The Bronx native has always made music inspired by acts like Mos Def and Goodie Mob, who are lyrical and not afraid to address crucial contemporary issues. Kemba’s story starts in the Hunt’s Point section of The Bronx, where he was the middle child of a single mother in an R&B-filled household. His older brother, himself an accomplished rapper, was the one who first brought hip-hop into the house, and started his younger sibling on a new path. By the time he was nine, Kemba was already writing raps, and he never looked back. The ability to rhyme was his one relief from childhood teasing over severe eczema, which lasted well into his teens.
At 17, Kemba faced another, even more serious obstacle – a tumor in perhaps the worst spot for an aspiring rapper, his jaw. He faced constant surgeries and doctors told him he’d be lucky to be able to talk at the end of the process, never mind rap. But Kemba made it through and continued working steadily.
Kemba released critically acclaimed projects like Fall FWD and 2013’s powerful GNK, the latter of which earned near-universal critical praise as “one of the best projects of the year” for its “lyrical mastery” and the artist’s “smooth, yet complex, flow.” But Kemba’s new moniker marks a new phase, one that was inspired by the same events that would cause a protest movement that shook the country. The Black Lives Matter movement, and the police violence and political corruption that inspired it, are at the core of Negus. Songs like “Heartbeat” and “Greed” deal smartly and passionately with matters of literal life and death to Kemba and his community.
Kemba’s roots in hip-hop’s birthplace of The Bronx come through in everything he does. He is a co-founder of the noted local hip-hop organization the Rebel Diaz Arts Collective, which runs a community center in the South Bronx with lectures, classes, and more. That mission to return something to the community is forever a part of Kemba’s mission.