At 8:30 p.m., thirty minutes after the DKE Benefit concert was scheduled to start on September 13, Coda was empty. Students hovered around the corners of the venue, clutching drinks and talking quietly over the music that buzzed through the house speakers. A girl towards the back flicked her wristwatch, checking the time. So far, this was just like any other Wednesday night at Penn, moved downtown.
And then Kayvon came on.
The lights went down, and Kayvon’s voice called, "Are you ready for me? I don't think you're loud enough, are you ready for me?!" Spines straightened, hands jammed phones in back pockets, eyes focused on the figure at the front of the stage. Kayvon commanded attention.
Bouncing up and down the stage, the young rapper tore his way through his set list, playing some old favorites like "Giving Up On Me," but also some new songs, most notably "Vibes," which featured Karis Stephen (check out some of Kayvon's other work, here on Spotify and iTunes). Technically, Kayvon is a solid rapper: his rhymes are sharp, his lyrics clever, and his sense of rhythm consistent. On SoundCloud, his music is good—reliable, thoughtful, definitely someone worth listening to. But at first listen, Kayvon seems to still be maturing, growing from relative inexperience.
Put Kayvon on the stage, though, and all that changes. He shines in person. He’s engaged. He’s charismatic. He’s a true performer. People will come to see Kayvon. And they did—after the performance, Kayvon was lifted off the stage by his fans, and crowd–surfed the length of the concert hall. During his interview, he was engulfed by a sea of friends and admirers. A fan in the crowd shouted, “Kayvon! We literally just came for you!”
Though Waka Flocka Flame was advertised as the headliner for the concert, it was really Kayvon who pushed ticket sales. Moved by his fans’ dedication, Kayvon admits, “People at Penn don’t necessarily listen to Wacka Flocka Flame.. you know [DKE] definitely needed help in so far as getting a Penn audience here… I’m the guy at Penn right now…I’m going to bring out a lot of these people to see Waka Flocka, I’m honored. Not only do I get to work with Waka, but I’m like ‘Yo Waka, here’s a crowd, please give them the time of their life.’”
Getting to perform along side Waka Flocka Flame was a surreal experience for rising star Kayvon. Kayvon admits that he’s an avid Waka Flocka Flame fan and has been listening to his music from the start. On stage, Kayvon ad–libbed and referenced J Cole song, “Cost Me a Lot.” Playfully, he rapped J Cole’s lyrics of “Remember when I did a show with Waka Flocka Flame?” After the concert, Kayvon smiles, reminiscing, “I remember being in tenth grade and listening to that song from J Cole, and being like ah that’s cool…that could be cool if I could do that some day. And now here I am literally doing the same show—on the same ticket.”
But despite his success, Kayvon remains focused. For him, Penn is just the beginning. He explains, “For me it’s like you know, in business you gotta properly scale. I could be the hottest guy at Penn, and that’s it. I don’t want to be just the guy at Penn. I want to be everybody’s rapper.”
Furthermore, as a savvy Wharton student, Kayvon understands that in order for the music to succeed, there must be some sort of business infrastructure behind it. Kayvon understands how to see the bigger picture—he says, “There’s a lot of really talented artists who don’t do anything with their talent because they don’t understand the business…At the same time, there’s a lot of not so good artists who do really well because they understand the business….And I wanted to understand the business and have really good music.”
For Kayvon, making music is a way to pursue his passions, and apply what he learns in the classroom as a business student. A keen businessman, Kayvon explains what he’s actually selling (hint: it’s not the music)—“I’m selling a product that’s free in a profitable way….The music—you’re not paying for the music—the music’s more like the marketing. But everything that comes as a result of the music, the shows, the t–shirts, whatever, it’s like people want to get involved in the experience, that’s the guy I want to be: the Kayvon experience.” Check out the entirety of the Kayvon experience here.
But despite all of the talk about money, bookings, ticket sales, and so on, Kayvon remains grounded, and above all, humble. For him, making rap music has always been about bringing people together. He confesses, “Growing up where I grew up, it wasn’t easy. I always wanted those of us who didn’t have anything to be able to hang out with the kids who did. And I was like, what brings us together? It was always hip hop…Yes, for me, a lot of hip hop has emerged out of the struggle…I want to create a space where people who come from less can be in the same place with people who come from more, and all those people feel like they can channel all their inner stresses and pressures into something positive and beautiful and builds community.”
Kayvon In His Own Words
Street: Spice Girls or Beyoncé?
Street: Boxers or Briefs?
Briefs… the briefs they allow you to preform better, you know?
Street: Hot Cheetos or regular Cheetos?
Kayvon: Hot Cheetos!
Street: McDonald’s or Allegro's?
Kayvon: McDonald’s… Gotta get your McFlurry!
Street: There are two types of people:
Kayvon: People who listen to Kayvon and people who don’t!
Street: What is one habit you get shit for doing?
Kayvon: Walking around the house with just my towel!
Street: Favorite 90s trend?
Kayvon: My birth!
Street: Who do you compare yourself to musically?
Kayvon: From the business standpoint, Jay Z…. He’s the OG….Not only does he perform, he gets the contracts together for the endorsement deals, he’s got a streaming service, he’s in the video game [business], he’s on the festivals, he’s got his label: everything.
From a creative standpoint, I think I’m Kanye West, that dude knows how to pull influences from everywhere and knows how to make a really unique experience.
As far as like my vibes, I think my vibes are like Drake. Drake knows how to sing and do some soft stuff, and he knows how to get really hyped up, too. If I had to pick one [artist] to listen to for the rest of my life it would be Drake.
Street: What’s one thing you want to say to Penn?
Kayvon: I want you to know I rolled up to this event in a Ferrari. We had a Tesla following us, and we had three black SUV’s following us, and everybody in there was part of the entourage.
[Also] there’s a lot of good talent here, and a lot of people have dreams at Penn. And it’s just a matter of trying to find the right people to really activate those ideas, so if I could pass anything off to anybody, … it’s really 'bout finding the people you really believe in to push you and being genuinely invested in everybody who supports you.