FEATURES Inspired by J. Dilla and Inner Turmoil, Producer Kilamanzego Takes Flight By John Morrison · April 15, 2020
Center illustration by Eva Wo
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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Born in the Bronx to a Ghanaian family, and now based in Philadelphia, producer Kilamanzego (pronounced “kill-a-man’s-ego”) aptly describes herself as “a bit of a traveler.” “Before moving to Philly, I actually lived in D.C. for a little bit. And Istanbul. I moved to Oakland for a year about five years ago just to experience life on the West coast. That’s actually when I started making beats,” she says. She began making music at a young age, pursuing a traditional musical education at the behest of her parents.

“My mom listened to stuff like traditional Ghanaian high life music and the Bee Gees,” she remembers with a laugh. “My dad is more the laid back type, listening to smooth jazz and what not. My dad got me violin lessons when I started elementary school, so you could say that was the beginning of my artist path. I think [he did that] to keep me preoccupied with something positive, and not out in the streets. After that, I played every instrument I could get my hands on, from bass guitar to trombone, and was in more bands than I count—ska, jazz, hardcore, punk…”

Photo by Megan Matuzak

Midway through the aughts, Kilamanzego discovered J.Dilla’s 2006 opus, Donuts, and her life—and career—would never be the same. “Donuts had either come out that year, or I found it early the following year. Kilmanzego explains. “I listened to some snippets and bought it, and was completely floored. I didn’t stop playing that album for months. I’d never heard beats like that before—where it felt like art, and I felt every single bit of it.”

Bitten by the beatmaking bug, Kilamanzego began experimenting with Ableton Live, digging even deeper into the craft of music production. In the years since, she’s developed her own rich, cosmic take on the Future Bass sound: swinging rhythms; deep, heavy bass; trippy, swirling synths. Her debut EP These Roots Are On Fire is a striking display of her impressive musical prowess. Between dynamic, groovy compositions like “Crossed Out” and the beautifully melancholy opener “Everything Goes Black,” Kilamanzego taps into a wide range of emotions across the record.

These Roots Are On Fire is my anxiety and neuroticism in musical form, but in a more cohesive and focused way,” she says. “The track titles are a chronological reference to my life; there’s always a period of darkness where it feels like I don’t know shit about anything and I feel completely lost. Then comes a moment of feeling isolated because of that, since I don’t feel I fit in with anyone or anything. Then I’m in the thick of my rising anxiety and inner turmoil, and at some point I eventually let it all loose and explore what I’ve learned from everything. The “roots” are everything about me, from my gender expression and ethnicity to my own musical identity.” And as the album certainly shows, those roots run deep.

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