The ghetto can be a place of despair and lost hope. Many find themselves trapped in the seemingly endless cycle of poverty and hunger. As we pay attention to the events happening in Chicago, it is possible to think that no good thing can ever come out of such turbulence. This is not true. K.W.O.E is a rapper, activist and entrepreneur who has broken these shackles and has succeeded in escaping the trap. His ability to bridge cultures has provided an example of what can truly be accomplished with unending hope and perseverance. We spoke to him about his work and how he is an example of making better choices.
Tell us who you are.
K.W.O.E., which stands for Kareem Wells of Excellence. I always say I’m more than just a rapper and that I’m saving lives with my music. I would describe myself as being positive, energetic, connected with the audience … and influential. I think I’m very influential.
What is it about what you do that makes you unique?
Well, I’m actually a beat maker. I’m also a writer. I don’t just write rhymes and I don’t just do hip hop. I do R&B, pop, whatever. I’m a part of DPMG, which is Dupeé Productions Music Group, which is a production company that does music for radio and television, film, and produces records. Ivan Dupeé formed this umbrella company, and I’m a part of that production team. In addition to being an artist, songwriter, and producer, I am also an entrepreneur. Flow Entertainment is an interactive entertainment company. I have DJs, MCs, dancers, sound, lighting, and staging. We’re the entertainment for a lot of Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, corporate/private events, weddings, and anniversaries. It’s a lot of fun. It’s entertainment. It’s based around music, and that’s who I am. I also have the KWOE Hope Foundation, which is a non-for-profit organization that I started based on me wanting to give back to the communities. In my heart, I was led to start a not-for-profit organization to help inner-city kids, whether from the South Side, West Side, or North Side.
How did you get started in your profession?
My older brother was a DJ and a dancer, and he was in a crew called the Wild Boyz, which was an extension of my uncle’s crew from the Henry Horner Project Homes. Another inspiration was my mother, who was in a singing group called “Coffee,” and they did disco music and R&B soul. Watching her rehearse, as a kid it really truly did inspire me.
What would you say is the most challenging aspect of what you do?
Some of the challenges I faced growing up to become the person I am today, were not having my father in the household, living in a drug-infested neighborhood, gangs, and just having a bunch of anger and self-hate.I was putting my life on the line being on the streets. I looked at what I was going through out there on the streets, and thought about how that was not helping me. “I’m gonna end up in jail or dead,” that’s how I saw it. I had to make a change.As an artist, seeing what’s going on in my city, all the violence and the youth killing one another, it makes me want to put out even more positive music. It makes me want to go totally against the grain even harder. I want to put out music that can inspire and help the youth and help people in general see things differently.
Who are the biggest personal and professional influences in your life?
The past, different artists I would listen to, from Outkast to Kanye, to even some old-school stuff from ‘Pac and Biggie, just the things they talked about influenced me. My mentor Ivan Dupeé, who is one of the producers and one of the main creators at DPMG and Level Next Music, influenced my future. He talked a lot to us about being the best artist we can be, with telling the truth and having something to say. Something that can uplift people and not tear people down.
Tell us about the last book you read? Why did you choose it?
The last book I read and completed was the Bible. I read it because I knew I needed to better myself spiritually.
What encouraging words do you have for our readers?
It’s never too late, and to never give up.
Learn more about K.W.O.E. visit his website http://www.levelnextmusic.com/the-artists/k-w-o-e/