In The Mix: Captain Khary Is Trying to Right His Own Ship

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.

Late nights in New York can test a person’s limits.

Two years ago, Rhode Island-raised rapper Khary made a name for himself among hip-hop obsessives with Intern Aquarium. The mixtape grappled with adolescent-to-adulthood transitions—a rocky road for most—but presented its creator in a colorful, almost cheerful light. The months that followed were anything but. At least not beneath the surface.

Real world immersion resulted in different gigs. A recurring stint at the doors of a popular Brooklyn club pulled Khary into an after-hours world that partially distorted his identity.

“I’d have 6’9’’ mother fuckers testing me, trying to get in,” he says. “You can’t be a pushover. I created this sense of self to let me do that, but it was false in a way. At that time I was using liquor to bring that guy out.”

captain khary stem interview

Weekend after weekend, Khary inhaled aggression’s fumes, at once proud of his toughness and pained by the dizzying lifestyle he had adopted.

“I became my own anchor in the negative sense. It’s like when dudes use steroids. They look like they’re in good shape but something is going to go wrong down the line. I just thought I developed a lot as a human. Which I did, but part of it was done the wrong way.”

Captain, releasing tomorrow, emerged from that period of faux confidence. Its existence is self-examination by nature. As much as the sonics and aesthetics differ from Intern, honesty remains a key through-line. He bottled the black-and-white turbulence of his recent past and gives it to us straight.

“I loved Jeezy’s Thug Motivation 101 when it came out. I never sold a drug in my life and didn’t understand any of the references until later on, but he brought you into a world. People who can bring you into their world, that’s what I aim for.”

Khary hit his target, depicting unstable ground. Flexes devolve into crippling anxiety or shame, simply a front or posed smile for life’s camera. Captain is a 12-song transition-in-progress for someone recognizing they’ve become something foreign. Fortunately for Khary, recognition catalyzed personal improvement. He’s more aware of what he wants to fix, how he wants to grow.

“I’ve been very motivated by proving other people wrong. That’s not real. You can use it as motivation, but you should have something deeper. That should never be the core. I was trying to get on, trying to get famous—this big star. But why? What do you want to do with that attention? I used to say, ‘I’ll have all this money.’ Man I don’t even know what car I’d buy. I told myself at 16 this is what I wanted to do. That was all there was to it for a long time.”

At 16, when he first started rapping, Khary’s world was filled with things that proved you could build your own, from Fairly Oddparents to Yu-Gi-Oh. Tellingly, he still enjoys them. His Why, his root motivation, seemed lost at sea when the Intern became the Captain, but maybe it hadn’t drifted too far. Perhaps it was never gone. What makes the project so gripping is that without Captain, Khary would have never discovered Khary.

Hear Captain this Friday, 4/6, through Stem, which facilitates digital music distribution, data decisions and producer splits. Until then, dive into Khary’s In The Mix playlist below to explore the songs that shaped him.

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