Kay Jay makes no bones about the fact that he’s making up for lost time. The Houston rapper, born and raised in Spring Branch, has only been making music for a couple of years now, but he’s pulled off more than a few moves that one might more readily expect from a seasoned veteran. He’s recorded an album with real-deal H-town producers Trakksounds and Jon Z, he’s performed in front of thousands, became a partner in a gym and even hustled his own clothing line under the brand name c10ud.
Today, he’s debuting a slick new music video, “Nothing to Something.” If it seems like he’s moving fast, well, he’s had some time to plan all this out. Kay Jay, known to the state authorities as Kelly James, spent five years inside for aggravated robbery and exhibition of a firearm on a school campus. He started writing rap songs behind bars, and now they (and he) are finally seeing the light of day.
“I came out of prison with, like, $50 to my name,” says Kay Jay. “My mom was
Turns out that something is a great deal nicer than nothing. As a celebration of his newfound freedom, Kay Jay shot “Nothing to Something” in Colorado, a place he never even dreamed of visiting before being locked up.
“Before a year and a half ago, I had never flown in an airplane,” he says. “I had never traveled anywhere. The video kind of signifies coming from never getting to travel and always being broke to flying out to Colorado to shoot a music video and seeing the beautiful scenery. That’s kind of what motivated me.”
Sure. But it was more than scenery that drew Kay Jay to Colorado, of course.
“One of the main reasons that drove me to Colorado is obviously the marijuana laws there,” he says. “I’m an advocate. I truly believe in the medicinal value of marijuana. That’s what drew me out there, to be honest. But once I got there, I was truly amazed by everything that I saw. I had never had the chance to travel before in my life.
“Every city that you travel to up there has a different look, even though they have mountains,” he adds. “You’ll go to one area, and all the trees will be yellow, which you can see in one of my performance scenes. You’ll go to another area and you’ll see nothing but orange.”
Produced by Jon Z, “Nothing to Something” is a pretty neat summation of Kay Jay’s debut album, Seize the Moment. After being locked up for the gun-toting, gangster lifestyle glorified in so many rap tunes, Kay Jay says he grew disillusioned with the bravado and wanted to write about something a little more real.
“While I was in jail, I happened to notice a similarity in a lot of rap music where people
“The melody sounded motivational to me; it sounded uplifting,” he says. “So I chose this one to go with the story of how I overcame conflicts and the things that I faced when I first got home.”
When the door swung open, he was ready. Kay Jay spent his time away wisely, taking college classes behind bars. His grades were good enough that he was able to get a college grant when he got out. The rapper took a job working for local print shop Caught In Customs and enrolled in classes at HCC.
“I was actually going to college with an ankle monitor on,” Kay Jay says. “That’s how crazy it was. My teacher was like, ‘Damn!’
In school, he studied music business, an education that helped fuel his rapid rise in the ranks of Houston rap. Plenty dream big, but not a lot of dudes are able to parlay a prison stint and a printing job into working with the likes of Paul Wall and Devin the Dude and recording with Trakksounds. That takes an accelerated curriculum.
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“I definitely feel that anybody who has watched me as an artist the last three years can honestly see proof of how the music business education has helped me,” Kay Jay says. “People always wonder what I did differently, and some that
“One of the most influential classes that I took in college is actually called Introduction to the Music Business, which covers a basic understanding of every department in the music industry, from self-marketing to the promotion to the labels, management, songwriting, everything,” he adds. “It helped me keep my eyes open, be aware, and not get screwed over.”
Now that he’s gone from hip-hop nothing to something hard to ignore, Kay Jay says he tries to remember to enjoy his own story. The grind, however, is far from over.
“I have to kind of give myself time to be a businessman