Brooklyn’s Kota the Friend is exploring mental health and rejecting major record labels

Kota the Friend is an independent rapper from Brooklyn who’s rejecting major labels despite his songs making major waves in hip-hop. 

His 2020 sophomore album “Everything” featured New York rappers Joey Bada$$ and Bas, along with interludes from Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o and “Atlanta” star Lakeith Stanfield.

In October, he dropped the new single “Dragon” an upbeat, plucky guitar track and homage to the rapper’s gratitude for family, friendship and nature. 

“It’s important to stay independent because I like being free,” Kota told In The Know. “I’m able to wake up when I want and do the things I want and put out the music I want. I’m really able to be an artist, you know and not just a product.” 

Before Kota took his name from Disney’s “Brother Bear” — “Kota” means “ally, friend or supporter” in Native American — he was taking inspiration from New York City and Jay Z. 

“As a Black youth in New York City rap is just a big part of your life,” Kota told In The Know. “It’s everywhere. Me and my cousins used to rap in a little tape recorder. We were watching ‘106 & Park’ and all we listened to was Fugees and Biggie and Jay Z. When Jay’s talking, we know the streets that he’s talking about.”

But he really became more committed to his music career after his son was born.  

“Fatherhood has taught me that it’s not about you. It’s about this kid,” Kota told In The Know. “I really gave myself an ultimatum. I was like, ‘Yo either you’re gonna make music or you’re just gonna get a regular-a** job.’ Choosing music is like you’re choosing a harder path.”

Kota has since carved out that path for himself in hip-hop. However, despite its critical acclaim, he wasn’t in the best headspace while making “Everything.” 

“I was in the worst space possible when I was making, ‘Everything,'” Kota told In The Know. “I think now I’m in a space where I’m actually starting to understand certain things about myself and understand emotions. And I feel like a lot of people are dealing with depression, dealing with these like feelings of confusion and just like, you know, they’re always conflicted. To finally actually decode some of those things and on a daily work on being happy is, like, groundbreaking.” 

As far as his big dreams, Kota the Friend’s goals are modest.

“In 10 years, I see myself just living,” Kota told In The Know. “My kid would be 14, probably be teaching him some s*** about girls. I just kind of want to do my thing. You know, not go broke.” 

If you enjoyed this story, you might want to read about EarthGang, Atlanta’s hottest rap duo.

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