In The Mix is a recurring feature series that spotlights special artists who stand out and have a story to tell. To browse the ITM archives and learn about other exciting artists, click here.
It’s always hard to hear a creator recall the time they almost quit.
For KII, born and raised in Los Angeles, that moment came early. After falling in love with music making at the end of high school, he grew dissatisfied and instead considered mixed martial arts his calling. Studios became training sessions and vocal techniques lost priority to throwing punches. When fighting didn’t pan out and he returned home with artistic hopes, enthusiasm dwindled quickly.
“I felt like a loser at that point,” he tells us. “I had no career path, trying to chase music.”
The chase nearly stopped short, but one recording session pushed his path back to where it started. Two songs, “Tsunami” and “Kiss of Life,” spilled out of him. Both impressed friends enough to convince KII he shouldn’t retire his artist ambitions just yet. The former title landed him Pigeons & Planes coverage, the latter became a fan favorite.
With renewed focus, the next steps for KII centered on his sense of self. An introvert, the nocturnal R&B singer long-favored consuming anime solo to attending beach parties or clubs. He made most of his close friends in Xbox Live lobbies and endured events that pushed him further inward—a lost father freshman year, the failed classes that followed. It was during those trying high school years he entered Kid Cudi’s orbit and witnessed music’s healing power firsthand. Songs mellowed tensions, but making his own brought growing pains.
“I always wanted to feel like an artist and I never felt like one when I was making music,” he said. “I thought that was a really important thing for confidence and character-building. So I’d make songs and even if people liked them, I wouldn’t feel any better.”
In hopes of coping, KII switched monikers and practiced religiously, reaching out to producers online and occasionally couch surfing as he grew. That grit and savvy led to his debut project, Nightingale, officially released in January, and his work ethic shows no signs of slowing. He tests his vocals by singing along to videos of Frank Ocean’s 2017 festival performances and drafted more than 130 songs for his next EP, just two tracks long.
Rightfully, KII has begun to really believe in his creative efforts: Nightingale is a woozy, sinewy collection of after-hours narratives and floating melodies. “Idle,” a standout, pinpoints the worries of an entire generation with one line (“My mama don’t approve, she don’t approve of how I move”). Translating the emergence of self-esteem to the real world is a process, but he’s making strides.
“I’m just trying to take the confidence that’s in the studio and carry it outside,” KII explains. “Like when I go to the grocery store so I don’t feel weird picking up jelly. I look at other people and I wonder how they can be so normal. I’ll be thinking about my posture when I walk, wondering if my arms are swinging too much.”
Of course, normal isn’t binary. KII’s talents, inherently cathartic, help him make sense of what’s best for him.
“I don’t know, maybe I just need to be okay with feeling weird,” he wonders aloud.
One day, he’ll do just that, and we’ll hopefully get to hear the transition: KII’s next release is around the corner, powered by Stem to facilitate digital music distribution and producer splits. Until then, dive into his In The Mix playlist—and our other music playlists—below and get to know the songs that shaped him.