EXCLUSIVE: Kota the Friend Gets Real About His Artistry and Allegations

Hip Hop artist Kota the Friend has a distinctive creativity that is eminent in every song that he produces. Throughout his discography, Kota the Friend has designed dope records that have exhibited his transparent and self-reflective nature. 

Due to his distinguished flow, profound lyricism and consistent sound, Kota the Friend has been able to sustain his spot in hip hop and thrive as an independent artist. The 29-year-old Brooklyn rapper’s dedication to being authentically himself has proven successful, earning him a position on Rolling Stone’s 2019 Best Hip-Hop Album list for his 2019 album Foto.

Irrespective of the accolades and peer-to-peer recognition that he has received for being a standout rapper, Kota the Friend continues to still see himself as just an artist. 

“I see myself as an artist,” Kota the Friend said. “I try to use my platform to spread love and positive energy to people that are struggling emotionally and mentally. My music is fueled by my real life, my dreams, my experiences and my journey.”

Photo by Tyler Blint Welsh

In each new song that is released by Kota the Friend there is a new side of him that is revealed, unveiling the Colorado rapper’s progression and evolution. Moving away from the darker concepts that are prevalent in his debut 2016 mixtape Palm Tree Liquor, Kota the Friend has embraced positivity and healing in follow-up music.

“When I made Palm Tree Liquor my subject matter was very dark,” Kota the Friend said. “I realized that I didn’t want to live in that dark energy forever so I started making more positive music to manifest a better life for myself and to become a better person. I think now my music is more hopeful. I also try to elevate the instrumentation with every album I make by working with musicians and getting deeper into the production.”

The commitment to transformation is a personal inclination for Kota the Friend, potentially because of the competitiveness within the New York City hip hop arena. As a New Yorker, and Brooklynite, Kota the Friend has had to carve his own niche within hip hop to differentiate himself from other Empire State rappers.

Photo by Ragan Henderson

Although Kota the Friend only focuses on the lane he’s in, the influences of his hometown merged with his musical appreciation for the rock genre has been instrumental in cultivating his songwriting skills.

“Truth be told, I am indeed just another New York rapper in many ways,” Kota the Friend said. “I was brought up on Biggie, Jay Z, Nas, 50 cent, Fat Joe, pun etc. When I got to high school I began expanding my musical knowledge by listening to different music like The Beatles, The Doors, John Mayer, Jack Johnson, Ingrid Michaelson, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix. Although hip hop is and will always be the love of my life, my approach to songwriting is heavily influenced by other genres and I think that makes me different.”

Not giving into trendy hip hop phases like mumble rap and drill music, Kota the Friend stays true to his own curated easy-going style that is extremely relatable if you listen intently. The rhymes he writes is his therapy, and in his honesty his personality is able to radiate through—enabling fans to connect with Kota due to collective human experiences.

Realism is a fundamental piece of  hip hop culture, hence why Kota only makes music for those keepin’ it real—specifically when it comes to owning their internal emotions.  

“I make music for people that are real people, “ Kota the Friend said. “For me songwriting is a form of therapy which is why I’m so vulnerable with it. It’s the place where I can be completely myself. It’s spiritual to me. I write it for anyone that will listen. I think it perfectly represents my personality because it’s raw, emotional, romantic, dark at times, calm and flawed. It’s very honest. I’ve always told my truth in my music.”

Most recently Kota the Friend released his 2022 single Dear Fear from his upcoming album Lyrics to GO Vol. III, the third installment of his Lyrics to GO album series. In less than four minutes the Pomegranate rapper in full lucidity expressed everything each of us has experienced throughout the last two years. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic our lives have been flipped upside down, flourishing our dispositions in the process. 

Eloquently articulating this in Dear Fear, Kota created a theme song for everyone undergoing a metamorphosis and beginning their self-love expedition in the new year. While the record was cathartic for fans, it also mirrored the cathartic enlightenment that Kota the Friend endured during the pandemic.

“During the pandemic I learned that I had given very little attention to my mental health and it was showing up in my relationships,” Kota the Friend said. “I was depressed and had a lot of anxiety. When I started reading and learning about mental health I learned that I had been traumatized by things that happened in my life and more importantly I learned how to reverse the effects of trauma. I learned about the power of meditation, community and books. I learned how to reconnect with my body and how essential that is to healing your mind. I learned that fear of being hurt can change the course of your whole life and make it impossible for a person to form meaningful relationships. I learned that love is a verb and I learned how to actively love myself. Giving myself love for the first time made me realize that I needed to have better standards for the people I let into my life.”

His emotional vulnerability is a valued trait within a hip hop artist, and has been evident in legendary rappers like Andre 3000 from Outkast. Despite his implicit similarity to artists like J. Cole, Joey Bada$$ and EarthGang, Kota the Friend has concocted a very recognizable rap voice that is tailored to him. No two Kota songs sound the same, however his overall record stylization is constant. 

By only producing music that pleases his spirit, Kota the Friend has been able to avoid being lost in a sea of talented rappers and remain fruitful as an indie artist. The accomplishments that Kota the Friend has acquired is the direct outcome of an artist who is allowed to freely construct without the input and parameter-setting of major music labels. 

Unlike most rappers whose prominent desire is to achieve financial gain from their music-making, Kota’s dominant objective is just to make quality music that resonates with people. Hence why he refuses to sign a music deal, choosing instead to persevere as an indie artist. 

“I don’t focus on financial success but instead mental and emotional growth, “ Kota the Friend said. “I enjoy being completely free and being independent allows me to do that. My music is not just some product to be sold by a company. It’s an extension of myself and my deepest feelings. I could never give anyone power over my process. I would never sign to a label because I enjoy my freedom too much.”

For those treading in his footsteps, be mindful that being an indie act isn’t for the faint of hearts, however Kota’s tips might be beneficial advice to keep you going. 

“One, make sure your team is full of people you trust to hold you down through your darkest times,” Kota the Friend advises. “Two, work as if nobody is coming to save you, [and] three, be authentic. Your story is good enough and there are people out there that need you to tell it so that they can feel seen.”

Kota the Friend is not a man of secrets, divulging his truth whenever the opportunity arises—even when it comes to addressing his 2021 assault allegations. Back in the summer of 2021 both of Kota the Friend’s exes called him out on Twitter for being an alleged emotional, mental and physical abuser. Until Kota dropped his song Bitter in November of 2021, fans only knew his ex-fiancé’s and ex-girlfriend’s side—mistaking his initial silent response to the claims as a sign of guilt. 

Bitter was Kota’s retelling of his relationships from his perspective. From his point-of-view, there was toxicity on both sides, but the physical abuse was only perpetuated by his exes—not him.

“Bitter is a song that I created to tell the story of what actually happened in my toxic relationship,” Kota the Friend said. “I was physically abused by Teyonie. She hit me on two occasions and I never hit her back. One time I held her back because she was punching me in my chest, face and back. She kept trying to punch me in my face. She was upset because she found out I slept with another woman. As far as Gabriella, she hit me in the chest on one occasion but I never hit her back.”

Additionally, Kota the Friend also continues to deny that he sexually groomed his ex-gilfriend Teyonie, asserting that they both were consenting and adults when they began dating.

“I first spoke to Teyonie when she was 17 and I was 21, but we didn’t have a relationship,” Kota the Friend said. “She [Teyonie] contacted me a few years later when she was in her twenties, and so was I. That’s when we started having a relationship. She even clarifies this somewhere in her tweets but people only read the tweets that were sensationalized. I met Gabriella [ex-fiancé] when we were both in our twenties.”

Although the allegations have shifted some fans’ idea of Kota, fueling distrust for the rapper’s high-vibrational persona, he continues to stand-by his innocence—unphased by those refusing to believe his story.

“It saddens me that any of my fans would feed into a false narrative like this. I’m transparent in my music,” Kota the Friend said. “I openly speak on my flaws and my desire to grow as a person. These accusations were made by two women whose feelings were hurt. I never want to be in a position where I have to defend myself against a woman or any person for that matter. But the truth is that I was assaulted and abused by women and then accused of abusing the same women that assaulted me, which blew my mind. At this point it’s just sad to me. I’ve been working daily to keep my head up and keep moving forward. None of these accusations have resulted in charges, arrests or court hearings. It was all about embarrassing me on social media so that I would lose supporters. I’m just grateful for the millions of fans that stuck by me and were open enough to hear my story. That means more to me than the people that wrote me off.”

Aside from the scandal that loomed over Kota’s career in 2021, this year he’s elevating beyond that. In his new album that is dropping Friday (Jan.14) Lyrics to GO Vol. III Kota the Friend shows much artist development, something many Kota fans can look forward to.

Lyrics to GO Vol. III is my first project that actually has a complete storyline,” Kota the Friend said. “It’s truly a journey.” The fluid featureless piece will have many transitions, much like everyday life does. “Lyrics to GO Vol. III is an album about growth and healing through a traumatic event. It’s sad at times, happy at times and meditative at times,” Kota said. 

When it boils down to it, the purpose of this forthcoming album is to give fans hope via an intricate insight into Kota’s emotional and mental growth voyage. 

“I want to give fans an inside look of what my emotional and mental healing process looks like,” Kota said. “I hope it inspires people to push forward and learn to love themselves enough to do better for themselves.”

After Lyrics to GO Vol.III is released there won’t be too much we will no longer not know about Kota the Friend. Well, except for maybe one thing.

“I think my fans would be surprised to know that I have a secret catalogue of acoustic guitar songs.”

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