Kristoff Krane: I Freestyle Life is a capsule of reminders, of lessons, of memories

Kristoff Krane: I Freestyle Life is a capsule of reminders, of lessons, of memories
Photo by Elliot Malcolm / Dharma Hype

To help fund a new album of acoustic material, rapper Kristoff Krane is releasing I Freestyle Life, a massive collection of 44 songs from previously released albums reflecting his eight year career as an artist. This batch of material -- the proceeds of which will fund Krane's next album -- includes collaborations with Eyedea, Sage Francis, Slug of Atmosphere, Buck 65, Illogic, Ceschi, and FIX cohorts Joe Horton and Crescent Moon. A new single, titled "Aho," debuts below.

Gimme Noise sat with Kristoff Krane (and clarified a few points via e-mail) to discuss his past, his future, and how his creative process has evolved.

Was it difficult to pick which songs to be represented here?

The whole thing was a year-long process. They're pretty much songs that I hold dear to me or have always resonated with me, or they're songs that supporters have voiced opinion on. I Freestyle Life has allowed me to reflect on the artistic works that I've done and the people that I've been blessed with the opportunity to have worked with in. It's brought me to a sense of overwhelming gratitude, because I've really seen how much responsibility [there is being] an artist, when you're taking something and offering it to the world in that way. It's a capsule of reminders, of lessons, of memories; attempts to describe what's going on through all these different lenses. With it comes a documentary that my friend PCP of Unique Techniques [made]. He hit me up a while back and said "I want to make a day-in-the-life documentary with you". That's going to come [with the album for] anyone who orders it. The documentary itself is specifically for anyone who's followed my artistic timeline from the beginning, because it's all subtleties. 

I've spent a lot of time reflecting on the past and dealing with it, which has been a really big thing for me outside of music, in my life in general. Looking at the past and not running from it, not trying to pretend like something didn't happen. Looking at it, honoring it, and then letting go of it. I think these games that we're playing as independent artists in America is based on this very imbalanced value that's placed on certain things in our society. Art is not the top of that pyramid for the majority. So people then put themselves in positions where they're like, "This isn't exactly what I'm trying to convey, but this is how you play that game." You dress like this, you say this thing, you make a song like this... There's all sorts of things take away from your raw emotion that is trying to come out in the things we hear. Essentially, that's what I'm aiming for. I'm not aiming for a bunch of people doing call and response at First Avenue, that's not in my vision necessarily. 

You mention that the proceeds from this project are going to fund an acoustic album. What inspired the acoustic record initially?

When I first started hanging out with Mike [Larsen, aka Eyedea], one of the things he really fostered was the belief in my own voice. We would do voice lessons together. At that point he was starting to learn the guitar. He said, "At some point, you are going to need to be singing and playing an instrument, you're going to find that out, just letting you know right now." There were so many things like that with Mike where it was almost prophetic. When we were hanging out for most of our friendship, we played a bunch together. I started playing guitar then, the first song and the last song were both written before he passed, and everything in between was after he passed. That record wrote itself. The ability to let the creative force move through me is the most raw and honest and vulnerable [when I have] a guitar in my hand, singing. It's kind of in a different category, but freestyling or improvisation in general creates that same sort of feeling, but those are kind of different sides of the coin, because one is pre-meditated and one is in the moment. The guitar is like doing free-flow yoga and rapping pre-written songs, for me, is like lifting weights. There's positives to both.

How was writing these songs different from songs you've written in the past?

I definitely did less writing. Saying more with less as the big difference. You have a more clear understanding of what a song is asking of you the more you get out of the way. If you tried to mold something that's molding itself through you, then you just have that ringing pit in your stomach that says something's just not there yet. For this project, I've had the most healthy relationship with that voice in my stomach. It's been more strategic in a lot of ways, but intuitively strategic, not like strategic in the studio. Strategic with letting the spirit move the way it wants to with making this statement. The record is a statement; it's a story and a concept from beginning to end. The album goes through a life-death process, reflecting on my personal journey before and two years after my best friend passed away. I don't forsee myself talking openly about the details of the story, but there's a feeling that can be registered, and from there on people can take what they want to take from it. Other than that, it's open to the listener at that point. But that's the premise, my life around that time. It captures how I process and express it. 
Last year you sang the national anthem at the Twins Stadium. How did that come about?

That was a humbling one for sure. The Minnesota Recovery Connection asked me to sing as part of their 2013 rally, that was my introduction into it. That experience was a huge lesson for me. It offered me insight into the idea of ethics and morality, and how one navigates through that in the modern world.

That's been a huge part of my path as of recently, [connecting] with communities that are almost completely cut off from any form of government assistance, that have been experiencing oppression by the American government for hundreds of years and by imperialist "takers" for thousands more before. After becoming closer to some of these communities and listening to their story, how they remember it, my understanding of history has deepened, and realization and acceptance of my own privileges, has become more clear. I am forever grateful for the teachings I have received from this community. 

That experience brought me to a point where I had to look at, what are the positives and what are the possible negatives of doing this? There's a lot of reasons why I did not want to do that, but ultimately, the advice I got from an elder, who I respect dearly, is that they can tell you what song to sing, but they can't tell you how to sing it or where to sing it from. Sing it like a prayer and make your statement in a subtle way is what he said. So that's what I did. I shut my eyes for most of it and breathed in and out of my heart space as best I could to make sure that I honored not only those who died fighting America's wars and their families, but to honor the original caretakers of Turtle Island and all of their ancestors and families also; for I think it goes without saying that their people and story have yet to receive the respect and acknowledgement they deserve from, not only the US government, but the mass American public as a whole. 

Singing the national anthem was this juxtaposition, this irony. I've always been the one to speak out against organized sports, or speak out against the Kardashian show. That's what I'm learning, that it's not just about speaking out against something, it's knowing why you're making the decisions that you're making, in a sense. I'm trying to intertwine all these different things I always want there to be a bigger picture wrapped around everything. It all ties together. What was really difficult for me was, I work at a resource center for youth experiencing homelessness in downtown Minneapolis called YouthLink.

We have been noticing at YouthLink a lot more people getting charged with petty [crime], like swearing or loitering. There was some investigation done, and a couple of the main businesses, the Twins Stadium included, were upset with the homeless population loitering there and taking away from their business, essentially. They informed the mayor, who then informed the Minneapolis Police Department to really crack down on the youth for whatever they can justify as a crime, something to that degree. The Twins Stadium was also part of not wanting YouthLink to be a actual shelter, because they were saying that would bring more transient population around the Metrodome. Instead of standing up and saying, "Why is this happening in our community? We're the ones who have millions of dollars that could help facilitate this and work with the community," but when the community speaks out about that, they're giving the middle finger essentially. I wanted to be in that position so that you can talk about it. 

Playing these games with the public, having some sort of image, I've never been too good at it. But once you start playing in those fields, [being] on [Keeping up with the Kardashians] for instance, that was a huge moral thing for me. That show makes me want to throw up in my mouth even thinking about it. I would never want any children ever being exposed to that, because the nature of the shit they're perpetuating is the shit that causes psychological distress.I definitely didn't make music specifically for the show, that would cross my personal ethical boundary at this time in my life. I know I made everything I made with integrity. That means that integrity is going to be then placed into this other thing, and maybe someone who's watching will hear that and be like, "What is this?" and look into it, and maybe find out about other people and this movement, this understanding of experimenting with consciousness and evolving in a sense.

I wasn't aware of the Kardashian thing, what song was that?

They asked for like six different songs.

They've used them on the program?

We won't know for another six months, probably, which ones they used or if they use them, but they liked them enough to have me sign contracts.

I didn't even realize they would have an awareness of or interest in your music.

It's interesting, the more I pay attention, the more the universe is playing these games and testing me, because these are two things that I would've never... You know what I mean? Maybe an indie film or something like this would use something I did, but I've outwardly spoken out about both those things. It's like a snake eating its tail.

A lot of times there's a desire to disconnect from that kind of stuff, to ignore it and push it aside, like, "I have nothing to do with this stuff." If you maintain your personal integrity, you can almost inject it into these other areas where you might have an impact you didn't think you could ever have. 

Totally. I was talking to my friend Joe Horton [of No Bird Sing], super smart dude. I brought up the idea of the Trojan Horse philosophy; I didn't even know that that's what was happening. But that's what's happening, and that's okay. Joe was telling me about how you can even see it in the local scene. How people are operating on different incentives. If your main incentive is to make money, or to be cool or get on the cover of something, or to be friends with this person, if those things outweigh that value or that message, it falls into a different wavelength for me. That's kind of how F to I to X came to be. Myself, and the guys from No Bird Sing and Kill The Vultures all realized that although our music sounded different, we had a lot in common as far as our ideas of creating, distributing and promoting it, as well as our shared communal connection to Micheal Larsen of course. I'm really, again, grateful to be connected with a group of people that understand.

I just came to a really grounding realization that I've been blessed with the opportunities that I've had. To even have sat down and had a conversation with Eyedea, I don't take that for granted. When you're around people that are operating in the way that he operated, the ability to see the true beauty in people around you, and to water that, he really reminded me of that. For me, he's more than one notch in my spine. I strive for, at any live setting, to disorient people. We're not there to have a good time, that's not what I've been asked to do. I'm always getting better at listening to my heart. Mike was always a good teacher in that department. If anyone taught me about freestyling life, it was him.

Stream and download I Freestyle Life here.

Kristoff Krane: I Freestyle Life is a capsule of reminders, of lessons, of memories
Artwork by Pat Jensen

See Also:
50 cool facts about the Minnesota music scene
Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list
Top 10 must-see Minnesota music videos this week

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