“Born and raised in Cambridge” is a description that is becoming more and more of an anomaly. With the high concentration of colleges, and the booming biotech industry, the city attracts transplants. Cambridge-bred rapper King Fiya remembers seeing the shift happen in front of him around 2011, while living in the heart of Central Square.
“Me and a lot of the people I grew up with, we’re all in the Malden and Everett area now. I was still around Cambridge in 2012 and then it just happened so fast. The prices are just sky high now,” he says. And it’s true. Since 2012, Cambridge rent prices have gone up by almost 50 percent. Luxury apartment buildings and office spaces are being erected, while community institutions like The Middle East are being forced to sell.
But home is where the heart is, and King Fiya has a tight-knit circle that started in the core of Cambridge. The people who make up his music team are a mix of close friends and family (his DJ is his cousin and his manager is a childhood friend, among others.) He remembers the beginning of his journey in 2010: One of his close friends, rapper Darius Heywood, pushed him to record his raps.
“Once I heard my voice recorded, I fell in love with it,” he says.
It wasn’t until around 2015 that he began to take rapping seriously. A year later, one of his tracks, “Dour,” began to gain traction. By this point, King Fiya had already released a handful of mostly self-produced tracks—one of which was called “Gettin’ Paid,” featuring New York rapper Dave East.
When King Fiya discovered Dave East on Twitter, he only had a few thousand followers. Dave East now has tracks with over 26 million streams on Spotify.
“That was a situation out of necessity,” King Fiya says. “I didn’t even expect him to respond, so I still had to find the song. I had this one song that had one verse over a beat I made and one verse open, so it was perfect and I sent that to him.”
Around the same time, King Fiya tapped in his childhood friend Cartier C, who came from a family of music makers. Equipped with FL Studio, Cartier C became King Fiya’s right-hand producer, showing up six times on his first album, “Money Dreaming.”
“We were together so often, and he knows exactly what I like,” King Fiya says. “It gave us a natural chemistry that worked so well on the songs.”
“Money Dreaming” kicked off King Fiya’s sound as we know it. The music was meant for cars with the windows down and summer parties—specifically in Cambridge. He initially released the project as a way of providing a house for the loose tracks that were gaining him his buzz, as well as a way to put out enough music to book himself some shows. A little over a year later, in 2018, he released “Benefits,” which showed him focusing more on the musicality and songwriting. As an album, “Benefits” took a step back from the upbeat vibe and went down a nocturnal, introspective route.
Fast forward to January of this year, when King Fiya released his personal favorite album: “Money Season.” The return to a more bouncy production coupled with the experience of making an album like “Benefits” is what makes “Money Season” such a success in his eyes. King Fiya also tweaked his process based on what he learned making his last two albums. Instead of zeroing in on a concrete set of nine tracks, he ended up making much more than he needed.
“I probably had about 30 songs, and I switched it around a bunch of times. I tried to see which ones worked the best together,” he says.
He also shifted his songwriting technique: Rather than focusing solely on the lyrics, he created natural melodies by freestyling while hearing the beat for the first time. He says he realized that initially freestyling while hearing a beat allowed him to create refreshing melodies that he could later sharpen with different lyrics.
“I like catching that ‘I just heard the beat, I’m excited’ feeling,” he says. “I found myself thinking too much while writing and it took away some of that natural vibe. Once I started freestyling, I felt my songs got to a whole other level.”
In a little over three years, King Fiya has been able to release three albums and his growth as an artist is evident. While he doesn’t live in Cambridge right now, the city supported him at the “Money Season” release show at The Middle East. It was a proud, full-circle moment for him to perform this project at the heart of Central Square. Friends and fans came through, not only knowing the words to many of his songs, but also to support him by buying merch from his clothing line, Fiya Supply.
The momentum doesn’t stop there. King Fiya says he’s using the success of his last step to make the next jump even higher. While he has enough music to release another album, he knows now that he needs to wait until the time is right. His dreams are only as big as he can imagine—for him, the dream’s as big as getting his Fiya logo on a pair of Nike Air Force Ones. If he achieves that, there’s no doubt there will be an even bigger dream lined up instantly.
To learn more about King Fiya, visit his SoundCloud at www.soundcloud.com/king-fiya.
This story appears in the March/April print issue of Scout Cambridge, which is available for free at more than 220 drop spots throughout Cambridge (and just beyond its borders) or by subscription.
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