Kari Faux on Southern Rap, Grief, and Falling in Love While Making Her Latest Album
Kari Faux raps and sings with the self-possession of the best friend who's required to proofread any text message to a partner you know you need to break up with. She'll ensure you're not giving any extra energy to someone who isn't worth it. Or will happily tell you to delete the messages altogether. That level of confidence and keen sense of self-worth have bled into the Little Rock, AR, native's music since the release of her debut album in 2016.
And she certainly doesn't care what anyone else thinks about that.
"My confidence just comes from not giving a f*ck whether or not people really understand it," Faux tells POPSUGAR. "I just like what I like, and I kind of stand on that."
"I just like what I like, and I kind of stand on that."
The 30-year-old's confidence also stems from her roots in the South — the place that made her feel safe to show up as exactly who she is and wants to be. For her latest album, "Real B*tches Don't Die," released May 26, Faux visited Little Rock to recapture that feeling. In turn, she has created a body of work that's an ode to the Southern rap influences that healed her and molded her identity as an artist. The 13-track album features artists like Mississippi rapper Big K.R.I.T. and the late rap legend Gangsta Boo.
Ahead of the release of "Real B*itches Don't Die," Faux told us about her Little Rock upbringing, the creative process behind the album, and what it means to find healing in Southern rap music.
"This album is really just like a statement of: I'm still here."
POPSUGAR: When did you start creating this album, and what mindset were you in at the time?
Kari Faux: I was thinking about how I've been doing this for so long. I think a lot of people don't understand how hard it is to do this sh*t. Being an artist is not an easy thing. Most of the time, people just see the product of it, but the work that actually goes into it — it's been a really hard, long road. For me, sometimes I think about how did I even prevail for this long? One side of that [with this album] is like a celebration of life and a declaration of independence. It's just been really hard and really long, and I also have been going through a lot of grief these past few years, so this album is really just like a statement of: I'm still here, even though I've been through a lot of loss.
PS: What were some of those losses?
KF: Even before the pandemic, I lost a lot of aunts who were just pillars in my family, and I think that as you get older and you start to see your family dynamics change, it becomes very real that time is a real thing. Also, I lost my friend Chynna in 2020. That was right when lockdown happened, and just losing her suddenly was hard for me because she was also a rapper and a writer, and I think we just had a lot of respect and camaraderie amongst each other. Then, I lost my cousin. . . . I just think I've just experienced a lot of loss in such a compact amount of time. I don't think I lost a lot of people before 2016. I hadn't really seen loss happen back to back to back to back, but I still have to keep going.
PS: Tell me about the Little Rock that you grew up with. Who were you listening to?
KF: My family isn't super religious, but we went to church a lot. My mom is a certified minister, so religion was always a huge part of our life, which kind of made me be rebellious. What you see is the product of me being completely rebellious and just going out into the world and doing what I wanted to do. Even though my parents were on the conservative religious side, they were never like, "You can't do this." They were never encouraging, but they weren't discouraging. I am kind of appreciative of that, because even though they weren't encouraging me to do certain things or pushing me in certain ways, I did have the space to be whomever it is I wanted to be without too much friction.
My brother is 10 years older than me, so I listened to whatever he listened to, which was a lot of rap music. It was Devin the Dude, UGK, Outkast, Three 6 Mafia. I remember vividly that would be what he would listen to. It was also Bone Thugs-n-Harmony and Do or Die and a lot of West Coast stuff. It was a lot of rap until I got a little older, and I started finding pop stuff like Britney Spears and *NSYNC and just the stuff that was cool in the early 2000s.
Image Source: Bucci
PS: This album is also a celebration of love with your partner and Grammy-winning producer, Phoelix. How did he help with the creative process for the album?
KF: This is the first healthy relationship I've ever been in. It's healthy on a personal level, but on the work side, because we really know how to switch gears. We can be this for each other, but when we're working, we're working, and that's really effective. Also us getting to know each other and dating while creating the album, he just really learned a lot about where I'm from, and the music that I listened to growing up was stuff he had never heard before, but he was like, this is crazy, and I think that's why it sounds the way that it does and feels the way that it does, because he's a genius. He's very cerebral. When he's working with an artist, he wants to have conversations with them to really understand their perspective, so he can make things tailored for them versus re-creating or replicating things.
PS: Can you give me an example of that?
KF: On "White Caprice," you hear a train. He implemented that into the beat. The reason it's there is because if you're going to my house, there's a train track. The train always catches you. It's like the most irritating thing ever, because you'd be waiting on this train to pass by, and sometimes it just goes super slow. When I brought him to my family reunion here last year, we just kept catching the train. He came back with the instrumental for the song with this train beat.
PS: Gangsta Boo, who died earlier this year, is on that track. How did that happen?
KF: I've known her since 2018. We've always followed each other online. When making the chorus for "White Caprice," I was thinking about who I can get on it, and I just thought about her. The album at that point was already going to be called "Real B*tches Don't Die," and I just thought, "Who else can I get on this album who embodies that energy of just having staying power?" She's a legend, and she was still rapping circles around motherf*ckers till the day she passed. She was still going hard. I just hit her up to see if she wanted to do the song, and I told her I had booked this studio in LA to record it. She pulled up, and we kicked it, we talked. She wrote her verse in the studio. We drank some tequila. It was a vibe.
I think the experience of being able to make a song with someone who was as influential as she was for me and so many other people — whether people want to acknowledge it or not, she is a staple in rap music, not just female rap or rap music in general. As a kid, I remember watching her and Three 6 Mafia but also just La Chat, Mia X. All of them are just like staples to me because they really just embodied an energy I just looked at in awe. Like they're hard, they're tough, and they're rapping, rapping. To be able to witness that in person, it's something I'll never forget. I play that day over and over because I was so sick when I heard she had passed.
PS: You mentioned that you were depressed by industry standards when creating this album. What are those standards?
"I don't know how much longer I'm going to be doing this side of it."
KF: It's a lot of, "You can't do this" and "This is industry standard." It's also exploitative, and it can be very dehumanizing at times when people don't really see you as a person, they see you as a product. That makes me really sad, because I love making music. I'm going to be 100 percent transparent. I don't know how much longer I'm going to be doing this side of it — the artist, forward-facing side of it — just because it's a lot and I feel like I've sacrificed so much of myself and my mental and physical health to do this thing and give people this thing. It's not nice.
PS: Is there something else you'd want to do?
KF: I feel like there's a lot of things I think I can do. I love clothes. At some point, I'd like to get into acting or even just being behind the camera. I would love to write for other artists and help them arrange their music. I still want to be in the music space. I just don't know if I want to do all of the artist things.
PS: "Real B*tches Don't Die" sounds like it should've been one of the Ten Commandments. Where did that statement emerge for you? Is that something you needed to tell yourself at the time?
KF: The intro was actually one of the first songs that was written. I was writing it with my friend, and we were just having a lot of conversations about grief and loss. He just said that, and I was like, "Oh sh*t, yeah." He had experienced loss in a way that was major, and he understood where I was coming from, and he could see that I still had the will to just show up and do the thing and be myself. He was just like, "Yeah, real b*tches don't die. Yeah, you're not giving up, but those that have gone on, they're still with you. They're going to live through you." That's how I choose to live my life. I get to show up and honor them by doing the thing.