Artist to Watch: Aaron Alexander

The 24-Year-Old KC Rapper is Getting Ready to Release His Fourth Hip-Hop Album

Getting in front of crowds used to make Aaron Alexander crazy nervous. He felt more comfortable creating his music in solitude than performing it for throngs of people.

Then he opened for singer-songwriter, musician and rapper J.I.D.

“It was the biggest crowd I’d seen in my life,” Alexander said recently in Loose Park. “I’m telling people to bounce, and they’re bouncing. They’re putting their hands in the air when I’m telling them to. That was one of the best feelings I’ve had in my life.”

Alexander, 24, was born in Arkansas, but his career in music began when he was 14 or 15. His school in KCK distributed laptops to him and his fellow students — for schoolwork, ostensibly.

“We were like, ‘We can make all kinds of music with this,’” he said.

Since then he has kept cross-pollinating his own hybrid of jazz- and alt-rock-infused hip-hop to media acclaim near and far.

“Kansas City artist Aaron Alexander impressed us,” “Complex” magazine wrote in 2017 of his “Badu2” track and his then-new video for “Faces,” from the album “Memento Mori.”

The “Faces” video is a haunting examination of the price of fame, with masked people coming out of the woods to torment him as he sings, “I see all these faces and I don’t trust a soul.”

In the video for “Journey of the Spiritual Playboy,” he raps in front of a broken-down school bus and an abandoned business:

Money, clothes, bitches, drugs
All I ever want is love
Road was paved with good intentions
I don’t do shit ‘just because’

Alexander’s lyrics reflect a young artist searching for meaning, and his songs are deeper than what the unenlightened might expect from their stereotypical ideas of hip-hop.

“Everybody has misogynistic lyrics if you go through the history of pop music,” he said. “There are people in other genres that say way sicker shit. But this is a part of my life. It’s me trying to figure out what I’m trying to become.”

He doesn’t come from a particularly musical family. He said his stepdad is one of the biggest hip-hop heads he knows. His mom wasn’t necessarily musical, she just “has a really cool personality.”

Kanye West and Lil Wayne sparked his interest in music, and he’s followed those influences to punk and then Seattle-era grunge artists such as Pearl Jam and Nirvana.

“I like how they expressed themselves,” he said. “It was simple, but they emoted. Even though the lyrics weren’t mind-blowingly complicated, you knew what they felt.”

Today, he’s listening more to Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Bill Withers.

But his biggest influences aren’t musicians. They’re writers. James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, sci-fi author Ray Bradbury — “Ray Bradbury is fire,” he says — those were the people who started him writing.

“It all started with writing poetry,” he said. “A lot of stuff goes on in my head, and I feel like writing is the best medium to get it out there so I can look at it myself. I just always loved writing and kept doing it. It’s been the one constant.”

Like many who write for art or for a living, there are times when words burst out of him.

“When it’s all clicking and you’re in that zone and it flows, it’s easy,” he said.

There are other times when it doesn’t. That’s when Alexander knows that it’s time to get back to nature. He’ll hang out with the ducks in Loose Park or visit the arboretum in Johnson County or Powell Gardens in Missouri. He enjoys watching birds, though he wouldn’t call himself a hardcore birdwatcher. Nature is his place to reset, remove the buzz and the hum of the electronic miasma of today’s world.

“I like to do things that put new information into my mind,” he said. “Inspiration is endless, but it always feels like you can never access it at the right time. It’s a big tug of war. I have to get to a place where I completely relax my mind to the point where I’m not caring about what it sounds like, I’m just doing it, and if it sounds good, that’s a plus.”

Later this year, Alexander plans to release his fourth album, though he’s still tinkering. He and his producers recorded and mixed the last song first. Now that they’ve finished the rest of it, they plan to revisit that last track and apply what they learned from the rest of the songs. Alexander wonders if something else is at work, though.

“To be honest, this might be some divine time or something,” he said. “Maybe life is just slowing me down on purpose to get things right.”

Like a lot of young artists, Alexander is trying to find ways to follow his dreams and pay the bills. He works for a travel agency during the day. Sometimes he wonders whether those eight hours a day would be better spent on music.

“I’m trying to figure everything out as a young man, and that’s the hardest part,” he said. “I went to college and got my degree, but it cost more than it’s gotten me, thus far.”

He also admits he’s not much of a salesman. He’s not one to force his music on people. He doesn’t want someone to listen to him because they think he’s some kind of celebrity who gave them a copy of his music at the club. To him, that’s not genuine. He doesn’t want to be a caricature. He wants to be an artist; he wants to be Aaron.

“I want people to genuinely enjoy my work. I don’t think I’ll ever be the type of person who’ll be ‘Listen to my music, stream my music, buy my music,’” he said. “I’ll just keep making music, and when it’s good enough, the masses will hear it.”

Above: photo by Jim Barcus

David Frese

David Frese is a writer, photographer, artist and community advocate from rural Kansas who spent 21 years covering Kansas City’s arts and culture for “The Kansas City Star.” He is a graduate of Kansas State University.

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