Sometimes I need to be cool too!” It’s a very sweet balance.” That word again.
With his workout complete, Kudz dons a shirt from Nigeria’s golden generation of the mid-to-late 90s, names from which he can roll off easily. “Jay-Jay Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu, Finidi George, Taribo West… these are the players I remember,” he says. “My hair right now is a Taribo West kinda vibe, with the dye and little twists!”
“You couldn’t miss Nigeria playing. Whatever else you were doing, you had to stop. Now I feel like we have so much social media going on, we’d rather wait to see it on there after. We’d have to watch football in a big compound with a big ass TV, and it was more of a spiritual experience. I wish it was still like that.”
Kudz gets an alert that his cab has arrived, so he bids farewell with some elbow taps before leaving to get back to his young family. The coronavirus will soon have other ideas for everyone in the UK but right now, for Kida Kudz, everything is finely balanced.
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