KLASSIC KELL INTERVIEW
PHOTOS: Cymphonie Barnes & Brandon "Blue" Wilkinson
Southside Atlanta artist Klassic Kell released his first full body of work in August titled, The Klassic Tape, Vol. 1. As a first release, the album is quite impressive and denotes Klassic Kell as a prominent artist on the rise. It’s apparent that the album took time to create due to the quality and cohesiveness, (Klassic Kell touches on this in the interview.) The ode to Atlanta and the variety of things in and out the city that made him is delivered in a soulful, laid back and honest manner that also has sprinkles of West Coast influence. After the first few listens of The Klassic Tape, Vol. 1 it was obvious that this album is something that is breaking new ground in Atlanta and the underground Hip Hop scene. What makes the album exciting is the ways in which Klassic Kell paints pictures for the listeners with his play-by-play storytelling. The pictures he paints for the listener comes in various flows, melodies and very intentional lyrics. The play-by-play storytelling that he uses is effective in the way that it provides a clear and concise picture while also showing his vulnerability through sight and experience. This type of play-by-play storytelling put me in the mindframe of Dom Kennedy, Curren$y and/or Larry June; motivational music for the laid-back, non-hype hustler. Play this album at a kick back, in the whip plottin’, cooking’ dinner for your person or whatever it may be, play it. Whether you’re familiar with Atlanta or not, catch the references or not it’s hard to deny The Klassic Tape, Vol. 1 as one of the notable album releases of 2021. Tap in with the interview and learn more about Klassic Kell’s creative process and trajectory.
How you get your name? Where your name come from?
Klassic Kell: So, I got my name in high school. My artist name, “Klassic,” when I was tryna come up with a name, really I was tryin’ to come up with a brand. You know, when I created a brand - what did I want to name my brand? That just kinda stemmed from what I wanted it to represent. From there I kinda moved into a space of everything I do, I just want it to last. I don’t want to do nothin’ that’s artificial or nothin’ that’s here today and gone next week, you know, gone next year type shit. So, I just kinda put a word on it; something that’s timeless, classy, you know. Anything you put the title “classic” on is forever, you know. Someone could say like, “dang, that’s a classic car,” you know, it’s a timeless car, or, “this is classic music.” You know, it’s like Lays or Coke, it’s a classic drink, you know what i mean. I just wanted to brand myself as something that would describe the quality in myself and what I hold myself up to. That’s where I got “Klassic” from and then the name “Kellz” came from a homie in high school back in like 2011. You know, we used to get hair cuts and my real name Donnell but niggas was gettin’ boxes and all that so I had box for the longest in high school. This was around the same time that Kendrick Lamar had broke out and he used to have the fuzzy box and my homie was like, “bruh, you look like Kendrick.” So, he just merged our names together so it was Kendrick and Donnell and started callin’ me, “Kellz.” When I started rapping I didn’t know a name to go by. He would always call me that as joke but then when I started to use it as my stage name I just put “Kell” right there and swapped the “c” out for a “k” on “classic” and I just turned that into me, you know, Klassic Kell.
That’s real cool and it’s interesting. It’s interesting because listening to your album (it’s been in rotation for the last couple weeks,) and that’s very much the energy I get from it. It’s very classic, it’s very timeless and I can honestly see… like you put me in a mind frame where I went back and listened to Dom Kennedy’s whole catalogue like after listening to you.
Klassic Kell: That’s hard man.
That’s what the album was giving me… Dom Kennedy, Curren$y, some Kendrick.
Klassic Kell: In highschool them was my guys. Spitta, you know, that was my guy. All of ‘em still but you know when you younger you’re like super fan. As I’m older now, them still my guys… Yeah, but you can get to a different level with it.
Klassic Kell: Yeah, it’s a different level to it. Now, I don’t even know who I even idolize no more and maybe it’s because I’m in music. So, now I’m looking at it more from a peer stand point as opposed to like, “dang, that’s Dom, that’s Spitta,” but Dom and Nip and just all of them. Dom is just one of the flyest, it was like it was effortless to Dom. I made it my point that when I do music this is how I kinda want to mold… it’s what I wanted to mold my sound off of just real chill vibes. I definitely appreciate you noticing that.
Yeah, I heard it for sure and it’s still your own thing. It’s real dope because I ain’t ever heard a sound like this out of Atlanta but it’s still Atlanta. You can hear these influences or whatever but it’s still Atlanta and I think that’s really exciting to have a different sound that you’re coming with. What’s that line you got… where you like, “how he from Atlanta rockin’ Dickies with a flannel.”
Klassic Kell: I knew you was about to say that. “...wearing Dickies with a flannel.” The crazy thing is everyone is saying the same thing like it’s still so Atlanta. I guess I be trying to figure out how.
It’s what you’re talkin’ about. You noted so many different things that are representative of Atlanta. I think I went through and made a list of all these key terms that was Atlanta in the album.
Klassic Kell: Man, and that’s crazy because that’s where it comes out and you’re not even trying. That’s the lifestyle aspect. Yeah, this is my influence but then at the same time my everyday life is displaying something else. My influence is one thing, you know, my influence can come from the West Coast but I didn’t grow up seeing a Randy’s Donuts or Crenshaw on Sundays. I grew up on the Southside, I grew up on Old National, I grew up just goin’ and seein’ what the city had to offer you. I grew up going to Cascade, skatetown and all these little things. I can only talk about just what I know so I guess that brings the Atlanta element to it.
Definitely. It’s a dope project and to me it seems like a classic project out of Atlanta for sure.
Klassic Kell: Man, that’s hard. That’s something big to live up to.
Ayy, not even. Just how you say it seem natural and effortless for Dom… it feel like that for you too. You know, and what I really enjoy about the album is how you storytell. It’s a different type of storytelling than what I hear coming out of your city. You’re really giving the play-by-play type storytelling… the type of shit you hear from Larry June too. Just real chill but real fly shit… real soulful (not necessarily in sound but intent.)
Klassic Kell: Man, that came from Biggie. He’s like my favorite rapper. I tried to make that song, “PERFECT DAY” as real life as when I hear Biggie’s storytellin’. I can’t even think of the song off the top of my head but it’s when Biggie was tellin’ that story when they on the elevator and they gettin’ into with the Peruvians and he’s literally sayin’ what floor they got off on, what’s the door number up to the room they goin’. He’s talkin’ bout when they walkin’ in the hallway…
Paintin’ the picture, for real.
Klassic Kell: Yeahhhh, I’m talkin’ bout paintin’ it! Even in the background he walkin’ and he sayin’ he seein’ the people they beefin’ with walkin’ past them in the hallway and the background has some heavy breathin’ sounds. It just really sound like you can see it. You visualizing it. So, for that song I just tried to do my best to bringing that song as close to like life as I could bring a song, you know.
Definitely did. I don’t know, the whole album. I wonder how other people receive it who aren’t from the West Coast and also ain’t been to Atlanta. That’d be real interesting to see how those people think about it.
Klassic Kell: Yep, and yeah as a whole I wanna see how they think about it too. It’s one thing just being in Atlanta and that’s the biggest thing I be getting from everybody, “this don’t sound like something that come out of Atlanta.” But, then to the West Coast people I don’t know if they’ve heard it or not… I got a few homies out there but I ain’t like so tapped in with the West Coast that I know what they sayin’. Even with the West Coast I want to know what they feel about it because I know they can hear the influence but then I wonder if they will realize that different element.
Yeah, yeah and the symbolism.
Klassic Kell: You know I’m just interested in all the takes. I wanna hear what everybody think about it. It’s like an open conversation and I want the whole project to spark conversation. You know, what’s your take from it?
Mhm, so outta your city who are some of your legends or musical influences?
Klassic Kell: Outta my city, some of my legends man… I’mma go with Jermaine Dupri, first, I feel like he opened up a lot of doors for Atlanta. Then, I’d go to OutKast, I’d go to Goodie Mob, I’d go to LIl’ Jon, I’ll say Tip, you know, Tip a legend. It don’t matter what Tip got going on, Tip a legend.
Yeah, no matter what city too.
Klassic Kell: It don’t matter what city Tip a Hip Hop legend, that’s undisputed. You got Jeezy, Jeezy a legend. People don’t be wanting to give Jeezy his flowers but Jeezy had the city in a chokehold at one point. For real, I remember being in the city and seeing everyone with them snowman shirts on. I wanted a snowman shirt. I wanted one of them shirts so bad - not knowing what it meant. I remember seeing “Trap or Die” posters everywhere, I remember that. I don’t care what anybody say, you can’t ever erase that. Everybody was a Jeezy fan no matter if you pick him or Gucci. Then you got Gucci, Gucci a legend. Shawty Lo a legend to me. A lot of people forget about Shawty Lo, he a legend. Umm, Ludacris.
Klassic Kell: Ludacris another legend that’s not talked about. I don’t think people really appreciate his contribution. Going up to 2 Chainz, I feel like 2 Chainz is staple and I think because he’s still active people just like, “yeah, that’s 2 Chainz,” but if 2 Chainz were to be like, “yeah, I’m cool on music, I’m done with it,” and let his discography be what it is. I feel like a year or two later people would go back and listen and they’d just appreciate it more. You know, he put in a lot for the city too and he put on a lot for the city. G.O.O.D. Music, he took the South to G.O.O.D. Music and he rep hard for us.
Yeah, that’s facts.
Klassic Kell: Man, there’s a lot of people.
Y’all got a lot in Atlanta, for sure.
Klassic Kell: It’s way more people than I can think of. I really wanna name a few more people out the 90’s. You know, Xscape. You know, Kris Kross, just people. But yeah, I’d say those are my legends man, just one of few. Jazzy Pha.
You know, Jazzy Pha actually from Memphis.
Klassic Kell: I ain’t know he was from Memphis.
Yeah, he from Memphis. He really put on for y’all’s city though.
Klassic Kell: Oh, that’s hard. I don’t think I ever heard Jazzy Pha mention Memphis. Right, me either but he from here.
Klassic Kell: That’s the craziest part. You would’ve swore Jazzy Pha from Atlanta. He a transplant. Klassic Kell: Yeah, but he real deal… it’s kinda like how Bow Wow is really from Cleveland.
Yeah, yeah, like Bone Thugs N Harmony, they from Ohio but most think West Coast.
Klassic Kell: Yeah, that’s dope because I think they got found by Tupac. I think they was gonna sign to Pac actually.
They were on Ruthless.
Klassic Kell: Oh, they was signed to Eazy E?
Yeah, Ruthless Records I believe.
Klassic Kell: Oh wow, that’s crazy, I ain’t have no clue of that. That’s big. But yeah, there’s really too many to name. You got Young Dro, Rich Kidz.
Man, Young Dro fr though.
Klassic Kell: Man, I’m tellin’ you we can have this conversation for the next 2 hours.
Yeah, it could go on forever because there’s even the contemporaries like KEY!, Skooly and all them.
Klassic Kell: Man, you got KEY! and KEY! Is like an underground legend. KEY! Just had a show here last week, sold out. One thing he knows is Atlanta gonna show up… which is a lot of people. Rich Kidz, Skooly could do a concert. You got K Camp, you know what I mean.
Man, K Camp.
Klassic Kell: That’s what I be saying there’s so many people. It’s so many people that have done so much. You can’t recognize all of them, you can try to but it be somebody out the woodworks every other month. Thug, we ain’t even mention.
That’s that I’m saying… that whole scene. But, a little about your album, The Klassic Tape, Vol. 1 - how did it come together? What was your creative process? I know you mentioned you started it in quarantine.
Klassic Kell: Yeah, so, I definitely started it in quarantine. I had been sittin’ on “PERFECT DAY,” I
had recorded it at the top of last year. I was just sittin’ on that song, for real, and I had stopped recording for like 3 months. I don’t think I recorded at all last summer. Then I went to Tree Sound Studios and I met with the general manager and we was talkin’ and he asked me to play him some music. So, we went into one of the studios and I hooked my phone up and played him some music. The first song that I played was “PERFECT DAY,” and he liked it a lot. So, I played him the next song and the next song was a different vibe, like complete left field song. He was listening, but you can tell when somebody is uninterested. I could tell he is uninterested so I switched to something else and he was back in tune but not as in tune as when he heard “PERFECT DAY.” He told me to stop and he was talkin’ to me sayin’, “I see you can do this, I see you do that and this. I think what you need to do is create your sound that works best for you.” And, I think to this point in my career he gave me 2 of the best pieces of advice that really helped this project become what it is. One, he was like, “you need to create your sound,” and I was like, “okay, yeah that makes sense. I never really thought about it.” Then, he was like, “and in order for you to do that you gotta lock in. You gotta find 1 producer that you like and that you want to work with. You gotta lock in with that 1 producer.” When he told me that - the album is 10 songs and 6 songs are produced by 1 person. When he told me that it was just like, “oh, okay, I gotcha.” I told one of the homies, producedbyDM. I told DM, “ayy, just send me beats.” So, DM sent me a folder that had like 40 beats in it. I just went through the folder and I just started finding beats and this was all in September of last year. I started writing to them and what I felt was cohesive and I felt was me. I just started workin’ and it just went from there. That’s really how it came about. It was supposed to start off as 4 songs as a small thing to do, something to just kinda get my mind going and everything. I ended up liking the songs I was recording so instead of 4 I said I was going to do 6 songs, and I was like I’mma do 8 and then one day I was workin’ got up and peeped 10 tracks. Everything else kinda went from there.
Yeah, yeah, the shit is real cohesive, very. There ain’t no skips, for real. Everytime I go through I think I know what my favorite ones are then it changes.
Klassic Kell: Man, somebody was sayin’ that yesterday, “like scratch my list this is my new favorites.” Long as you playin’ it bruh, I don’t care which one as long as it’s gettin’ played. Your favorite could be the intro where we just talkin’. As long as we gettin’ spins.
When you creatin’ what brings satisfaction to your craft or your art?
Klassic Kell: Man, what brings satisfaction? Seein’ the vision I had in my head executed the way that I have it in my head. I can’t tell you an idea, I can try to explain the idea as best as I can to you. I can see the picture in my head and I can explain it and you can kinda get a glimpse of the picture. Me and you probably don’t have the same picture in our heads. Anytime I can execute an idea exactly to how I heard it as, the tone of voice I write it in and I just keep doin’ takes until it’s the tone that I was looking for. Once I execute it, once I’m done then I’m content. I’m good.
So, your features - are they other Atlanta based artists?
Klassic Kell: All of the features are based in Atlanta but they all ain’t from Atlanta. The artists from Atlanta is Korduroy, Shelly and Andy Z6.
Okay, okay. So far, what has been your proudest moment in your journey?
Klassic Kell; Man, finally gettin’ this project out. I had put out a little 2 song EP in 2018 and I started promoting this new project and said it was gonna come out the summer of 2019. Then, that didn’t happen because I was still working and it wasn’t where I wanted it to be. I pushed it back to the summer of 2020 but then COVID hit and I was like, “man, I’m not about to put anything out in the middle of COVID.” I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to do it when people was outside.
Maybe not enough attention.
Klassic Kell: Absolutely, there was so much goin’ on. Now that I think about it people might have paid attention because wasn’t nobody doin’ nothin’. It might’ve been dope. It might’ve been a cool vibe. Yeah, just gettin’ it out. I had been promoting another project for like a little minute and that’s what made me stop recording last year because I had kinda just lost inspiration in making it. It take a lot of stamina and a lot of belief in something to work on it consistently for a year and half, two years. The start of The Klassic Tape gave me an opportunity to just go in a whole different direction and to get new ideas and all of this. It was just the fact of doing something from start to finish. My first attempt at it, I didn't put the project out. The project never came out. In my chapter, in my book right now it’s still an unclosed chapter but The Klassic Tape was a full body of work from start to finish and to put it out and to know how hard I worked on it. I’m cool with it, I can live with it. At the moment, this is my proudest moment.
I would say so. It’s a phenomenal project, truthfully.
Klassic Kell: I believe it, I put a lot into it. I’m just listenin’ to what everybody is sayin’ I’m just listenin’. I don’t think it’s really hit me. I think I gotta listen to the project in like 2 years for it to hit me. When you done worked on something for so long and you’ve just been sittin’ with something - but, I was listenin’ to the songs before the project comin’ out and I wasn’t even interested in the songs no more because I worked on them for so long. You know, sat with them for weeks and months and playin’ them over and over. Tweakin’ ‘em, doin’ edits, goin’ to the studio because something didn’t sound good, the fade is too long or the fade is too short - just being meticulous. It’s like driving yourself crazy over the songs. So, now the fact that it’s out and I get to listen to it as a whole, as a project and I don’t have to do nothin’ no more it feel good. It feel good to hear people sayin’ it’s a classic project or it’s a good project because all I know is that I put everything I had into for the most part.
I can imagine that shit feel like a huge relief.
Klassic Kell: It feel like now y’all can leave me alone for the next 2 years. I’m not sayin’ I’ll take that long again to do something again. But, now it feel like I can go out without people asking me, “bruh, where the project at?” I started gettin’ all them when people seein’ me out. “When’s it comin’ out? Where’s it at?” Like bruh, I don’t know so I just told everybody it’s comin’ soon. I don’t know when, what month, what time of the year but it’s comin’ soon.
It’ll be here at the right time.
Klassic Kell: It will be here at the right time. Man, God’s timing is always on time. You know, it came out when it was supposed to come out.
Facts, so what’s next for you? You got some videos you workin’ on?
Klassic Kell: Oh yeah, I’m definitely working on some videos right now. That’s a whole other process in itself just because I been realizing working with videographers is harder than working with artists.
Klassic Kell: Man, it’s not even that they harder to work with than artists but it’s like diggin’ for diamonds finding a videographer. Not every videographer can get the vision in our head. Not every videographer is going to be able to execute what you want. Then, some of them will say, “I’ll shoot but my budget is 2500.” So, it’s just finding that but I think I finally found one I’mma work with. I got a consultation comin’ up with him and we just gonna figure it out. I think and I’m hoping that homie is the guy that we go ahead and start rollin’ out these videos with. We gonna be linking up soon to go ahead and talk about the first video and we gonna go from there.
I hope it goes well. I look forward to seeing some videos because obviously it’s your artistry but I really think that just off of that one video of yours you got up - the stories are expounded on in the video. People will see your environment like that.
Klassic Kell: Absolutely, that’s how I’m tryin’ to make it in everything I do. That’s when I really think about Dom and Curren$y. Curren$y, you know the car shop he always at, he got that car shop in his videos. You know, Dom, those same places he shot his videos you can go to them. It’s like they put their real life into the music. So, I try to do the same thing with Atlanta. I don’t feel like nobody (outside from strip clubs,) really shows the day2day life of Atlanta. People show you’re either in the strip clubs or you’re in the trap house. One or the other.
Nah, that’s real. I don’t know if you saw the interview another artist from Atlanta, Vega.
Klassic Kell: Oh yeah, I saw. And that was my thing, like get outside because Georgia is hella beautiful and people don’t see the green they don’t think of all the green that’s down there too.
Klassic Kell: Nah, that’s a fact, that’s a fact.
It’s real country, for real.
Klassic Kell: Man, for real and that even go back to OutKast. That was a big influence and people just really don’t understand.
Shit, them Goodie Mob videos too.
Klassic Kell: Yeah, for real. Goodie Mob was more frfr out there like they’d be like, “we out here on Campbellton Rd. shooting a video right here, we bout to go to JJ’s rib shack real quick. We bout to post up outside JJ’s and shoot this video.”
No hype shit.
Klassic Kell: Nah, nothing at all and it be people like me who be takin’ it in and idolizing it. You go to JJ’s and they done shot the video inside of it and you sittin’ at the table like, “dang, this the same table they was sittin’ at.” You know, you sayin’, “a couple years ago on Headland and Delowe,” I grew up, up the street from Headland and Delowe. So, just them talkin’ bout that intersection and you seeing the “Headland and Delowe” intersection signs right there is like, “this spot, whether they were standing here or not is exactly what they was talkin’ bout.” That picture of them just naming streets and it did something for me. That’s how I feel. I feel like, I can only do the next person who might be listening to me. That’s why, “SOUFSIDE” is the way that it is, and there’s a lot of people who know the Southside and can resonate with a lot of stuff that I said.
Yeah, the shits dope and especially the symbolism you got on it is real dope. You got anything else you want to add?
Klassic Kell: Go play The Klassic Tape if ya ain’t tapped in and shout out to y’all, I appreciate it.