For a lot of people who join the military, the enlistment process and time spent serving our country can instill a sense of discipline and self-respect that may not have been present beforehand.
Big Island-born Kealoha “K-Luv” Mahone found that the military helped him “grow up pretty fast.” It also provided an introduction to the freestyle battle aspect of hip-hop and motivated him to begin sharpening his skills as a rapper.
“After high school I … went into the Marine Corps for five years,” he explained earlier this week. “And that’s actually where the hip-hop dream started for me.”
Mahone continues to chase that dream, having departed for San Francisco on Tuesday to spend the summer recording his solo debut album after collaborating for most of this year with fellow Hawaii hip-hop MC Big Mox. The Star-Advertiser spoke with him the day before he got on a plane to cross the Pacific.
Star-Advertiser: So why did you decide to go into the military at 18 years old? Were you stationed in Hawaii?
Kealoha “K-Luv” Mahone: I was stationed out there at Camp Pendleton.
I basically decided in high school that there weren’t that many options on the Big Island. I really was just looking for a way to get away … and figure some things out. I didn’t know what my next step was at that point.
SA: How did you get your first taste of freestyling?
KM: I met some dudes at one of the training schools I went to. They were from different places and every Friday night, they would be hanging out since we couldn’t go off base. We’d just be sitting around, ciphering for hours. And being from Hawaii, I’d never see that. Maybe it was happening on Oahu, but I never saw it on the Big Island.
In a sense, it’s kind of like a different version of a backyard-style paina jam. That was my first experience with rhyming. From the first time I saw it, I knew I wanted to get hella good at it.
SA: Was that your gut reaction — ‘Let me get in there and take a turn in the cipher?’
KM: I probably went out there and watched for months before I ever even opened my mouth. I started to listen to dudes and then compare how they broke things down with other people. And then I started looking for artists who freestyled as well as they rapped.
I’m a thinker, so I wanted to compare how their freestyles stood up to their written work. A lot of these guys that I ended up listening to were east coast cats.
SA: If you had to pick your three most influential MCs, who would they be?
KM: First, Black Thought of the Roots. Then Big Pun. Third would be a tie between Biggie and Busta Rhymes.
SA: How did you get back to Hawaii?
KM: I got out (of the Marine Corps) at the end of 2007 and came straight back to Oahu to work. I was actually working with some people from California, too, doing some stuff over there.
But like so many things in a fledging music career, it kinda fizzled out. So I started playing music on Monday nights with what is now part of the Deadbeats and part of a group called Lost at Sea.
It was at Jazz Minds and there was, like, nobody there.
SA: What happened when the Deadbeats began to take off in popularity a few years ago?
KM: I gigged with Lost at Sea for probably a year and a half. At the end of 2008 or beginning of 2009 is when I stopped playing with them. When I broke off, I really started getting into the local hip-hop community.
I went in another direction and started a project called No Black Box. Actually, I’m still working on that.
SA: How did you get involved with Big Mox?
KM: Basically, back in the middle of 2009, that was when me and Mox first started rocking together. Actually, a little bit earlier than that we started hanging out at shows.
We originally met at a battle. First time I met him … he took the win. But he’ll tell you himself that’s when I first started getting some recognition. Everybody was trippin out when they found out I was in the finals.
SA: How come?
KM: Everybody was expecting me to get killed, but I ended it up taking him to two overtime rounds.
Fast-forward to now, Mox just released the MoxTape and he’s got “Tippin the Scales” coming out. We’re also working on a PU album that is a little more than halfway done. The goal is to drop it around Christmas time.
We’ve both been blessed to work with wonderful fans and friends. We’re surrounded by a lot of people who believe in us as individuals. As we connect with those people individually, the fans he brings tend to dig what I do and the fans I bring like what he’s doing.
SA: What’s the plan while on the mainland?
KM: Work, work, work, work, work. I’ll be working with some youth out there on some slam poetry stuff. I’m also going to be doing some modeling gigs for some side work.
SA: You model?
KM: I probably get that more than anything. This year is the first year I’ve done any modeling. I’ve never ventured out into that realm.
I actually have a mixtape being mixed down by Osna right now called “You Don’t Look Like You Rap.”