Kenny M. Alvarez or I.K.P. (The Infamous King of Positivity) is a Brooklyn, New York-born, Norfolk, Virginia-raised rapper-producer. He recently released his new album, “11:11 | eleven eleven.” We had the chance to chat with him about his new record, how he started music, upcoming projects and much more!
Tell us more about your new album “11:11 | eleven eleven” and what it represents for you?
11:11 is my personal letter to every queer person anywhere on the spectrum and to every Black person who listens. I’ve been navigating through many different phases and types of pain my whole life and I’m at a point where I can make sense of it enough to share what I learned so far. It is my 4th album but it really feels like my debut album. I’ve always been personal on my past projects. The difference is now, I’m facing certain realities I was ashamed of before. I named the album 11:11 because in a past relationship, my partner introduced that concept to me of affirming your desires when that time comes each day and it was a life-altering point of connection for me. It also is because there are four 1s in it and my birthday is on April 1st. Among a lot of other parallels, 11:11 also represents Veterans Day and I’m a proud military Veteran of the United States Marines.
How did you start music?
Music is all in my family’s culture and has been around me since I was very young. My Dad plays saxophone and has been in a band for decades with his friends. I grew up with him practicing his sax whenever he had the chance. Every holiday, birthday or any other type of gathering my family threw had music and dance. There was an electric keyboard I used to mess with as a little kid until my dad bought me a recorder flute and a music book and left me on my own to learn it. I did not get past the first song, Mary Had A Little Lamb. But I paid more attention to music from that point. Eventually, I started learning to write raps listening to my idols over and over, Biggie, Nas, Missy, Ludacris, T.I. etc etc. and making beats and stuck with both. I even went to school to learn how to do it professionally and that’s how I got on the path to making albums.
How did you come to juggle with multiple urban subgenres, how did your sound evolve along the years?
Growing up, I was exposed to a lot of different types of music. I come from a Caribbean ethnic group known as Garifuna, and the culture behind our people is very African-based and involves music for many things including celebration, mourning and storytelling. This music, Punta music, is central to our culture and I live that music every time I think of my ancestry. This is why I had to include the Garifuna language and the music on my album in the songs “Feel Me // Guidaba” and “Seremein // Thank You”.
As for other styles, man I used to steal all my older sister’s tapes and CDs all the time and their interests had range. I’m getting stuff like pop – a little Madonna here, 90s house – CeCe Peniston and Crystal Waters, reggae – Lady Saw, Mr. Vegas, Beenie Man, and then of course, New York is where I was born and always returned to as a teen and is where I live now, so by default I grew up with a lot of East Coast rap on my mind. The first tape my mom bought for me was LL Cool J’s “Loungin” single featuring Total. Then I bought the album, Mr. Smith.
I’ve lived the rise of Southern rap and the different styles of that – crunk, snap, trap and everything in between. I had a time when I learned the classics that I was too young for when they originally came out, everything from Boogie Down Productions, De La Soul, Public Enemy, to OutKast’s Aquemini, Nas’s Illmatic (didn’t hear it in full until it’s tenth anniversary edition), Scarface’s The Diary, 2Pacalypse Now, just to name a few.
I used to make personalized mixtapes on burned CDs when my family got me a computer and so I got orders from different people for a lot of different genres that I hadn’t heard before. I was always into learning about other music outside what was dictated to me. Then when I began learning to produce songs, I just had an openness to try things no one else would think to put together. When they talk about Virginia and they say there’s “something in the water”, then I look at the lineage, I’m definitely cut from the same cloth. Missy and Timbaland showed the world you can marry Bjork on double time drums and make it hot. When you have icons like that who grew up in the same stomping grounds, boundaries in music lose meaning.
Please tell us more about queer visibility and your fight for breaking boundaries regarding the issue.
I think there can always be more light shined on the unique stories of people across the LGBTQ+ spectrum. The more opportunities we can get to create or share platforms that support us, the more we can humanized. The art I make is all about showing who I am. Hip Hop as a culture was borne from the same untapped communities queer people might be from. You are Black before you are ever Queer. You are Latinx before you are Queer. That means we’ve been amongst you the whole time.
Queer people don’t have a color, so to speak. The identifiers are mostly invisible until there’s a specific context for it. That includes things like clothes, mannerisms, or causes, things that could make us a target. But we’ve always been there, just ignored or suppressed. It was when we started making noise that people had problems. But then that’s what began to set us free. There’s a lot of people that see freedom but can’t bear the cost of it. The cost is still too great right now for sure for some. In other places there’s a lot more to lose, like your life. Everyone has to decide for themselves if it’s worth it to embrace their entire truth. No one can dictate when or at what point they take the journey to their truth. No one can dictate how long it takes to embrace that truth even if they acknowledge it. And my thing is to do none of that. What I do is just translate how beautiful it feels to free yourself. I will also talk about the costs and have conversations with those who know the costs that are different from my sacrifices. But if I can show someone how good it is to embrace that love for yourself and it helps them to preserve themselves and others can look to them, then I did my job.
There are not a lot of spaces for Black and Queer people or people of color to thrive. When we started the Herbal Tea Podcast with my cohost EarthTone, that void was there just like it was when we came in. There were a couple online radio shows I knew of but mostly they disappeared or are not consistently giving attention to the music. Everyone now knows Young M.A, Big Freedia and Lil Nas X, but the community of queer hip hop artists has always been active since before I came in. They just don’t get the international attention on the level of those cultural figures and hip hop itself has a thorny relationship with the LGBTQ+ community. So there just aren’t many safe and open spaces for the rest of the communities that thrive. We created our own platform to acknowledge, celebrate and inform each other and also show the world the ways we are visible.
Did the pandemic affect you as an artist or did it help your creativity in some ways?
The pandemic was in many ways a time for reflection for me that I didn’t see coming. I remember I was already doing a lot of self-healing at the time the pandemic was poppin. I was doing a photoshoot in Atlanta, so I left New York one way, and came back to a whole different New York. I’m the type to roll with the punches and I felt a lockdown coming. I was a little anxious at first but I quickly realized that it would give me a chance to heal more.
I’m healing from a relationship that really devastated me and exposed a lot of old wounds that I just ignored, or didn’t know how to deal with. So I’m finding myself again and concentrating on what’s important to me. I was still writing my album, but it was at a standstill financially, to be honest. I kept writing more songs. I checked in with my parents and asked them to teach me more Garifuna phrases. Then I put those to song. They started talking about stimulus checks and small business loans and I took advantage of all that, realizing this is a once-in-a-lifetime situation. Now I can finish my album.
George Floyd reignited the movement, and I went and supported that. Kept talking to the people; me and my bromie (brother, homie) EarthTone kept it popping on the Herbal Tea Podcast. Didn’t lose a step. Things kept happening throughout the summer and by fall I started rolling out the album.
I keep talking to the ancestors; they keep answering back in the form of blessings. As much as the pandemic put things on pause, there were a lot of moments where you just don’t know what’s next because there seemed to be a surprise around every corner, every day. I am a Black man in AAmerica who never knew if any moment could be his last. As scary as that is, I can’t stop living and serving my divine purpose. I believe that rapping is really translating what the goddesses needed me to say about life in a way the way people need to hear it. That’s how I use rap and I realize it could have all gone another way at any point to let me know that I should be doing something else. Even when I think it’s not gonna go right, it goes. The realization, the action, those are the blessings. The pandemic helped me to put that kind of energy into the music. That’s why I made “Seremein”, which is the Garifuna word for “thank you”. My bromie EarthTone was there to help me see it through the whole process of recording that song, drums, conch shell and all. Months before, I could never have foreseen this level of connection taking place.
Who would your dream collaboration be with?
You already know… Norfolk, Virginia is where I grew up, #757Area #7cities. Missy and Timbaland are the ones. If Tim lets me collab on the beat and Missy gives me some shit to sing… then we all rap… that’s nirvana, period.
Artistically, what’s the best advice you’ve been given?
Set yourself up for success. It’s actually advice I got in the military from a superior. It has translated in life in many ways for me and I keep that same energy.
What’s next for I.K.P.?
I.K.P. is loaded up. Still in the stew, but with my bromies, The AlliYance. We’re a 4-man supergroup telling more of the stories of untapped people. Right now 75% of our album is done. It’ll drop this summer. Got some visuals coming. “Boiler Room” from the 11:11 album is one the people are fucking with so I’mah bless them in a special way for that project.
We’re halfway through the second season of The Herbal Tea Podcast. It’s our platform for Q+ artists and culture. Q+ is our shorthand for LGBTQ+. We review music from the artists in the community, and our allies. Real allies that speak to and help do the work to progress. Then we talk about all things cannabis. The podcast is produced bimonthly, 1st and 3rd Thursdays of each and it comes out in video on my website, IKP.ME, and also in audio form on all podcast platforms.
After that, 2021 and beyond I’m changing the game.