Some have already obtained small successes, spending years in the shadows, waiting for the right moment to shine and others have barely left their bedroom studios. Some aim for headlining festival stages, others aim for nothing in particular – but all of them have developed a sound with the potential to turn heads. With this feature, we shine a light on some of the most exciting new musical talents our tiny country has to offer.
If you like your hip hop funky, chances are you have already come across Kevin Kofii in a nightclub or festival stage somewhere. Having only started DJ-ing three years ago, the former dancer's schedule is busier than ever. A unique remix-heavy blend of anything that swings, whether it's baile funk, R&B or African music, has been key to Kofii’s steep rise in the Belgian DJ-scene. Throw in the fact that this man also promotes two different club nights and you have the perfect recipe for an introductory interview to Antwerp's newest kid on the block.
Tell us how you first got into music?
I started listening to music from a very early age: Prince, Busta Rhymes, Missy Elliott, all that danceable hip hop stuff from way back. When I turned 18, I got into dancing, participating in battles with my Young Kingz crew inside and outside of Belgium. That’s how I got interested in becoming a DJ. I wanted to play music on dance battles. I wanted to do what DJ’s like FS Green, DJ Jebel and Shash'U were doing. Eventually, that didn't work out, but I got more and more chances to play on club nights, like Vivid at Publik in Antwerp. That's how the ball got rolling.
You’re often labelled as a ‘hip hop DJ’. Is that how you would describe yourself?
I don’t know how you could best describe me. I don't like to play straight-up hip hop anymore. I prefer the older stuff or mashups and edits of certain tracks to give a personal flavour to my sets. Anybody can play top 40 hits, especially in this digital age, that's why I'm always looking to bring something extra to the table.
Other than with genres like house and techno, the broader hip hop scene seems still very much focused on Soundcloud, even though it’s often claimed that this platform is on its way down. What’s your relation with Soundcloud?
Since a few years, I’m digging for new music and producers on there every day. That’s how I got in touch with many other artists or promoters who I can cooperate with. Even though most of the music on there isn’t properly mixed or mastered, people are still able to get what you’re into. That allows for like-minded artist to connect more easily. One PM and next thing you know you’re making music together.
It has become more accessible to DJ, but that's why standing out has become so much more difficult.
Like other tastemakers, there’s a recurring but familiar phenomenon throughout your tracklists: the mashup. What’s the power of the instrumental and the vocals of two separate tracks combined?
Edits and mashups allow the producer to give their twist to a track they already like. By peppering in some edits throughout a DJ-set, you're able to serve a little extra spice to your audience. The fact that people will recognize the vocals, instrumental or acapella makes sure you keep them engaged. Making edits can be a stepping stone for an artist’s career. Just look at guys like Midas Hutch or Jarreau Vandal. Both got their initial fame from making remixes of popular tracks, after which they started touring the globe, bringing out original releases in the process.
Hip hop nowadays gets influences from dance music around the world: what’s the next trend?
To be honest, I wouldn't know what's hype and what's not. I always select my music based on my gut feeling. I used to be all over the Brazilian baile funk sound, now I'm digging a lot of funk, while sometimes I prefer mellow 90' s-style R&B. In the end, I just try to collect a lot of music from all these different directions. When I play a DJ-set, I'll never play only one genre; I'll always try and mix different things together. Whether it's hip hop, baile funk, regular funk or even a harder trap beat, I don't really care.
Brussels is often seen as the place for hip hop in Belgium. Does Antwerp come close? What’s the scene like nowadays?
The scene in Antwerp isn't huge – at least to my knowledge. Most people know each other around here, and you’ll see a lot of familiar faces on most events in our circuit. There are plenty of options if you want to hear more commercial music, but venues that are able and willing to push alternative sounds are hard to come by. That's a problem. That's why many of us go to other cities for a night out, causing you to feel disconnected with your own. For example, many people would like to check out a local DJ, but are not always able to travel to other places. If you could stay in your local town and check out your local DJ's, things would go forward a lot easier. That's why I'm passionate about promoting nights myself.
Tell us a little more about that…
We have a few different concepts. The first one being SHE, which is kind of a ladies’ night – although those words have a very commercial connotation. It’s an event I organize with Mnky, Ben Janbaz and Masai, where we play a lot of female-oriented music: music made by women and just a general dance-friendly vibe all round, making sure everyone feels welcome and comfortable. Other than that, I have my own Kofii Pauze, on which I invite guest DJ’s I really like.
Especially as a beginning DJ, your library needs to be big enough to handle many different types of vibes.
In a world where everybody is a DJ: what do you need to stand out now?
It has become more accessible to DJ, but that's why standing out has become so much more difficult. Technically speaking, anybody can become a good DJ – I, for one, learned how to do it in just 3,5 years. But that's why other things have become more important. You need to keep pushing and promoting yourself. As far as the actual performances go, I think you need to make sure you have a visual presence. Always try to have a real connection with your audience. I'm not always the best example. Sometimes I'm really into my bubble, scrolling on the CDJ's for the next track; but you can't forget how you come across towards the people in the crowd.
What would your advice to beginning DJ’s out there?
Never stop looking for new music! Especially as a beginning DJ, your library needs to be big enough to handle many different types of vibes. When you are playing extended sets, the atmosphere at an event is something that can change quite rapidly, depending on many different things. It's then up to you to make sure you can follow up on it with the right tracks; even if you prepared for a completely different type of set. Adaptability is key, and when you have enough music on your USB-sticks, you're able to deal with it.