With the success of mainstream LGBTQ hip hop artists continuously on the rise—Lil Nas X, Saucy Santana, Young M.A.— it is definitely no surprise that more and more upcoming LGBTQ artists are making their names known in this industry.
Kenny Alvarez, better known as I.K.P. — The Infamous King of Positivity, is an emerging Queer hip hop artist, podcaster, and activist born in Brooklyn, New York. Though life has come full circle for I.KP., as he currently resides in Brooklyn, he was actually raised in Norfolk, Virginia.
Gaye had the pleasure of sitting down with I.K.P. to discuss his upbringing, challenges, career, and more.
How are you feeling today?
I.K.P.: I’m feeling great, I’ve been doing a lot of running around but I feel good. I’m blessed.
Amen to that! Tell us about your upbringing and how you got started in the industry?
Well, I’m originally from Brooklyn but was raised in Norfolk, VA. Which is home to the greats— Missy, Timbaland, Pharrell, Teddy Riley. Norfolk is a military town, home of the largest military base in the world. My dad worked in the civil service and then I ended up going to the military at 18. I always wanted to do music, but I kept it a secret until after I got out of the military. I went to school to study producing and engineering to take it more seriously. And so that’s kinda how I entered the independent music game.
Describe your creative process. Where do you get inspiration to create?
Everywhere. Matter fact, I was on the way here from the post office and I was inspired to write something! Life kinda just takes control and I let it flow like water. At this stage of the game for me, that’s the best source of inspiration— to just let life happen. Whatever, my spirit moves me to do— so if I’m feeling hurt, I’m going to talk about it. If I’m feeling the struggle—which is universal, we all deal with it. I like to talk about that and how it affects my brothers and sisters of color and the LGBTQ community.
I let life take control and my creative process starts there. It could be a word, something someone said, the way they said it, an event, a look, anything. I put some words down and they eventually turn into my end product; my songs, my babies.
Earlier you mentioned a few of your hometown heroes. Who are some of your musical influences?
All of those I named. Missy is really my hometown hero though. At the time I was growing up, music was still very regional. East Coast hip hop was King; New York was the epicenter. The south was just coming up and then Missy came on the scene repping VA to the fullest. So when she came through representing for the ladies, showing her skills and creativity, that really really inspired me. I was an outcast growing up. I know what it feels like to be alienated and looked at as different. She really kinda saved me. She inspired me to push forward towards music in a way no other artist really could.
[But] I’ll always give it up to Biggie—he was one of the first hip hop artists I recognized. He was fire! I give it up to Nas, Ludacris, T.I. and OutKast of course!
OK! That’s definitely a great list. Let's talk about your music. Your latest project, 11:11 was released earlier this year, what does this project mean to you? What’s your favorite song?
11:11 means a lot. 11:11 was a journey. It’s still going, but you know—I was going through a lot at the time I recorded 11:11. Like I said, life happens and it pushes me to dig into my soul and talk about the struggle. I was homeless and not doing well. I was in a very, very toxic relationship and I wasn’t in the best headspace. I really wasn’t acknowledging my mental health.
My world crashed and it showed me I have to get a hold of my self. So I wrote 11:11 through that journey. Those songs really helped heal me, so its kind of hard to pick just one.
But I would say “You Deserve the Best” is probably one of my favorites. It’s dedicated to my mom and I held that song from when I was in the military. I started producing it way back then and I kept and worked on it through my journey because I knew I was going to make it into something. It’s apart of my healing. I finally broke down and told my mom everything I had been through—sexual assault in the military, homelessness, rejection, drug abuse…and she really affirmed me that its OK and will be OK. I’m still her son and she loves me. It was really powerful. So I had to make sure I gave that back to eternity.
That’s really beautiful. How have your life experiences shaped you into the man you are today? Do you think it’s important for artists to offer transparency in their music?
The experiences I went through are very traumatic. So, I would say that you can only be transparent for whatever you’re ready for. Not everyone is at a stage where they can accept all those parts of themselves. I remember I wasn’t. I wasn’t ready to talk about what happened to me. When I was assaulted—I was sexually assaulted in the military—and I didn’t want to admit that to myself until way later. It happened over a decade ago, and I didn’t admit that to myself for a while. It got in the way of a lot of relationships I tried to make.
So to dig that deep takes a lot of soul searching and self love - that is missing from a lot of people. A lot of people don’t even know or realize what self-love can do for them. Those things pushed me to embrace all parts of who I am.
I can be so transparent now because I feel really awarded. I feel blessed that I’m still here to talk about it. So if I’m still here, and I know people are going through the same things—and I have the power to speak on it, I have to speak on it. I have to talk about what we go through as LGBT, as black people—there’s a lot of people out there that aren’t there yet. They don’t see enough people speaking on those issues. Those real issues. I just want to do my part and make sure I put my story out there so people can see that they are not alone. I think that’s important.
That was very well put. I loved that. So I did read that you are also a co host for a podcast, as well as a member of a LGBTQ supergroup called AlliYance. Tell us a little about those ventures.
Oh man! Let’s talk about the AlliYance! The AlliYance came about in 2014. My musical uncle—DJ Swanny River, been knowing him forever. I love him to death. He wanted to put together a group. We did a song first called “I Be On It” and we all gelled well.
We all come from the same era, we all have the same values. It’s just really love. The song became kind of popular within our circle of artists and our communities here in New York that support what we do. So we ran with it. We did an EP and did the damn thing—shout out to B. Hood and Earthtone—it got nominated for Best Urban EP at the 15th Annual Independent Music Awards.
It was a big encouragement that we were doing something right. So we kept working it out. We kept getting opportunities to do different things. B. Hood started battling, Earthtone was doing his thing and you know, I was out here doing my own thing too.
And then Earthtone came to me and was like, "we need to do a podcast" because we talk about music all the time. When we get together, we have the deepest conversations about our favorite albums, we go in on these bars! We talk about Kendrick, we talk about Drake, Tyler the Creator, everybody. But especially LGBT artists.
At the time, the presence of LGBT artists was becoming more known. We wanted to document what the LGBT artists were doing, not only mainstream but upcoming too. We knew about Young M.A. and Tyler the Creator. But what about Shorty Rock, DDM—the people who don’t have the biggest limelight, but are still doing dope shit!?
And so The Herbal Tea Podcast was born. 2020 we launched…but little did we know 2020 was going to be the year it became. We were good for the first three months and then—you know, you remember. You were there, you know what happened (laughs)—and so we had to regroup and move accordingly. So we scaled back, but without missing a beat, Earthtone was like, “we about to start Zooming episodes.” So I got my mic, he got his. He engineered the whole thing from his room. Earthtone is a beast. He basically carried the weight of it and steered this shit through the Pandemic.
We did it for a few months like that and then got back together by the summertime. By this time, we had other issues to talk about. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the whole Black Lives Matter movement was going on and we had a lot to say about that. We kept it going and it turned out to be a great, great year for Herbal Tea Podcast.
And still during that time, AlliYance was back recording. We locked ourselves in the studio for about 6 months and we came out with a few bangers! We put that Supergroup project out, the people needed it. I’m really proud of that work, really proud of those guys. Really makes my heart full. Seeing it all come together is just so incredible to me. So shoutout to The AlliYance.
2020 was definitely a blessing in disguise for a lot of people! Do you think we are at a point in time where the LGBTQ community is fairly represented and supported in hip hop? If not, what do you think it’s going to take?
HELL NO! (Laughs). You know what’s crazy? I think we’ve become the new female rappers. Remember there was time you could count all of them on one hand. This is where we’re at. Lil Nas X might as well be Nicki Minaj. But the good thing about all of this is that it might not take as long for us to flourish. The way Lil Nas X is out here representing, the way Young M.A. is representing, the way Tyler the Creator is representing. Them doors, the floodgates are going to be BANANAS. Even when we review artists on the podcast, the deluge of LGBT artist that we see coming up—its so beautiful. It won’t be long before we get our particular shine. And we didn’t necessarily wait for it—we been out here! But you know, the moment has arrived and it’s going to get bigger and bigger.
Recently, we've seen many festivals and brands "cancel" DaBaby for his degrading comments on the LGBT community. What would you like to see from the music industry in regards to the LGBTQ community?
Listen, all of this performative activism is cute. But, save it. I would say, you could do more by actually endorsing these LGBT artists and not being afraid to say you stand behind them. Its one thing to cancel DaBaby but its another thing to actually say “I fuck with what Tyler the Creator is doing”, you know? Like Jadakiss for example. Tyler showed Jadakiss love and Jadakiss showed love right back. More of that would help. We are only going to get better and take over if we support each other no matter what. Stop acting like you never saw a gay person before. Stop being shocked that we’re rapping and rapping about what we rap about.
There’s always more that can be said. I wish they would open their mouths more. All of y’all have platforms. Let’s use these platforms and show real support. Behind the scenes and in the forefront.
It matters. It matters to these kids that are watching. They’re watching these artist and what’s not being said as well. Thank you for canceling Da Baby but that’s really only the tip of the ice berg. A small piece of the problem. Let’s get the education up, let’s have a conversation about HIV and AIDS and what that really means. How you contract it, the differences. All that. I’m HIV positive—15 years now. I’m always ready to have that conversation. That’s what I’m talking about.
I definitely agree that there are many more ways to show true support … Let’s switch gears a bit. Do you have any dream collaborations?
Oh do I, let’s talk about it! I actually want to collaborate with Lil Nas X. I’m putting that out there and ain’t scared! Shorty is dope. Of course Missy and Timbaland too. Oh! ALOT of female rappers! I would love to do a song with Gangsta Boo, La Chat, Jungle Pussy, Azealia Banks—come on! I love these sisters out here. I could go on and on.
I would love to do a track with Tyler the Creator, Nas. Nas is like my hero, he showed me a way to MC that’s so unique. So yeah, I would love that.
That’s a legit list right there! So, if we go through your playlist right now, what can we expect to see?
Ouu! My playlist, it has a lot of range. It’s some Jodeci, WizKid, Lil Mo, Doja Cat, Machinedrum, Björk, Trina, Patrice Rushen—she’s so dope! She writes all her music, get into it! I’m into some real indie vibes. It’ll over the place. My nephew is in here too—he be spitting. His name is Luxury Summers. He’s giving Jay Z, Rick Ross vibes. I got a little bit of everybody, the list goes on and on.
Is there anything we missed that you want to leave with our readers?
11:11 is out! Go check that out. It’s a movie, I promise you won’t be disappointed. Boiler Room is out now, just dropped that! It was a long time coming for that one. The people wanted Boiler Room, but I’ll keep it a hundred, I wasn’t too sure about that one. But when I released the album, people gravitated towards that record!
Supergroup by the AlliYance is out now. We just did a show at 3 Dollar Bill in Brooklyn, so we outside a little bit. Of course, The Herbal Tea podcast is out—episode 35 is coming on the 19th; As well as The Herbal Tea movie.
Thank you so much for your time today. I want to congratulate you on all of your endeavors and your success thus far. I feel you have a very bright future ahead of you and Gaye Magazine wishes you nothing but the best.
Whew! From your lips to God’s ears, thank you for your time. I love Gaye Magazine! Yawl are on one and I love every bit of it. Thank you, thank you.
To keep up with I.K.P., be sure to follow his social media platforms and stream his latest project, 11:11. Check out “Boiler Room” from 11:11 below:
Follow I.K.P. Here: