Khari continues his hard-hitting three-part EP series This Is How We Feel with Act 2 (Institutionalized). Picking up where Act 1 (Trapped) left off, the Cincinnati native continues to balance harrowing lyricism with thoughtful ruminations about racism, the criminal justice system, mental health and more. Production is handled by Courtney Kemper, G1, AvAtor Hughes, Nick Burke and Maaster Matt, with features from Kamiylah Faatin and Paris.
This year, Khari also launched his own record label, Be The Best (BTB) Records, through which Act 2 (Institutionalized) was released.
“I really wanted to… take back control over my art instead of just giving it out to streaming right away,” he tells Audiofemme.
Here, Khari talks about his new project, when Act 3 will be released, upcoming visuals and more. Listen to This Is How We Feel: Act 2 (Institutionalized) and read his full interview below.
AF: What does that phrase institutionalized mean to you as it relates to this project?
This whole EP series has been a process of me taking the listener through what it means to be mentally in a prison, or even physically in a prison, because I’ve got a lot of family and friends locked up. So, looking at the similarities between those two, even in your day-to-day life, we can be institutionalized. We can be programmed. We can be conditioned to think a certain way. Whether it’s school – I’ve been institutionalized by that – there’s a number of things that line means, but that’s really like the main thing I was trying to get across to people.
AF: “Numb” is a super powerful song to start the EP with. That song, and a lot of these records, is very personal; what headspace were you in when you were writing and recording it?
I really wanted to be vulnerable and honest this time around, just give people more of me. And “Numb,” I wrote around the time when George Floyd had just got murdered. Everything was happening in the country, just a whole bunch of turmoil, and I was just feeling like super numb to it all because, mind you, this stuff been happening forever. I was at a point where I was like, I don’t even know how to feel about anything anymore. I’ve been through so much stuff in my personal life, and then also the plight of my people, it’s all weighed down on me. So, I tried my best to convey that on that record.
AF: “Eve” is another important song. How did you and Kamiylah Faatin get linked up?
She’s actually the first R&B singer [to be signed] to my record label, BTB Records. She’s super talented.
AF: Having her on the track took it to another level, for sure.
Oh yeah. That song was for Black women, so I really wanted her voice on there. She just really gave it that energy, so I was just extremely, extremely blessed to have her on the track.
AF: On Act 2, you talk about taking back ownership of your craft, and you’re releasing the project on Bandcamp and through your record label for one week before streaming services. What made you want to do it that way?
That was a big thing for me this time around. I really wanted to, like you said, take back control over my art instead of just giving it out to streaming right away. Because we only get half a penny for every stream. It’s like all this work just to build up a certain number of streams and hope people listen to it on these platforms, when there’s people that are willing to support what we’re doing out here. I just wanted to take it back to when I was a young kid, 15 years old, selling my mixtapes at my school. Just put it out there and allow people to support it this way and see what we can bring in. Especially now with the label, trying to build that up.
AF: It’s super dope that you launched your own label here because you’re keeping the talent and revenue in Cincinnati. Like, you can keep building it up and become a pioneer in the city.
It’s funny you say that, because that’s always been a big goal on my list. To really be a staple in Cincinnati. I think what we’re missing is the revenue and the attention. We can bring that in. We can make it so these talented artists here can start really living off this music.
AF: I also saw your “Sha’Carri (Amari Freestyle)” on Instagram where you rap about Sha’Carri Richardson being suspended from competing in the Tokyo Olympics. What made you want to write a song about that?
It’s funny how that came about, because I told myself I was not gonna rap until the album came out. Like, no one’s gonna hear me rap until the album. But I just had to put that out, because that really is some bullshit. You know I’m saying? And that there are people locked up for [marijuana] right now. Why? When these big white corporations are eating off marijuana? I already was touching on some of these topics in the project, and then I just felt like I had to drop something because it’s a stupid situation.
AF: Absolutely. “Tin Man” is another song that stood out on the project. What was making that track like?
That was a fun song to record because that was my first time using auto-tune. With this project, I was trying to step outside my comfort zone and not be so locked into being this guy that’s only doing one type of sound. So, I wanted to do the auto-tune, I wanted to have more trap sounds, more modern sounds, but still give the substance and the content.
AF: You’re gearing up to drop a video for that song next; any release date in mind for Act 3 yet?
Well, I said Act 2 was gonna come out in January [laughs], but I do want to get Act 3 out soon, maybe at the top of next year, because I’m already working on some newer things that’ll be, like, the next phase of my career past This Is How We Feel. I’m excited about that.
AF: Who have you been listening to/inspired by lately?
I really like the new J. Cole album, that’s really inspired me a lot. Tyler, the Creator’s album is probably my favorite right now. And H.E.R., I’ve been really tapped in with R&B lately and her new project, too. But, I like what these more lyrical guys are doing right now, you know, stepping outside their comfort zone. I’m trying to do the same thing right now, so that’s given me a confirmation about what I’m doing.
AF: What else have you got planned coming up?
Visuals, visuals, visuals. I want to do a visual for every song on the project. And I want to do a tour, since we can do shows now. I’m definitely trying to tour in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky – do like a little tri-state tour. So, that’s getting set up for probably the fall.