There’s never been a shortage of rappers in Santa Ana, but Karlton Phresh is looking to separate himself from the pack.
The Michigan transplant isn’t afraid to delve into a wide variety of sounds – from rock to electronica to trap – and he recently dropped King of Hearts, a five-song EP that plays like Kanye West and Frank Ocean collaborating with dozens of other musicians for 18 minutes about life’s struggles, love, and everything in between. It blurs the lines between hip-hop and R&B, which is something the rapper draws from another genre-bending hero of his.
“I was heavily inspired by Prince throughout this whole project, especially with his passing being somewhat recent and during the time I was writing the project,” Phresh says. “Artists like Outkast, Missy Elliott, and Prince are people I’ve always looked up to when I’m making music because they’re always willing to push the envelope and be that next level of creative.”
But artists like Prince and Missy aren’t the only influences that were unleashed into King of Hearts. As someone who’s been rapping since he was a teenager, the soulful Phresh spent the first several years writing bangers about partying and focusing his energy more on honing his skills than really putting together a full package on each song. On King of Hearts, there isn’t a song that feels incomplete, and the subject matter is in an entirely different spectrum.
“As I’m growing and maturing and going through different experiences, I wanted to write about something more mature and more relatable,” Phresh says. “Before I was writing about turning up and being hype in the clubs, but now that I’m older and maturing, I wanted to touch on some real things that all the generations can relate to. The inspiration was to do something grown and sexy with a little bit of darker content that’s not talked about as much.”
Aside from going for a “grown and sexy” vibe, King of Hearts is also the first time Phresh has produced some of his own tracks. Working with everyone from his fellow Konsept Records artists to a handful of other names throughout LA and OC, Phresh is quickly developing his own ear for creating unique beats. Now that he’s mixed his DJ and production skills into his own songs, it seems like Phresh’s 7-year career is finally coming full circle back to one of the guys who influenced him from the get-go.
“I hear a lot of times that I remind people of having a Kanye-like approach, but I think that comes from people like J Dilla,” Phresh says of the famous Detroit-based producer. “I’ve been recently getting into producing and composing myself, so I felt like I had more control in creating [King of Hearts] from the ground up.”
While it may seem like Phresh’s Detroit-centered roots would be out of place in Santa Ana, the rapper believes the two cities actually have a lot more in common than initially meets the eye. After all, working class cities with strong art and culture scenes have to stick together regardless of differences in racial makeup.
“Detroit and Santa Ana are intertwined in a lot of ways,” Phresh says. “They’re both known as a run-down type of place, or a misunderstood type of place, or a talked-about-badly type of place, but they actually have a lot of good things going on. They both deal with gentrification as well, where some people are happy about the new things going on and others view it as gentrification. Other than there being a Hispanic culture difference from Detroit, I find a lot of similarities in the city. There’s a rough around the edges yet creative vibe for the artists [in Santa Ana], and I think that’s why I actually fit into the culture.”