Kristoff Krane: I Freestyle Life is a capsule of reminders, of lessons, of memories

Photo by Elliot Malcolm / Dharma Hype

To help fund a new album of acoustic material, rapper Kristoff Krane is releasing I Freestyle Life, a massive collection of 44 songs from previously released albums reflecting his eight year career as an artist. This batch of material -- the proceeds of which will fund Krane's next album -- includes collaborations with Eyedea, Sage Francis, Slug of Atmosphere, Buck 65, Illogic, Ceschi, and FIX cohorts Joe Horton and Crescent Moon. A new single, titled "Aho," debuts below.

Gimme Noise sat with Kristoff Krane (and clarified a few points via e-mail) to discuss his past, his future, and how his creative process has evolved.

Was it difficult to pick which songs to be represented here?

The whole thing was a year-long process. They're pretty much songs that I hold dear to me or have always resonated with me, or they're songs that supporters have voiced opinion on. I Freestyle Life has allowed me to reflect on the artistic works that I've done and the people that I've been blessed with the opportunity to have worked with in. It's brought me to a sense of overwhelming gratitude, because I've really seen how much responsibility [there is being] an artist, when you're taking something and offering it to the world in that way. It's a capsule of reminders, of lessons, of memories; attempts to describe what's going on through all these different lenses. With it comes a documentary that my friend PCP of Unique Techniques [made]. He hit me up a while back and said "I want to make a day-in-the-life documentary with you". That's going to come [with the album for] anyone who orders it. The documentary itself is specifically for anyone who's followed my artistic timeline from the beginning, because it's all subtleties. 

I've spent a lot of time reflecting on the past and dealing with it, which has been a really big thing for me outside of music, in my life in general. Looking at the past and not running from it, not trying to pretend like something didn't happen. Looking at it, honoring it, and then letting go of it. I think these games that we're playing as independent artists in America is based on this very imbalanced value that's placed on certain things in our society. Art is not the top of that pyramid for the majority. So people then put themselves in positions where they're like, "This isn't exactly what I'm trying to convey, but this is how you play that game." You dress like this, you say this thing, you make a song like this... There's all sorts of things take away from your raw emotion that is trying to come out in the things we hear. Essentially, that's what I'm aiming for. I'm not aiming for a bunch of people doing call and response at First Avenue, that's not in my vision necessarily. 

You mention that the proceeds from this project are going to fund an acoustic album. What inspired the acoustic record initially?

When I first started hanging out with Mike [Larsen, aka Eyedea], one of the things he really fostered was the belief in my own voice. We would do voice lessons together. At that point he was starting to learn the guitar. He said, "At some point, you are going to need to be singing and playing an instrument, you're going to find that out, just letting you know right now." There were so many things like that with Mike where it was almost prophetic. When we were hanging out for most of our friendship, we played a bunch together. I started playing guitar then, the first song and the last song were both written before he passed, and everything in between was after he passed. That record wrote itself. The ability to let the creative force move through me is the most raw and honest and vulnerable [when I have] a guitar in my hand, singing. It's kind of in a different category, but freestyling or improvisation in general creates that same sort of feeling, but those are kind of different sides of the coin, because one is pre-meditated and one is in the moment. The guitar is like doing free-flow yoga and rapping pre-written songs, for me, is like lifting weights. There's positives to both.

How was writing these songs different from songs you've written in the past?

I definitely did less writing. Saying more with less as the big difference. You have a more clear understanding of what a song is asking of you the more you get out of the way. If you tried to mold something that's molding itself through you, then you just have that ringing pit in your stomach that says something's just not there yet. For this project, I've had the most healthy relationship with that voice in my stomach. It's been more strategic in a lot of ways, but intuitively strategic, not like strategic in the studio. Strategic with letting the spirit move the way it wants to with making this statement. The record is a statement; it's a story and a concept from beginning to end. The album goes through a life-death process, reflecting on my personal journey before and two years after my best friend passed away. I don't forsee myself talking openly about the details of the story, but there's a feeling that can be registered, and from there on people can take what they want to take from it. Other than that, it's open to the listener at that point. But that's the premise, my life around that time. It captures how I process and express it. 

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