Contrary to popular opinion, not all of today’s music lacks lyrical prowess or originality. There are a few artists we’re just getting to know that are hitting the music scene hard in 2018; and they are re-defining what an exception to the rule looks like. One of those artists is Kristine Flaherty—better known as K.Flay. Despite her powerful and direct persona, she’s down-to-earth and contagious. All in a way we can truly appreciate. These days, she calls San Francisco home. Notwithstanding all the rumors, she doesn’t live in a palatial estate. Instead, she has a normal apartment, living for the most part, a very normal life. Just like one of us, which makes her one of us. That too, is the draw that makes Flaherty special, no matter what name she goes by.
That all being said, it’s hard to believe that just a few years ago, Flaherty was a student attending Stanford University and rapping for the student body. The first thing from the Stanford grad that stands out is she’s not a trust fund baby. In fact, she’s worked hard for everything she’s received, and that’s a major reason she has the street cred she has. Although, being as modest as she is, she may never admit to that.
We’ll circle back to her Grammy nods, but to know where she is, we have to know where she’ s been. Flaherty is originally from the Chicago area, Wilmette to be exact. She’s a byproduct of divorce and a second extended step-family. All of which is something many can relate to. The family eventually re-located to the West Coast, and Flay attended Stanford University. There, she pursued a double major in psychology and sociology. While at Stanford, she met several people that influenced her musical style. Inasmuch as she loves hip-hop, it wasn’t something she intentionally incorporated into her soon-to-be signature sound. It all started out quite innocent, as something fun to do in her sophomore year. The melding of the genres was more of an organic migration.
What’s noteworthy, she also has alt rock influences, such as, Trent Reznor, and his bone piercing Nine Inch Nails sound; along with Shirley Manson’s Midwest Garbage crunching tunes, to the incomparable, Liz Phair. Other Hip-hop artists that paved her thought process include Missy Elliott, Outcast, M.I.A., and Ms. Lauryn Hill. Like the Beastie Boys, it’s difficult at best to attempt to define her sound. It’s literally been described as genre defying. Although, there are some artist out there like Twenty-One Pilots, MC Lars, DJ Shadow along with Run the Jewels who also take the Hip-hop sound and blend it with some sweet Alt-Indy grooves and they turn that into food for our ears.
K. Flay began her musical journey in 2003. After writing and performing her breakout hit “Blingity Blang Blang”, she came to the realization that she dug writing and recording music. It’s quite the dichotomy of what inspires artists to write. Some write about things that impact us all, be it social or political news, whereas, others write from personal experience or experiences from the heart that have impacted them directly, or indirectly. For K. Flay, it’s the directness of her music that draws us in, and makes us wonder how does she know us so well? She has to be writing about someone. The rapper admittedly has written about experiences in her life that has had her bummed-out at one point in time, but she is not bitter or mean. It’s a means of expression, which in the end, draws us even closer to her music. Her fans love her for her honesty, and for not being Taylor Swift. K. Flay is uniquely herself, and what may work for one artist, doesn’t work for her. What works for her, is Kristine being Kristine. In the past, she’s said “You could understand the truth of a situation, the facts, but you can also decide in the narrative of your life, because we’re all making up our lives as we go.”
Let’s circle back to Flay as an artist. Her first release was Suburban Rap Queen. However, in 2011 she self-released the mixtape Stopped Caring in ’96, which she conceded was a turning point for her. In 2014, K. Flay independently released her first full-length EP, Life as a Dog. That album peaked on the Billboard Heatseekers Albums chart at # 2, and on their Rap Albums chart at # 14. That year, she joined the long list of accomplished artists who joined Kevin Lyman’s traveling circus known as Warped Tour. “[Being on Warped Tour] was almost like an exercise in becoming a better performer,” she says. Now, the rapper is signed to Night Street Records, a division of Interscope. Taking notes from her very successful Warped Tour mates, she released her second full-length EP, Every Where Is Some Where, on April 7, 2017. As a result, songs from the album, “Blood in the Cut” and “High Enough” are being played by terrestrial radio, and various streaming platforms. These songs took off like a rocket, and have landed Flay in the badassosphere! Blood in the Cut was so good, it appeared in xXx: Return of Xander Cage, an episode of Netflix’s BoJack Horesman and a 2017 NFL promotion. Over the past two years she’s been killing it on the road. She was even touring with the likes of Awolnation, Third Eye Blind, Dashboard Confessional and Imagine Dragons.
Honestly, the biggest challenge for any new artist is being patient, and not getting caught up in their own celebrity that creates their own ill communication. As an ancillary byproduct of Kristine being Kristine, her tunes and albums have been well received over the years. As a result, she’s received two Grammy nods at the 60th Grammy Awards for her current ventures. She’s been nominated for Best Engineered Album in the Non-Classical category; and, Best Rock Song for “Blood in the Cut”. What’s also a stand out is that K. Flay is the only female in the male dominated category. Two of her fellow heavyweight nominees in the category include juggernauts Metallica and Foo Fighters! Needless to say, Flay has come a long way from being a kid from the streets of Wilmette.
Bands like Dirty Heads will tell you that hip-hop and alt-rock have provided inspiration to their music and fans. In that mold, K. Flay has created a dynamic for anyone who needs noise to cope. In this case, it’s noise that we can groove and dance to. She’s created a sound that resonates with her fans; and simultaneously created a very real place they can all call home. Uber cool videos like “Can’t Sleep”, “We Hate Everyone”, and “Doctor Don’t Know is part of that dialogue between Flay and her fans. Other songs you just might hear at her shows are the Cops”, “FML”, and “Black Wave”. Also look for “The Game”, as well as “Single and Famous”, which she did with the aforementioned, MC Lars… both very cool tunes.
K. Flay is currently on her own headlining tour. You can catch her locally at the Observatory in Santa Ana on Thursday, January 11th. She’ll also be at the Fonda on January 12th, and the Observatory, North Park, January 13th. Come out and catch a great show so you can say you saw K.Flay before she was the end-all be-all of alt-hip-hop!