“I write things, sometimes,” she laughed, the rich vibrations filling the heavy summer heat. “That’s how I describe myself.”
Cars whizzed by in the background. The blinding afternoon sun reflected glaringly off the bright blue table on which we sat, making it difficult to look down. Instead, our eyes focused on a fountain in the distance, spewing water in the middle of the worst Southern California drought in decades, or on each other.
“Like, I’m a poet. I write about my feelings. Sometimes. When I’m not repressing them,” KiNG joked. As she laughed, the silver tips of her jewelry caught the light, drawing attention to the contrast of her colorful garb against the numerous tattoos on her tan skin. SALT, in all caps, was written on the inside of her right forearm.
KiNG is a poet, musician, and organizer who hails from and works in Los Angeles, CA. She is a self-proclaimed “petty-ass poet, pizza enthusiast, community builder and intellectual ratchet.” Although only 22, she has already been featured in platforms like Huffington Post, Afropunk and InStyle Magazine for her work.
Despite having gained a large part of her following through slam poetry, which she started doing around 19, KiNG actually got her start in music, playing classical piano around six or seven.
“I grew up with a tiger mom, so to speak. She bought the Yamaha [piano] and was like, you’re doing that,” she recalled. “I was forced into it, and I hated it.” Teaching herself guitar around seventeen allowed her “to actually connect with an instrument, as opposed to [just] learning recitation.”
Music, it turns out, are the roots KiNG has come back to this year. Her debut album, titled BAPTISM, was released earlier this week — “which was actually supposed to be released two weeks ago,” she added. “I feel like, now, I relate to Frank Ocean. I get it now, Frank.”
“Then, I got involved with a whole bunch of BLM [Black Lives Matter] stuff, and I was like, yeah, my solo stuff can just wait.” KiNG paused for a moment, briefly frowning. “And, the world can just wait. ‘Cause sometimes I feel selfish putting work out when there’s just better things to be talking about. I know my narrative is important, but I also think being in the community and actively advocating is very important.”
In terms of advocating, KiNG participates consistently, both online through her social media presence and on-site, as much as she can. She’s recently joined as a member of BLM in L.A., working with the arts and culture and student organizing subcommittees, as well as youth detention centers. For arts and culture, the focus is “creating a black culture revolution…where visual arts, photography, poetry, music, dance come together for rebuilding community in Los Angeles…specifically among black artists.”
Otherwise, KiNG is hoping to work on “going into high schools and colleges and getting the youth to get involved in their own communities…because a lot of people don’t know that, when the Black Panther Party came about, the average age of a Panther was 19. A lot of them were 17 and 18. So, it’s really important for kids in disadvantaged demographics to realize that they can have an impact on their community.”
One of her most memorable experiences with BLM took place this summer, where she met her current fiancé at a LAPD commissioner meeting about Redel Jones, a black woman fatally shot by the LAPD. In a room filled with extreme “pain and apathy juxtaposed against each other — you know, you see black families of these police brutality victims, crying…and you just see Commissioner Johnson on his phone” — her now-fiancé went to speak.
“I felt inclined to just touch him for some reason. Like, let me just hold you. And it was just this instant connection. I feel like the way we met was super beautiful, where in all this fucked up shit, you still find love,” she recounted, smiling widely at the memory.
Through her mix of activism and art, KiNG simply hopes to create emotional work that instigates action — not just mindless intake or appreciation.
“It’s not about money for me. I mean, Pac said it best. I’m not gonna start the revolution, but if I can spark the mind that starts the revolution then I did my job. I really live by that. If I constantly live my truth unapologetically — because it’s hard to constantly tell your truth as a black person — then maybe somebody else can too,” she said fiercely. “And that’s a revolution too.”
For inspiration, KiNG draws on both her own life experiences and other artists. Tonya Ingram and Alyesha Wies have been major influences in her life “and probably two of the best female poets I have ever — I mean, that’s why I have my tattoo,” she offered gesturing to the word on her right arm.
“Yeah, because I have a line in a poem called ‘I’m a pillar of salt to my own hurricane.’ It was about suicide, and how the three of us have dealt with it.”
Although unsure of her trajectory in the next couple years — “cuz it always fucking changes,” she laughed, “I’m, like, getting married all of a sudden. I don’t know” — KiNG just wants to keep discovering different ways to access the public on a broad scale. Her secret dream is “to win a Grammy under the spoken word category — and actually be a poet that wins in that category, because it’s mostly celebrities; the last poet that won was Maya Angelou in 2006.”
More than anything, she wants her work to be “a window into a narrative that maybe you don’t experience [yourself], but then [something] you can sympathize and empathize with, and then practice action.”
“I want my work to be an anthology of radical self love. And that does include past, present and future. And, I don’t know if it’s manipulative to say that, but when I write angry poems, I want people to get mad and do shit. I want you to feel my pain and act on it. I want my work to be a call to action forever.”
“So is that why you do what you do?”
“Yeah. That’s it.” She laughed. “That’s my existence, all of it.”
Words by Eda Yu (@edapitaa)