TikTok Star Keats Talks New Album, Atlanta and Opening for Desiigner
The 26-year-old from Long Island, New York, is not new to the big stage. As a musician first, Keats opened for Desiigner in 2016, performed at the A3C Festival in 2019, starred in a Super Bowl LIII Commercial in the same year and has amassed a dedicated listeners of the thousands in the last year.
Calling from Zoom in his Atlanta home, Keats talked about moving to the newly dubbed mecca of hip-hop, his passion for music and his newest album, “Area 404.”
The quotes expressed in this article have been edited for brevity and clarity. This is part two of a two-part series.
When did you initially get into music?
Out the womb, it was decided I was going to play an instrument and learn how to read music. My family is full of entertainers and musicians. My dad played the bass guitar, my sister was a piano prodigy, my mom was a piano teacher and my cousin, Allen Toussaint, produced “Lady Marmalade” for Labelle.
I picked up the trumpet in the fourth grade and became the section leader of the jazz, symphonic and marching band. I played the bugler as an Eagle Scout and was requested to play “Taps” at Veterans Day, Memorial Day services and 9/11 ceremonies.
Before the trumpet, I was beatboxing. My dad had a hip-hop album where he was beatboxing and I used to mimic him which I thought was the coolest thing ever. I’d take the bus to school and do the same while accompanying it with freestyles.
I never stopped with the hip-hop love so as I got into high school, a lot of my friends had access to recording studios. From then, I decided to write my own music, really get into it and learn everything I could. I was more serious about music during my junior year at Florida Institute of Technology.
When you start a new class, the professors go around the room and ask what you want to do with your degree. I literally started saying “I'm going to be a rapper.” When I opened for Desiigner in Orlando, I knew I needed to chase that.
Did you move to Atlanta to immerse yourself into the music industry?
Yes. I had just graduated from FIT and my next move was either Atlanta, Los Angeles or back to New York. Both New York and Los Angeles were too expensive so Atlanta was best. Migos, 21 Savage and a plethora of other high-profile artists came and are still coming out of the city.
It’s been three years and Atlanta has become my second home. When you walk the streets of Atlanta and get that head nod from other Black people, it’s like someone understands your personal struggle. I couldn’t get that support in Florida. I’d say hi to someone and they would ignore you or clutch their purse and step to the side. It’s not the same environment. There’s a lot of love and support here. It’s a relatively safe place for Black people compared to other parts of the nation.
If you do it right, Atlanta will grow on you. I’ve built many relationships and bonds so I feel very protected and supported here.
What artist(s) has changed your perspective on setting your sights as an independent artist?
I’m definitely looking at being independent but once you reach a certain level where anything could change your life, you have to be open to all possibilities. It would be dumb or irresponsible of me to stay independent when someone comes with a great opportunity.
In order to be organic, you have to start independent. Russ is a great example. He started on Soundcloud, had no connections, mixed his own music, made his own beats and made it possible to do everything on your own. Knowing that made it personal because I remember seeing Russ blowup. Similar to how someone can say “I remember when Keats had 3,000 followers and now look where he’s going.”
In interviews, I really love that Russ doesn’t withhold any information. He really drops the formula to having a consistent product pipeline. It’s super valuable. Having Russ as a case study, I know, for example, singles are better than albums because they are digested quicker. Albums can take at least seven months to create because it’s a whole concept. And when you’re concerned about your quality, it can take even more time.
What kind of equipment and programs are you using?
I use Logic Pro on a 2013 Macbook Pro. I have an Audio-Technica AT2020 microphone and a Komplete Audio 6 Interface. For the time being, I’m mixing and recording on Klipsch THX certified computer speakers. In the near future, I would love to have Yamaha HS7 6.5 Powered Studio Monitors.
I work with an engineer but if I mix and master my own music, I’m using Waves plugins and Izotope Ozone 9. Some of my favorite plugins are R-VOX, standard compression, standard EQ, H Delay and Space Designer. I really like the flavor of the reverb Stock Logic has and Neutron and CLA76 have saved my life.
How long did it take to complete “Area 404" ?
Six months to a year. It was delayed for almost three months because of a fall out with my former music partner. The album was almost stolen from me. My ex-partner ripped the wav files from Soundcloud and released them under a label I resigned from. Ultimately, I had to take legal action to get everything sorted.
Overall, I was very satisfied with “Area 404.” After “Chica,” “November 5th” is the song that’s getting the most love. It’s the most popular because it’s very relatable. You have your social media sweetheart whose number you finally get. Then, the conversations lead to late night texts and FaceTimes. Things are going great for a couple weeks but you quickly learn it’s really not an attainable romance. I was able to bottle up all the emotions in a melodic way.
Can you talk about the transition from Keats the Geek to plainly Keats?
In high school, we were going over one of John Keats’ poems and my teacher and I had some back-and-forth banter as to whether or not Keats died at 25 or 26. So he decided to call me Keats for the rest of the year and it just kind of stuck.
When you’re a new artist, it’s important to be found so I needed to add something to give me a unique identity. There were other artists named Keats on Apple Music and Keats is hard to find on Google because John Keats is all in the curriculum. That’s why I attached “the geek.”
It started as an Instagram handle and eventually my former music partner and I decided to brand the music as Keats the Geek. That was when I was younger, didn’t have any facial hair and was definitely not the ladies dude. As I started to grow, I thought “If I'm in the studio with Timbaland or Zaytoven do I want people calling me the geek?” It was better to think about the longevity of my name before I began to brand myself in a way that stuck.
I also changed my name because my falling out with my music partner led him to take all my Keats the Geek music. I can’t see how well my music is doing under that moniker, I don't have any access to Keats the Geek on Spotify or Apple Music and I can’t see the demographics of my listeners. It’s unfortunate but it didn't stop me.
Since I have a bigger following now, people are going to easily find me so I decided to just be Keats.
As an artist, what can we expect from you for the remainder of 2020?
After my merchandise campaign, there will definitely be a music video for “Chica.” The challenge has made the track super hot.
Patchwerk Studios is currently mixing a new track that samples a few songs from ChloexHalle’s new album. It’s going to be a new sound no one has heard from me but I think it’s going to get a good response. I’m super excited to drop it.
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