Komplex Kai
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Komplex Kai

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"Native hip-hop at Folklife: Komplex Kai raps a rez reality"

Special to The Seattle Times

Concert Review |

Bouncing around the whole stage with mic in hand, the rapper appeared joyful. His chant went like this:

"I'm from Tu-LAY-lip! And I'm proud of it! Very few, very few get out of it!"

Sure, his music sounds like party music. That's what hip-hop is. But the raps of 19-year-old Tulalip Tribes member Komplex Kai are more — a rez-centric reality that registers profound unease. And those raps resonated at the Northwest Folklife Festival at Sunday night's Native hip-hop concert at Bagley Wright Theatre.

For 40 minutes, Kai rapped with a mix of compassion and anger, revealing his allegiance to another tribe that could use a revival: '90s gangsta rappers of emotional substance.

Grim rez snapshots of "kids having kids" and "kids smoking pop" — or crack — came backed with Tulalip pride ("I'm throwin' my Tribe up!"), a move that's pure Tupac Shakur. Kai even did a dead-ringer for Tupac's wistful reconciliation track "I Ain't Mad At Cha," a ballad that mashed head-shaking love into sad truths ("drunk is how we cope"). Like 'Pac, Kai sounded much older than his age.

Indoor sunglasses, a wool hat with a bandanna tied underneath, baggy jeans and Timberland boots made him look flashy and rugged. His people received him like any other appreciative rap crowd, with hands in the air, miscellaneous whooping, and shouts of "Respect!".

Later, over a blanket of hypnotic minor-key piano, there was a keening string here, a detached trumpet there, and a booming death march of a beat. It sounded exactly like Mobb Deep, a New York City group that, in the '90s, invented the "spiritually devastated" hip-hop style.

"I lost a lot of friends," Kai rapped, "but was they really friends?"

Swirling beat behind him, Kai crouched at the front of the stage and deadpanned, "This is paranoia at its peak."

Addressing alcoholism, poverty, and the support/negligence/harm that comes from a fractured, chronically underestimated people, Kai's brilliance was in not talking down to his young audience. His swear words and allusions to sex and drugs would only add up to "adult content" for Tipper Gore. Loudly applauding every track, the mostly native and almost-full Bagley Wright audience wasn't offended.

Kai was preceded by local native theater youth group Red Eagle Soaring, doing an anti-smoking play, and followed by Oklahoma City's Culture Shock Camp, an abstract blend of Indian and hip-hop sounds.

Komplex Kai's hip-hop from the heart was refreshing, as was witnessing a crowd soak up the night's theme, the Urban Indian. For once, Northwest Folklife's "cultural focus" wasn't a boring venture, a theme removed from why we come to Folklife in the first place.

Andrew Matson contributes to www.raindrophustla.blogspot.com and www.206proof.com. Reach him at matson.andrew@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

*Komplex Kai is now 21 - By Andrew Matson


Perfect World
Invisible Race
What's Done Is Done



“My inspiration comes from life,” says Kai. “It’s the experiences that I go through is what I use to express my feelings with in my songs.” Kai’s music is a cross between urban life and life on the rez.

Rapper, Kisar Jones-Fryberg a.k.a. Komplex Kai now 20 years old began writing poetry when he was eight. He eventually began adding rhythm to his poetry then he combined all that to music, Bringing a unique blend of catchy beats with lyrical content, all with a special style that’s all his own.

He started recording at the age of thirteen, learning some of the ropes of the industry. So far he produced three albums entitled “perfect world,” the theme of the album: his life on the rez when he was growing up. He hit the CMJ charts and received college radio rotation across the nation. His second album, “Invisible Race” also hit the CMJ charts impacting the radio stations with more force and notability. His Third Release "What's Done is done" Is scheduled for release on 3/21/08! "I really grew up on this album" Kai says. "You get more of my personel thoughts...I went through a lot since the release of my last album{Invisible Race} I feel I got to release a lot of things that been with me these past couple years."

Komplex Kai always gives his all to his audience, and has graciously donated his performance to many community events.