An Interview With The Rising Baltimore Artist
Composed by Miki Hellerbach
Header photography by Diamond Dixon
If you’ve watched any number of videos circulating social media surrounding Baltimore, you’ve heard the accent and the tone. From the new Mayor recently proclaiming, “Shorty, pull ya mask up” to a local protestor mid-press conference, to a plethora of internet comedians clowning how the “ooo” sound is pronounced with more of an “ew,” it’s become quite the topic of conversation and laughs. Baltimore (also my hometown) is a place of sheer resilience, pride, and togetherness constantly battling with a blended cocktail of external judgement and internal reckoning. This paradoxical dilemma, if you think about it, has the potential to be the perfect space to create transcendental pieces of art. Miss Kam, a Baltimore musician through and through, wears the city on her heart on her sleeve, and even on the title of her debut album Tew Faced. Kam displays the accent front and center — like the mic hopefully in front of her on a stage in a packed venue post-pandemic.
Tew Faced is a body of work about balance. Kam, from her core identity to peripheral finessing, has a consistent duality to her existence expressed throughout her music. She consistently raps and sings about attempting to hold fast to a steady equilibrium as life pulls her in two directions. On the first full track of the album “Headlines” Kam spits, “I made a plan and I think ima get it, but in reality that’s up to God.” From the jump, Kam balances tactfully managing a destiny she is declaring for herself with relinquishing control and holding to her faith. This is just a starting point of a multi-layered dual consciousness that Kam continually grapples with on Tew Faced.
Baltimore’s outsider perception and insider reality is another obvious album and life dual-theme for Kam. When I spoke with her about her city and how she tries to promote and empower it through her art, she lit up like Camden Yards in the nighttime for a summer home game. Kam hears all the slander, but dismisses it with ease and assuredness. She knows the value of her artistic voice as well as the value of Baltimore itself. Kam foresees an outward renaissance-like influence her city could have on the world at large and is inherently confident in Baltimore’s value.
While the city that helped raise us remained at the core of our conversation, Kam and I also spoke on everything from Russian Doll-like album structures to remembered dreams that turned into sonic wonders. Read our full conversation below slightly edited for content and clarity.
Miki: How’s the response been so far to Tew Faced?
Kam: It’s been some of what I expected, but more of what I didn’t expect. It’s a lot of people like, “Wow I thought it was just gon’ be you rappin’ your ass off, and it’s not that, this is an ALBUM album.”
Yeah, it’s definitely not just rap. You range from boom-bap influence all the way to alternative pop R&B. What influenced having that range of styles for the project?
Well, I tell people all the time before I was rappin I was in a choir. I loved to sing at first. So a lot of the influences that I have are from that. My dad was also really into music, so I heard a lot of different sounds from around the world. I knew I couldn’t deliver that in singles or even small EP’s cuz people wouldn’t grasp the concept. I feel like this was the perfect time to show people this is what’s really goin’ on in my head. I know people would love to hear me rap all the time, but I can’t do that with my creativity. I grew up on a lotta R&B. I grew up on a lotta pop. I was like, “This is a chance for me to really put it in here.” I’ve always been scared to show people that other side where it’s softer and I sing. The more feminine side of things I guess. People don’t anticipate that from me and it’s Tew Faced, so perfect time to show people that other side.
The first lyrics that jumped out to me towards the top of the album were, “Swear on everything I’ma give you the blues with the rap.” Is that another Tew Faced example in genre form, and why do the blues feel like the core of your sound as much as rap?
I really wanna show people what it means to get deep with it. How much emotion rap really does have and how much can come from it. Aside from in music, I feel like it’s a shift that’s coming where people are shifting into a more introspective emotional side. I think it was important that I stamped that in immediately. Merging the two, I really miss that a lot. I grew up on DMX so being able to hear rappers really talk about their life is something that I’m big on. That was the music that got me through and inspired me.
Tew Faced has many dual meanings. What are the key ones for you?
Well first, it’s Tew Faced cuz I’m a Gemini Sun sign, for everybody that’s into astrology. I think it’s a pretty negative connotation of our personalities until people get to realize why we come off as two faced. The duality of being a Gemini and having such an evil aspect to yourself, but then having such a heavenly aspect, that’s the cover art right there. It’s an angel and it’s a demon all in one. They’re freakin Siamese twins.
In the music aspect, it’s first split into halves then smaller halves. I’m really big into speaking things into existence so the first half is really telling you who I am and the second half is more who I’m going to become. There are songs like “Headlines” where the intro is very dark, introspective, and motivated. Then it flips with “FTCU” and it’s like, “Woah where did that come from?” It’s not consistent and that’s me, but it all makes sense. Even in “Conversations (Interlude)” I had the double sides cuz the first half of it I’m talking my shit, I’m in my bag, and I feel good. Then the second half it’s like, “This is what really goes on when I step out of the artist sphere and it’s just me myself at home,” and stuff like that. It was important that I showed those two aspects because a lot of people know me as Miss Kam and not Kamaria, the actual person that I am. It’s all…what do you call those things? The Russian eggs where you keep takin’ it out the box. That’s what Tew Faced is.
Right the Russian dolls, that’s dope. I heard another dual purpose for the word “dream” on the album, whether it be ones you’re trying to achieve or ones that haunt you. Was that conscious?
I’m a very spiritual person. I realize that subconsciously my mind is saying things, but when I do music I just write how I feel so I don’t notice I’m saying certain things. Sometimes they’re intentional but more times they’re not.
Do you consciously read into the dreams you have while asleep?
All the time. I have a dream log. I’ve seen stuff that has to do with music in my dreams. Everything ties in.
Is there a specific dream you remember that tied into making Tew Faced?
I really feel like this is a dream predicting the future. It was this dream where I was backstage and Kanye West was back there! [Laughs] It was a lot goin’ on and then it was everybody that I’m with now. All the producers: Chris Cassius was there, Forty was there, T. Ali was there. They were in like suits. Hard ass black tie suits and they looked really nice! I was just like “What the fuck!?” I didn’t really see myself, but I saw everybody I was workin’ with on the red carpet. That always stuck in the back of my mind. I think that has to do with “Headlines.” (Lyric: “I’ll be ridin til the motherfuckin deadline / Said we won’t stop until we make the fuckin headlines.”) We not droppin’. We all gon make it to the top.
Wow, that’s crazy. Are all the producers on Tew Faced from Baltimore?
Every single last person is from Baltimore. I love it. Some people I’ve known for years, some I just met last year. The fact they are from Baltimore that goes back into the concept of Tew Faced. That’s why Tew is spelled like that. Keepin it all on the same, you know…
Home team, yeah. Some of my favorite moments were the internal song beat switches. Can you talk about what prompted the ideas for those?
How that really started was because they were separate songs. I wanted to figure out how to make them mesh. Those transitions I did because of how I listen to music. I like hearing things that make you go, “What the fuck?” Like, “Oh, songs not done? OK!” I’ll give you a good example. One of my favorite songs is “Pusha Man/Paranoia” by Chance The Rapper. In that, the beat just stops and it’s a completely different beat. You can even hear that in “Conversations (Interlude).” That’s a huge inspiration for me. I really wanted to test my limits.
How do you view yourself as an artist in the Baltimore scene? What space do you fill?
People know when they see me Kam is cool as shit. Kam is gonna help you out. It’s good energy. So just, a catalyst for change. Before I started rappin’ there weren’t too many women rappin’ in the scene. If they were, they were making moves but I feel like I’m forcin’ people to pay attention to what they need to be payin’ attention to, and not just in my career. The flaws that need to be changed. My boyfriend tells me not to look at myself as a whistleblower, but I can’t help givin myself that label cuz it’s just like, “Beep beep what the fuck is goin on?” I don’t really know what my full purpose is gonna be. I’m still workin’ through it, but I’m just glad to be able to work with the whole city. Some day some little kids gonna be like I love her and they’re gonna be fuckin great. That’s all I want.
I hear the catalyst for change in the music too. Also on a song like “Resentment” and throughout the album I hear you grapple with the importance of loyalty and the difficulty of forgiveness. Why are those themes so important for you to express musically?
That was important for me to express one because it was a big part of my career in music. There was actually somebody close to me in music that I fucked with that crossed me. I was very quiet about it just because I know how it is to look crazy when you say certain things when it’s really just, “I’m upset.” I don’t like being angry at people. I was like, “How do I move forward from this?” You sometimes have to get out of your mind being angry at yourself because of what other people are doing. Loyalty will be there whether you find it in a tree, you can find it in a biscuit, anything. The most important thing is to find it in yourself. Find that faith and belief. That other shit, it doesn’t matter. People gon’ cross you every day and if you gon’ be bitter about it you’re going to be living a long nasty life. It’s no time for that.
So back to Baltimore again. What, in your personal view, needs to happen to extend the reach of the art and music scene further outside the city? Or is that even important?
We’ve been having a lot of discussions. Reaching the wider scope of things I feel like we’ve done a lot of it. There have been things like Al Rogers Jr. styling for GAP. Devin Allen being in ID Magazine. Baby Kahlo in SoundCloud commercials. But what I think we need more of is local coverage because a lot of people outside Baltimore know about Baltimore. But a lot of people inside Baltimore don’t know about Baltimore. It makes you wonder why the local radio stations aren’t playing local artists. Why aren’t artists on the local news? I appreciate the resources that we have. There are people working really hard, but the larger platforms… What’s going on? When I say the larger platforms I mean really investing. It would mean a lot if people really got their flowers. It’s a problem when these names aren’t being mentioned in certain rooms. More newspaper coverage really making it about artists. I don’t want it to just be a thing where WJZ (Local CBS News) and The [Baltimore] Sun just pop out ‘cause someone got a Grammy. That’s not a good look at all. Within the community there’s artists building resources for other artists, but when we ask for support we should actually get it. Especially when people are talented.
Yeah I like that idea a lot. If there’s a stronger local community in coverage and support then expanding outward will be that much more effective.
There have been a lot of excuses from these larger platforms. In the pandemic, it’s actually made it easier. We can sit on Zoom and do an interview. Why aren’t people being highlighted? Baltimore culturally revolves around art. This is an art city. That’s the basis of Tew Faced. It’s so community involved. The way I did the tracklist I said, “I don’t want it to be about me, I want it to be about us.” What people tend to do in Baltimore is they’ll go and say, “This person is the savior, they’re next up, they’re gonna be the one that makes it out.” Then they put their all into this one person and it contributes to that mindset of scarcity where one person is like, “How am I gonna do this when this person is gettin’ all the resources?” Let’s make sure we all eat. I’m really about dismantling all this shit.
A communal come-up sounds great. On that note, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about the significance of making the spelling of Two, Tew. Why’d you decide to really highlight the Baltimore accent?
It’s so funny because I’m a part of Tew World Order. That is with Chris Cassius, Qué Pequeño, and me so far and we spell two (tew) like that. It’s just important for Baltimore cuz like, the fuckin’ slack that we catch from the way that we talk is ridiculous. I never knew our accent was so ugly. I didn’t know until Twitter was like, “Is that how you say two (tew)?” I was like isn’t that how you say it? But ima be heavy on my accent. Ima really just let it fly. I have this deep feeling that Baltimore is undergoing a Renaissance. Baltimore is about to have the effect that New York did in the ‘80s. Baltimore is about to have the effect that LA did in the ‘90s. Those certain renaissances of these different regions coming with their own genres and their own energies. It is about time that Baltimore came out. I knew how important it was to establish myself as an artist from Baltimore. A lotta people gonna wanna change that. It’s not gonna happen. You got whole comedians talkin’ like us for skits. It’s corny. But that’s why it was important to me. It’s big reppin’.
It’s a dope statement to put it front and center on your art. Was there any purpose to dropping the project at the end of the year?
I put out my first EP on my birthday last year, and that was supposed to be Tew Faced. I wasn’t prepared to drop an album on my birthday, but I knew I was prepared to drop an EP. But I told myself I had to drop an album by the end of the year, so I did that. Then on top of that it goes into the Tew Faced concept because it was dropped on December 31st so some people are considering it an end of the year project, and some people are considering it a beginning of the year project. Then on top of that I dropped it at 12 o’clock in the morning so I kind of fucked people’s heads up. I’m devious [Laughs].
I like it! Since you mentioned Birthday Pack EP, how do you feel like you’ve grown as an artist and a person from Birthday Pack to now with Tew Faced?
Woahhhhh crazy growth! I have so much more patience with myself and the people that I work with. I’m not mean, but I am very particular with how I want things done. This is why a lot of things I do by myself. I learned how to let go and trust that the people I delegate are gonna do the right thing. Even down to my personal relationships. Trust people, they’re here for a reason, and if they’re not, trust the process. I do a lot more thinking before I speak — controlling my temper — and you can hear it on the album. Just being more mature. I’m about to be 25 in a few months, and it’s not that old, but when you’re 25 it’s just certain shit you shouldn’t be doin’. Certain people you shouldn’t be hangin’ with. Certain things you shouldn’t be sayin’ anymore. You just gotta grow the fuck up. You really wanna hustle? Go and hustle. You want money? Then go get that shit? You unhappy? Then go get fuckin’ happy.
Ok, last question. “The mic the only one that listen when I’m feelin’ rage” and that part about your father on the second half of “Conversations (Interlude)” is my favorite part of the album. Why was that whole section specifically important to express?
These are conversations I had with my mind, with other people, with God, the moon, in the mirror… So that second half was really important because it was an actual conversation. Like it wasn’t verbatim, but it really happened. It was a very hurtful moment, and I know it wasn’t done with malicious intent, but it was important that I express to other artists, “I feel you if y’all are also going through this.” It was a moment like “Hey y’all are cheering me on, but this is what I’m gettin’ on the other side.” It was important I broke that barrier down. Everybody thinks I get so much support. I think every artist struggles with that. With the pandemic, I lost my whole fuckin job. Whole bunch of artist’s got told, “Just get a job, get a safety net.” If you get a safety net you not gon’ fly, you just gon’ drop. I don’t wanna do that.
Listen to and Purchase Tew Faced on Bandcamp below!