Keary Kase is a Portland legend best known for his hit “Oowee.” HIs sound turned into a cash cow which includes big-time deals with iconic brands like Harley Davidson and Adidas. Setting himself up for longevity, Keary Kase established a legacy from a place of obscurity with creativity, street-smarts and ingenuity. Now, Kase is mentoring the next generation of artists, preparing them for their dream jobs and how to negotiate big business with original creations. In the interview below, Keary Kase tells all about trade secrets and more. For any artists curious about landing the bigger, better deal, this interview is just for you.
SOURCE: Knowing then what you know now about your career, would you have done anything different with your sound?
KK: I can’t say there is anything I would do differently with my sound. As a vocalist, my sound has evolved over my career in music because I have allowed it to. I don’t get hung up on a style or a sound. In the beginning of my career, all I did was spit off the top. When I recorded freestyles, I would discover new cadences and tones to play with. I would pick the sticky ones and write using the same cadence.
It’s really about commitment. Your sound today might not be the sound of tomorrow but if you commit to it, it will provide a snapshot of what you were feeling and expressing at the time you dropped it. Maybe even a glimpse into what was happening at that time in the world. If you go all-in with it, people will feel that energy for a very long time. At one point I had a band. They were an all-black rock band called Prawn. That was powerful! BIG FACTS. It felt like I was on the stage with an AR15. Live instruments make the people move. I will definitely do that again at some point.
You solidified yourself on the West Coast coming from an unknown part but full of talent. In your opinion, why does Oregon never receive the respect it deserves?
I don’t believe respect is something to be passively received. It’s something you either fight for or finesse. Portland’s struggle is not about getting respect outside of Oregon, it’s the lack of support within Oregon that slows the process. We have to grow our own. Portland fans may not understand that buying merchandise, subscribing to and following social media platforms, attending shows, streaming songs and publicly acknowledging artists that they vibe with is what propels them. Follow me on IG @e1eve1even
A legend yourself, who would you consider gave you the best advice about the music business?
I’ve never had a mentor in music, so the majority of what I have learned has been through the experience. I would find music-related jobs on CL, not always hip hop gigs, but anything that I thought might propel me or put me in a better position. Occasionally, somebody might open a back door for me and let me see what goes on inside. I would play it cool but always be asking questions and taking notes.
Rudy Ray Moore, who was a friend of mine before he passed, said “Keary, when you get to the next level, I don’t need to tell you not to get discouraged, but don’t get disgusted with these mutha fuckas out here.” He also told me to make sure everybody gets paid so they know that you respect them as a professional. Even if it’s just travel expenses. Multi-platinum producer and mixer, Skip Saylor, who is also an Oregonian told me to forget about following music trends and focus on making classics.
I’ve been blessed with gems from miscellaneous sources. Most often from the last person, you might be expecting to have some insight. No matter who is sharing good information, I pay attention.
After radio success and branding, did you ever find yourself chasing the charts?
Definitely. I have big dreams. I see myself in a certain position and start to obsess over it. I imagine what it will look like, how it will feel, and how I will be received at that level. I realized that getting played on the radio is not the same as having a bullet. Chasing a hit, lol, will expose you to all types of experiences. There is no set formula but there is an art to it. Some people say mainstream music is watered down and having a hit record doesn’t take much talent. Anytime I hear this theory, I challenge that artist to make one. I did an experimental project that was focused on creating radio-friendly records intended to chart. Listening to it today, it feels timestamped and super uncomfortable. That’s because I was so focused on what was hot at the time that I wasn’t being entirely true to myself. I was smart enough to use a different name when I put it out.
As an advisor, tell us about some of the newer artists making noise in Oregon?
There is no paucity of talent in Portland but I don’t really F with everybody out here. There was a dude who lit it up a few years back but I don’t think he reps the town like that anymore. As of now, I am the incumbent in Portland and I intend to keep it that way for a while.
How do you remain creative after all these years?
I like to figure out how things work. It keeps me up at night. After I do a full day of physical activity and an evening of technology-based work, I start to analyze how things went and why. I think about how to make improvements in whatever I’m producing at the time. This leads me to do research which then leads to new discoveries and elevation. I regard to being musically creative, I think I have a disorder. I hear rhythms, melodies, and cadences everywhere. I just apply them to my perspectives and experiences. Lyrically, I like to provide something for the vibrationally sensitive listener as well as the cerebral listener.
How did your brand partnership with Nike come together?
The Nike deal was a relationship developed over time. I started to wear testing basketball shoes for Nike in high school. At the time I was more into skateboarding than football and basketball. I would skip practice and go skate in NW Portland, I was A few years later, my skate shop sponsor, Rebel Skates, made a deal with Nike to have us do skate demos at their corporate events wearing original Jordans as skate shoes. We would do jump ramp and rail tie tricks for the suits. They would give us free shoes in exchange.
When the advertising campaign happened, I was in the middle of the US National Championships followed by US National Team Trials in Olympic Style Sparring. My agency had a relationship with Marcus Swanson, a Portland photographer who has worked with Nike forever. Marcus has a son who participated in the same sport. He invited me over for a martial arts shoot, where I bumped into one of the guys from Nike who later booked me for the job. I attribute landing good opportunities to being prepared and easy to work with.
Your hit “Oowee” has stood the test of time, is it true that once an artist makes one hit song they can make another and no such thing as a one-hit-wonder?
I believe that anyone who dedicates themself to something and stays down with it is going to eventually be successful on some level. However, in the music industry, that can be easier said than done. It’s like seeing a tail dangling from a tree then pulling on it to see what it’s attached to, only to find that you are now on the opposing side of a tiger fight. Most people will look into the tiger’s eyes and run like a gazelle. Others will fight with the tiger and die or escape with severe wounds and a story to tell. Very few will tango with the tiger and leave with a trophy head. At that point, some go looking for a lion.
It’s really a matter of perseverance and the amount of attention you can handle. Just because you have a hit record does not mean everybody is going to be nice to you.
Landing partnerships with iconic brands like Harley Davidson, Adidas and Diamond Supply. What are some inside incentives you would advise today’s artists to suggest in deals?
I look for long term opportunities in deals. Getting free products and a check from a brand is not my concern. I’m more into deals that include me developing and marketing my own products utilizing their resources and relationships. For example, if a knitwear brand was to approach me with an endorsement deal that awarded me all the cashmere socks, sweaters and beanies, I would counter-propose a signature line of my own cashmere products that awarded me a percentage of the profits for that particular line. At that point, it would make sense for me to be dropping the brand name in songs and such.
How lucrative is the CBD market right now?
I’m remaining optimistic about CBD. In the last year, there was this sudden rush of CBD products. Some are not the CBD that we all assume they are. CBD can be derived from many sources. The good CBD is hemp-derived. Right now, I’m offering samples of my CBD Pain Cream. For samples, contact me on IG: @e1eve1even.
You’ve been in the music for several decades, with the music business currently suffering from a pandemic, how would you advise artists to maintain a revenue stream during hiatus?
Business is business. Don’t be afraid to explore. It’s all work. If you figured out how to eat in the music industry, do the same thing on a different platform. There are some industries that are directly or indirectly connected to the music business. Diversify. I’ve transcended the idea of being defined by one aspect of myself. That’s why I can leave music alone when I don’t feel like I have something of substance to offer it and still have something left in the jab to set up the next combo.
If I was a one pony trick, trying to apply the same formula next season because it went big last year, I would most definitely be confronted by a competitor who has analyzed my game and figured out a way to divert my stream. Kinda like disruptive innovation. I remember being in the meeting with Sony, discussing my first record deal. When asked what my next move was, I said “I can do whatever you want me to do.” NEVER say that! Know what you want to do and get to it. Don’t wait for anybody to help you because by the time you find someone who wants to partner with you, if the ball is not already in play it looks like a losing investment.
Musical artists have to be creative thinkers in addition to being a talent. We also have to be able to see an opportunity when it presents itself. If you are focused, you will always get what you ordered but it may show up in the wrong package. Open the box and see what’s in there before you send it back.
How has the current social climate (cases of police brutality) inspired your new music?
Anybody who knows me well will tell you that my superpower is the element of surprise. I see myself as a KRS when he dropped Criminal Minded in 1987 then, over time, revealed his true mind was more political than criminal. Or an NWA, who told hood stories then realized they could use their voice to chastise politicians and police. Or like Public Enemy. Any artist who slipped into the public view and then started firing with aim at the heads of the broken establishment is like me right now. Stay tuned.
Rappers are the most influential individuals in the world, in a time of need, how would you suggest we as a people move forward in the efforts of change?
Black people, have to be hyper-vigilant right now. And that’s not a condition that can be sustained for a long period of time, but right now we need to be watching for the twist. We can’t protest 6 peanuts in the morning and 3 at night then rejoice over being awarded 8 peanuts in the morning and 1 at night, as if something has changed. That sounds ridiculous, right? But that’s the type of game we have been going for. We have to get over our self-generated fear and unwarranted hate of each other and bring it in.
How have you been contributing to the BLM cause?
I inform people who are supporting the BLM movement with social media posts, memes, posters, picket signs, hashtags, t-shirts, lawn stakes, and badges that those forms of support are great gestures but not enough to make the dramatic changes that need to happen today.
I live in the whitest state in America. I attended a BLM gathering at City Hall with a group of black, and brown men. The people who were supposed to be there in support of us were uncomfortable and tense as we moved through the crowd. Most of them still won’t look me in the eye. Maybe it’s me… No, actually, it’s not. What we don’t need is people showing up to protests for lack of anything better to do while they are in between jobs. We know about the white people who are with the business until it’s time for sentencing. But I don’t mind the faces of BLM here being our lighter-skinned brothers. They need to talk to each other anyway. But let’s not overlook the way protests become more widely digestible when there are less dark faces involved.
We can’t allow the focus of racial inequality and white privilege to be blurred. For example, the LBGTQ community deserves to be heard, but not by using the BLM movement as a platform. Doing this dilutes both agendas.
What’s next for Keary Kase?
We’re still pushing my single, Craze right now. It’s available everywhere for anyone who hasn’t heard it. We partnered with the New Zealand tattoo model, Lilli Grace to be the face of the Craze promotional campaign. Put your snorkeling gear on and go check her out on IG @lilligraceofficial. We did a video for it but I’m not releasing it until we see what’s happening with our people. There is some hype about a Craze remix and video featuring a well known-platinum selling artist but nothing solid yet. I’m dropping a mixtape in July, produced by J Doe and Sixtine, featuring Amelia Cole, Mic Crenshaw, and Uneekint.
I’m also partnering with a visual effects artist and animator named Hock Wong, on a mini-series for Netflix. It’s all about timing right now. We need to give the issue of systemic racism our full attention. After we see how THEY are going to respond, if I don’t have to load up and get on the frontline, you will see me. They would love to throw us a basketball and let things get back to the way they were, but there is no going back. Death before dishonor.