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Hailing from the storied Buffalo, New York, where Hip-Hop has seen a recent public resurgence through a bevy of high-profile acts, prolific emcee and all-around great dude Cav Johnson is here to tell you that it never went away, why it’s here to remain, and why you should take the time to check out Kindred Spirits (streaming everywhere May 27, 2022) his newest, long-gestating collaboration with our own Dallas-based producer The Kid Flames. Let’s get into it!

Q: Cav J, what’s good, brother?! Good to see you in high spirits and doing big things. What’s been going on with you since all this pandemic craziness has finally started to tail off?

Cav: Overall, just maintaining the badge of honor as a husband and father but never losing sight of being creative in between the “hustle and bustle”! I’m a real positive dude and so even during the darkest days of 19, I kept my head up and continued steering the ship! I leave yesterday where it is and move ahead as life dictates! 

Q: For those who are uninitiated, tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey. What do you want the world to know about one of Buffalo’s finest?

Cav: The journey for me always begins with being a student and fan of hip hop! Growing up during the golden era not only afforded me the chance to listen to some of the most amazing artists but it also taught me what it takes to earn respect in this game we call rap!

I sharpened my sword as a young buck on the West Side of Buffalo, NY and it really was a great place to hone the craft! Just the diversity first and foremost, which always lends its hands to a more balanced approach but said balance made for a better MC. To be more specific, I could speak to the struggle but I could also relate to the inverse.  I was playing hockey and rhyming as a teenager and then collegiate, so envision that dichotomy. 

Q: You’ve been at it, fam! The last few months for you have proven you to be…prolific would be the right word here. 

Cav: As a lyricist, writing and creating is what I love to do and even though I took some time off, there was never a doubt I would come back! See, the thing is, I have had the chance to work with so many great producers, not only domestically but also overseas.

The vibe is never lost on me but at the end of the day, producers want a fly MC of course, but they also want a productive one! When I get a track, I waste no time and I think a producer appreciates that! Don’t get me wrong, if your bars are trash, then the previous equation is null! I’m out here making music, but my aesthetic is never compromised! 

Q: Not only that, but the quality of work you’re doing is phenomenal. Talk to us a little bit about what that process looks like for you, fielding beats, writing, recording. Take us through what goes on in your mind while putting these bodies of work together. 

Cav: I have certain optics that are important to me, so whether it’s fashion or music, I take the same approach! I look at producers like painters or designers and so I say, what does that look like on me or what will my rhymes sound like over those  instrumentals? Preserving the New York sound is very important to me and it’s what I aim for…creamy drums and dusty samples! That’s the ticket!

Q: Definition, Program, Cee Gee, Jae Fresh…you’ve been linked-up with some amazing producers and artists – many out of your hometown, which has become a bit of a hotbed of incredible Hip-Hop, and not just from the Griselda gang. Buffalo is definitely having a moment – and one that also includes the Bills (who had a nice playoff run earlier this year)! Talk a little about your relationship to these cats and how you’ve pushed one another.

Cav: So I will start with Pro, who I just met last year but is a student of Buffalo hip hop and it’s foundational heads! We connected on IG and the feeling was mutual…obviously Program is a heavyweight on the beats and bars so I’m honored to have worked with the young bull! Cee Gee is also another student of not only Buffalo Hip Hop but the culture as a whole! Cee and I have known each other for awhile and really it’s just  a mutual respect for one another!

Cee and I started doing music years ago and so it’s no surprise to me he’s as acclaimed as is these days…check his track record, it speaks for itself! Definition and Jae Fresh are like Mr. Walt and Pete Rock combined! I have known both these brothers for many years and have immense respect for their craft!

Jae and I are forever connected from our days on MySpace, which forged a lot of great overseas relationships for me, but Jae’s has been the one I covet the most! We’ve made some tremendous music together and will continue to do so! On the other hand, Def and I are just getting started…stay tuned! 😎

Q: Word! So, there’s a lot of talk about relevance and people’s inability to stick with anything for too long; which has led to (even major) artists putting out multiple singles or strings of releases – because, let’s face it, the old model of waiting two years to drop is now dust. What are your thoughts around what’s best – or better yet, what’s best for you as an artist?

Cav: I think if you have the ability to push quantity but also quality, well then it’s a no brainer these days! Today’s listener is radioactive, in other words they’re coming straight out the microwave and I can’t knock it! We as consumers have so much music at our fingertips and the game is about competition, so I’m out here trying to win! I believe my formula works best because I primarily work alone as an MC! It’s the perfect recipe, and it’s going well in the kitchen these days! 

Q: Do you think this cadence causes a dip in quality or impedes on the natural creative process of living, learning, letting it marinate and then creating? There hasn’t been one from you to speak of – you’ve been quality over quantity even with the number of projects you’ve put out – just curious about your take on what you’ve seen and heard from other artists.

Cav: I don’t think so, as long as you stick to your approach and what works best for you! My fans come to expect a certain pedigree of music, both sonically and from a delivery perspective! I’m serving up these hot or cold plates and the consumer is never left hungry! I believe consumers want more but only if what you’re serving up effectuates the taste buds properly! Ha!

Q: So, ultimately (and Papoose had an interview floating around talking about release cadence recently that resonated with you), you believe that the steadier release cadence is better? Shorter projects, but more of them to toss out there. 3, 4, 5 song EPs, as opposed to 20-song albums?

Cav: Indeed I do because it keeps the needle moving and allows for freshness! Nobody likes day-old bread! Additionally, I believe shorter is sweeter and leaves the consumer wanting more! Less is more as they say! Let’s not reinvent the wheel, so to speak!

Buffalo emcee Cav Johnson outside on a beautiful day in NY.

Q: I feel those days are over. 10-13 songs seems to be the sweet spot for full lengths. Especially those with a theme/concept. Less room for error, it seems. I never understood filler cuts to make people feel like they’re getting their money’s worth.

Cav: No doubt, today we have to be cognizant of people’s time and intellect! We can’t assume the listener has unlimited mental bandwidth so you gotta hit quick and keep the bounce fresh! That’s where the replay value is and it’s what keeps the fans coming back! They’re like ok, this guy gets it and once you tap into that vibe, it’s like gas on the “Flames” no pun intended! Ha!

Q: Okay, so speaking of concept projects, let’s get into it – Kindred Spirits, your forthcoming team-up project produced entirely by our own The Kid Flames (streaming everywhere May 27, 2022). How did you guys meet and how did the partnership come about?

Cav: Honestly, I came across Flames profile on IG and was particularly drawn to the NY aesthetic he was emanating! So in short order i just left some props on his page and from there we started building! Started with some messages stemming from IG stories, similar taste in hip hop and as time went along we started building this organic chemistry!

See that’s the thing I want people to understand, myself and Flames built up a camaraderie (SIC) before we even started recording hence “Kindred Sprits”. So once he sent me a package of beats, it was a no brainer that great music was on deck and I have no doubt that once people hear this project, these sentiments will ring true! The album has a sense of cohesion, that was brick laid prior! It’s real talk!

I think if you have the ability to push quantity but also quality, well then it’s a no brainer these days! Today’s listener is radioactive, in other words they’re coming straight out the microwave and I can’t knock it! We, as consumers, have so much music at our fingertips and the game is about competition, so I’m out here trying to win!

Q: Man, that’s so dope. When you do it for the passion, love of the art, and commonalities, the greatest stuff is often birthed.

Cav: No doubt, the best music is always made between folks when you build that brotherhood! Laying that foundation is key!

Q: You get in your bag with this project on songs such as “Never Seen A Comma”, “Items in the Fridge” and “Sometimes” – you dig really deep into themes of family life and the occurrences that have shaped who you are as a person and an artist. It takes a real fearlessness and an inherent ability to be vulnerable to do that. Talk to us a little bit about what brought that part of you out (not that you’ve shied away from it in the past [see the Hat Trick Maxi EP with Definition]). How much of that is actual, versus approaching it from an outsider’s perspective i.e. telling someone else’s story?

Cav: Well, Flames was heavy on guiding the narrative in that way and so I give him a lot of credit for pushing it out of me! Typically I’m spitting bars because as MC’s that’s what we like to do! I think if you ask any rapper they want to just go in and aerate the track with that braggadocio but sometimes you need to dive a little deeper to give the listener some new geometry so to speak! I have a lot of stories to tell and it was a nice change of pace in terms of being a little more vulnerable on record!! I think heads will appreciate it! 

Kindred Spirits artwork by The Kid Flames for The Paper Label.Q: Sounds like you and Flames were quick to form that bond. That’s a rare thing. I’m sure conversations you’ve had came out in the writing and the way you approached the project. How did he help you as a producer and vice versa? Frankly, he walks around the offices always talking about how much of a positive effect you’ve had on both him and his thought process (blowing up your spot here, Flames).

Cav: Man, Flames is the one of the most genuine cats I have ever met! He’s a straight shooter but he’s also hella complimentary! I think Flames production speaks for itself and that’s what guides my pen! His hit rate is major and so it’s easy for me to sit down and craft a joint! In between creating we share personal stories but also vibe on culture as well! It’s a real shared experience and I’m forever grateful!

Q: So, totally unrelated note (actually, kinda’ related), we know you’re a big film buff, and that obviously affects your storytelling prowess. What’s your GOAT flick? Tough question, we know! LOL! Give it your best shot. We’ll wait…

Cav: I’m a big history guy so I’m go “Glory”…just so powerful in many ways! Denzel and Morgan together alone is enough for the gate but Matthew Broderick really shined bright! I get chills everytime I think about the movie!

Q: Classic! We love gangster flicks around these parts. Anything Marty Scorcese does is gold in our book. Classic New York, through and through!

Cav: Of course man, I’m a NY guy do Marty is A1 all day! “Color of Money” is slept on and is one of my Scorcese favs! Fast Eddie baby!!

Q: Speaking of NY, that seems to be the backdrop of KS. Or at least told through that lens. And you spoke on this a bit earlier, what brought that about? I mean, outside of it being your home state?

Cav: NY is the essence for me and Flames as well! The culture of hip hop was born in NY and when I make music I want people to know that’s what I’m all about preserving! It really means a lot to me and it’s something I hold near and dear! The memories as a kid listening to NY cats stays with you! Moreover, just the whole NY vibe is major, I mean how can you deny it!

Q: Amazing story on how this came to be and we’re thankful you dropped in for a little time with us. We’re gonna’ let you slide, as we’re sure you’ve got plenty going. Anything else you want the world to know? 

Cav: Aww man the pleasure was all mine! In the end, keep checking for Cav and quality music, no sugars or additives! Easy!!!

Peace, family! Congrats on the upcoming drop!

Kindred Spirits, the new project from Cav Johnson x The Kid Flames on OOR310/The Paper Label, is streaming worldwide. Also, be sure to check for their other projects both available now and coming soon. Support indie music!