The theme on Cut From Steel recently seems to be artists who are using their voices to tell authentic stories. This theme is so clearly expressed through the work of West Coast Canadian’ rapper and visual artist Kimmortal. With an education in visual arts and a gift for storytelling, Kimmortal is one of the most focused and lyrically effective MCs working in Canada today. The lyrics go in – all in. There is room for wishy washy sentiments. Kimmortal is here to tell it like it needs to be told and we are here for it.
You know how sometimes when you’re speaking to someone they take 10 minutes to tell you a 1 minute story and sort of meander here and there to the point where the original point is totally dead and gone? Yeah, that’s the worst. Kimmortal is the opposite of that; the lyrics and the sharp cadence get the message across clearly. What’s the message? The range of issues that Kimmortal takes up through song involve everything from dismantling the grip that male cisgendered MCs have over hip hop music to make room for POC, queer and indigenous artists – to issues of personal growth and self-care. In the excellent single 88 & Beyond there is a line that says “If you’re looking for a thread hold these lines for survival” that really sums up Kimmortal well, in my opinion. There is a nod to struggles of different kinds and the idea that this music can be used as a tool for unity and support. Oppression and marginalization are complicated issues that involve a range of people and an intersectionality that can be hard to tease apart. You may be marginalized in several different and complicated ways at once. Kimmortal’s music gets at this through lyrics that unify. Something else that’s important to highlight is the fact that Kimmortal is a really great MC with a flow that is super impressive and a sharp and powerful delivery.
Q – How are the shows going?
This run of shows came about organically from meeting friends in my last trip out east here. I was last here on the east coast area cos I was acting in a theater production at the National arts centre in Ottawa. I was able to get a pop up show in Toronto. I met Cadence Weapon at the Junofest who put me on the bill for a NXNE set he’s curating in Toronto. And Lal connected me with Max & Eyeda, a sister-brother duo also based in Toronto who are producing this show I’m gonna be a part of. Setting up shows by just reaching out to friends in other cities has been going really smoothly I find.
Q – When was the last time you played in Hamilton?
The last time I played in Hamilton was two years ago. I travelled solo from Toronto to do a show my friend Tarek Funk organized. There was where I saw Mother Tareka, Kojo and Ziboya Nhun perform and it was tight.
Q – You are from Vancouver where the housing situation is notoriously terrible. I believe the housing value watch groups have listed Hamilton and Toronto just below Vancouver in terms of dangerous housing markets. What’s it like being a creative person and living in a city that is so impossible housing wise?
I am currently living in an overpriced shoebox in a central part of East Vancouver. It’s not enough space to dance or move in. My oven is at the foot of my bed but I can get the privacy I require to get solitude and a quiet space. I’m not living with roommates which would be cheaper. A lot of my friends who are struggling financially live with partners or friends who split rent. A lot of the venues that hosted queer/trans-inclusive/activist/bipoc events have closed down in the city. Gentrification is ridiculous and people are always hustling for the next paycheque where a good fraction goes towards rent. It becomes more significant for us to show up for each other’s shows because we all know the labour that goes into making a show or anything happen in this city. Collaborative work becomes miraculous to witness but also essential to getting through all the bullshit.
Q – Can you tell us how the video for “I’m Blue” came about?
I’m Blue was directed and produced by Entertainment forever, a young film production company based in Vancouver that I collaborated with. The room in the film was an actual built set. Those walls were built, that bed is from ikea, that creature is a puppet that Patrick Macht created where you can manipulate the tongue from the back. I contributed my art, my grad thesis project is in it – which is the book I flip through, the trees were built by the team and my art/symbols were painted on it. The idea of living in my head and sorting through my thoughts in solitude and trying to find myself and lift myself is what I’m getting at in the film.
Q – Is there a point where the visual art creation stops and the music begins? Do these things happen simultaneously?
My dad was a stay at home artist/father while my mom worked a number of jobs when I was growing up. My dad would always be singing gospel songs while washing dishes and I’d sit on his lap and watch him paint charcoal portraits that people would commission him to do. My dad eventually stopped doing art and became the custodian at the private school my siblings and I went to. I went to school for visual art and art history and would sing at a lot of open mics with my guitar. My parents were never 100% on me pursuing art and music. Art was my dad’s means of survival and making money in this country. In contrast, my art is for self-actualization and making sense of shit. It’s a clear privilege connected to my parents’ sacrifice. At the same time, my art is offering and a channel to my bloodline, spirit, and ancestry in a system that’s made to disconnect us.
Q – Do you have any thoughts about the relationship between immigrants / settlers / first nations people as it pertains to being oppressed and searching for belonging?
My understanding of myself as Filipino has changed in relation to how I’m a first generation settler on unceded coast salish land. It shifts my understanding as being part of a marginalized racialised community but also part of this ongoing occupation on indigenous land. There is both the experience of privilege and oppression when I acknowledge intersections. As first generation, my parents spoke to us in Tagalog but it wasn’t encouraged for us to speak our language. I am privileged in comparison to other Filipinos because I don’t have a beautiful accent. I have a Canadian education and am technically well integrated and assimilated. Being queer, non-binary and brown as well as non-black and a non-indigenous settler on stolen land are facts to keep in mind when framing my story in a system that consciously disenfranchises certain communities. Basically, we’re all connected in this process. I have experiences of privilege and oppression but it’s all in relation.
There is that quote byLila Watson: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us walk together”. This is a grounding compass for me.
A pressing issue right now in my communities is the Kinder Morgan pipeline which was just bought out by Trudeau’s administration. They’re planning to push the toxic pipeline through indigenous land and waters without consent. This is an “everybody” issue, as the water, earth, and generations are at stake. My friend Megang, who is a musician-activist shared their thoughts at a show recently saying how we all need to step into our healing gifts and we all need each other through this. One of my friends Ostwelve, Coast salish multimedia hip hop artist who is an outspoken anti-imperialist decolonial activist always reinforces how we all need to be part of the process of healing through “totemization”: sing it, dance it, write it, rap it, draw it, etc.
Q – I get the sense that you have such a distilled and firm hold on who you are as a person and an artist. You have genuine confidence and authenticity that comes through in your music. How do you nurture that in this business which can be so brutal?
Staying authentic for me has looked like staying self managed, keeping tuned in to what’s going on in the world, and showing up for my friends who are qtibipoc artists and healers, people who have nurtured the words I have been creating before I got more known as Kimmortal. I have been vulnerable in my music lately because I have fears and doubts around pursuing music as business or as activism. I have chosen activism but at the same time non-grassroots shows have been paying my bills… inevitably, this music stuff has become my business and so now I need to run things with integrity and in alignment with my values. We as multilayered people are navigating different worlds at once so it becomes more about staying anchored in my heart. A hard thing to do indeed.
Q – Who are some artists that inspire you?
Currently I am really into: Ostwelve, Megang, Future Star, Snotty Nose Rez kids, Leanne Simpson and her poetry+music project, Princess Nokia, Ruby Ibarra, Ziibiwan, Sango, Huali, Witch Prophet, Lido Pimienta, Missy D, and JB the First Lady.
Q – How did you learn to rap?
I listened to a lot of Ian Kamau, Gabriel Teodros, blue scholars, lauryn hill, the fugees, def jam poetry, rogue pinay, Bambu, Khingz, Rocky Rivera, Nitty Scott mc, eternia and the roots a lot when I first started to try rapping. I have always been someone who needed to write in order to feel like I could hear and sense my own thoughts. If I don’t write and hear my own words, I am very lost.