Words: Dylan Murphy
Photography: George Voronov
Deep in the forests and valleys of Slane, Otherside Festival is creating the ultimate three day gathering of people wanting something beyond the ordinary. Ahead of his debut at the festival this July, KhakiKid spoke to Dylan Murphy about how loosening his grip on reality helps him make sense of the world. You can catch KhakiKid and reconnect with nature at Otherside. Click here to book tickets.
KhakiKid has little time for musicians that love making excuses. They’re top of a half-serious list made up of people, characteristics and gimmicks that make his eyes roll. It’s not that he’s a hater, (that’s actually another inclusion on his imaginary list), he’s just tired of middle class BIMM students complaining about the pitfalls of living in Ireland. Especially, when we’re seeing artists with only a laptop, living in the most isolated parts of the island making credible music.
“That’s one of those things man, I have so much faith in the internet. I hate when people say shit like, ‘you can’t do anything in Ireland’. It’s the biggest excuse ever that because you are in Ireland you’ll never blow up”, he says.
It’s an opinion informed by the 22 year old rapper’s own rise to the surface from the confines of Crumlin. Likewise, it’s worth saying, most of his complaints are only semi-serious. Anyone that spends a few moments in his presence is immediately aware of the role humour plays in how Abdu Huss, AKA KhakiKid, makes sense of the world. Having scrapped plans to study maths in college in order to follow his dream of becoming a rapper, not even he is immune to being poked fun of. “I ended up telling my mam the worst thing you could tell a mother” he says, pausing for dramatic effect, ‘I’m not going to college because I want to be a rapper’. That’s the worst thing you could tell a mother. Not that I’m going to become a singer.. I’m becoming a rapper. I feel so bad for my mother back in those days”, he says, laughing down the phone.
I ended up telling my mam the worst thing you could tell a mother, ‘”I’m not going to college because I want to be a rapper”‘KhakiKid
It’s clear to hear, that being courted by numerous record labels and making a name for himself as one of the country’s most promising new artists makes the jokes at his own expense a little easier. However, while much has changed, things aren’t all that different for Khakikid. To this day, he’s has recorded all his music in his bedroom that he continues to share with his two “full time gamer” younger brothers. It’s not exactly an ideal set up for a bedroom studio and in the early days his family had to put up with him screaming loudly into his brother’s gaming headset whilst he clumsily recorded demos. But now, he’s used to turning inconveniences into the texture of his tracks. “When I make music, I don’t go to the studio. I record it right at my desk whilst my little brother is shouting ‘you little camping bitch’ in the background. If you listen to the stems of ‘Shlumped Up’, you can hear them shouting in the background”, he says, laughing.
It’s this upside down worldview that makes Abdu’s music so appealing. Everything is just a little bit off in the right kind of way. Take his video for ‘Shlumped Up’ for example, where he shares a bath with his demon (who has a g string peering through his suit, no less) before pressing bellies with an adversary and negotiating with a blu-ray of Hancock. Or his video for ‘Cozy’ where a muscular dude in a bowler hat pulls him by the scruff of the neck whilst he’s spoon fed his breakfast. In an approach that raises more questions than answers, ambiguity and head scratching are some of the only certainties in the Crumlin rapper’s surreal videos.
“I love saying things that people wouldn’t say. Like I picked up my girlfriend on a bike on our first date. I love saying things differently, having a different perspective on things or a slightly left of field approach. I think there’s also a cool Irish specific thing, where you know the way Irish culture is often self-deprecating? But then rap music, from its inception, is very show-offy and boisterous. I was like, what’s the perfect combination of both of those? Let me show off about how much of a piece of shit I am”, he says with a sense of pride.
This style isn’t limited to his music videos. In his biggest headline show to date, Abdu had a member of the crowd hit him over the head with a glass bottle to which he responded by going full Stone Cold Steve Austin and smashing him through a table. It’s the kind of theatrical move that keeps punters on their toes and has them questioning whether what they saw as a coordinated move or just another twist in his unpredictable world.
Bouncing between these tales, his likes, dislikes and ideas for forthcoming shows at the speed of an auctioneer in full flow, you could easily mistake Khaki’s hyperactivity for a lack of focus and his frustrations for grudges. Likewise, if you were seeing his work for the first time you’d be forgiven for thinking he takes nothing seriously. But not everything is how it seems. Much like Outkast’s ‘Hey Ya!’, the upbeat coating often masks some of the more serious moments. It’s clear surrealism is an essential part of how he makes sense of some of life’s tougher moments.
“Yeah, lyrics like ‘damn, I can barely even breath in this place… gotta sit so fucking still flowers bloom from my pocket’, that actually does mean something to me. That’s being at a party and there’s so much going on, and you don’t even feel like you are there. You’re at something but you’re just not there.”
Khaki is the first to admit he’s had his share of luck in the past couple of years. With so many creatives suffering throughout the past couple of years, he can appreciate that he’s been a rare beneficiary of the pandemic. When he was afforded 40 more hours a week to work on music whilst his place of work remained closed he grabbed the opportunity with both hands, writing and recording in every available moment. Keen to add the disclaimer that it isn’t some hyper-capitalist “Gary Vee hustle” mindset he’s procured, he tells me he’s just become more opportunistic and recently even handed in his notice to work in order to pursue music full time.
“You can get the attention of people in London whilst you are in Ireland. It’s a bad example, but Rich Brian, he put out his first song whilst he was in Indonesia. Obviously that blew up, but is there that much more of a rap scene in Indonesia than in Ireland? If you can do it there you can do it anywhere man.”
On the flip side, while living in Ireland shouldn’t be an excuse, being from there shouldn’t be the motivating factor behind the support for him. Continuing, Abdu says that people often use “Irish” as a qualifier for musicians and particularly rappers and it relegates them to a lower category than their global contemporaries.
“There’s little caveats there, that they are only here ‘cause they are Irish. There is a weird balance of showing love to them because they are from your own country, but you don’t want to love them just because they are Irish. I don’t want to be liked just cause I’m Irish and happen to be a rapper” he explains, with deliberate care given to highlighting the difference.
“My goal isn’t to blow up in Ireland – it’s to become successful world wide… There’s so many acts that are just popular in Ireland. I also don’t want to be that…” he says. While sure, there are more and more opportunities arising for artists on mainstream platforms, KhakiKid is not about the “Gimmicky” ones that dilute what he’s doing for mams and dads at home. Instead, he’s more concerned with creating and taking part in opportunities that put artists from Ireland on the same platform as his heroes. So it’s fitting that he plays with homegrown artists like Curtisy, Malaki and KNEECAP alongside international acts like DJ Seinfeld at Otherside Festival this summer.
“I don’t want to be liked just cause I’m Irish and happen to be a rapper”KhakiKid
“In the last year or two I do want to make a point to be an Irish rapper. I want people in Ireland to fuck with me. I was writing out my goals a few months back and something I want to do in 2028 is have a festival like Camp Flognaw, but it’s not a shitty little festival for Irish artists I want to bring over international acts but also put on Irish people, you know what I mean?”
This kind of future forecasting is a motivational exercise for Abdu and one he doesn’t take lightly. It’s this energy that propelled him from what he describes as “cringey” early tracks to the playlist favourites he has now. Likewise, he takes finding new music and studying his favourite acts equally as serious and when talking about who inspires him right now he forensically picks through my suggestions. “Yeah, not so much Zack Fox. I fuck with him heavily, but I definitely want to create a separation from his genre of music. As funny and as cool as Zack Fox is as a person I feel like he’s limited in the music he can make. I see it more like, not that the music is similar, but Tyler, The Creator, where he is hyper creative and his videos are unreal and there is a lot of surreal stuff in them but he’s undoubtable as an artist. Thundercat as well, he’s unreal.”
The influences and pretty much everything he speaks about lines up with the motivations for his forthcoming Elevator EP too. It’s got a serious message underlining it, but not too serious. In a way that give him space to put in a half-hearted disclaimer before anyone tries to poke holes in his rationale.
“This is my fake deep brief [for the ep name]… I called it Elevator because I seen it in a movie. The shot was of a skater punk looking fella and an older businessman getting into the elevator.. It was cool as fuck they were both in the elevator listening to the song. But the fake deep reason is that, when you get on an elevator, no matter how rich you are, no matter how poor you are, no matter what you look like you all get on the elevator. It’s egalitarian type shit. That’s the fake deep reason.”
You can catch KhakiKid, Kneecap, Malaki and way more at Otherside from 8 – 10 July.
Otherside Festival features a day-centric programme of music & comedy, engaging art, revitalising wellness, delicious food and drink along with some late-night antics to dance beneath the stars. Book your tickets here.