Hip Hop Recording Artist, Author, Actor, Activist, Advocate
By Marguerite Cleveland
Photo by Samantha Elise Tillman
Xola (Ko-la), or Kid Sensation as he was known back in the day, has been a busy man. His latest Kid Sensation single “Feelin’ Myself” is a bouncy track perfect for beating the COVID-19 blues. In these times of racial tensions, the video for the single is filled with a diverse cast of characters including families and children—not something you would expect in a hip hop video. You can check out his music at XolaMusic.com.
He was born and raised in Seattle and currently lives in Tacoma with his wife Liberte and their four children. His youngest, Mattias, is a budding rapper who goes by “Kendi Fresh.” Encouraging young men inspired his latest project. Xola recently completed a new book “Kings – Young Men Discovering Purpose and Shaping Their Destiny” and its accompanying soundtrack. It is full of lessons from his life and wisdom for young men.
Q. Your song, "New Man," talks about changing from a young man who made mistakes to a new man who is selfless instead of selfish. What inspired you to become a "New Man"?
A. Honestly, it's a reflection of emotional and spiritual growth. As babies we all start out selfish; life is all about “me.” As we grow, we learn to share, give and get joy from seeing others be fulfilled. Growing up without a father caused my growth to be stunted, but becoming a father taught me true selflessness. Having the best interests of others at heart meant being disciplined enough to do the right thing. The right thing isn’t always easy, fun or convenient. The incredible feeling of standing on integrity and a life built on the fruit of great decisions is the payoff. My face may look similar, but my heart reflects the man I’m becoming.
Q. Some rap music has a reputation for being misogynistic, but your music as Xola celebrates women. The line in your song “Incredible” states, “They wanna see you in a strip club on a pole, I’d rather see you in a boardroom in control.” It is an immensely powerful message. Can you share with our readers a little bit about the single mom who raised you and what caused you to recognize the hardships that women go through?
A. My mom was like a superhero to me. She often worked two jobs so we wouldn’t have to be on Welfare (although at times we were). My dad returned from war changed, and he divorced my mom, no longer wanting to be a dad or husband. I was 2 and my brother 3. As I began to grow in understanding, I saw women in a completely different light. We as men are meant to complement their strength and beauty as we bring out the best in one another. Too often us young men learn from a sexually charged society where commitment and discipline aren’t popular. We hop around, use women, show them that their value is measured by exterior features. We teach them to cash in that value by serving the fantasies and fetishes we come up with. Then at some point with all the garbage we put women through, they are supposed to “settle down” and become virtuous, wise wives, mothers, aunts, grandmothers. Many incredible women do just that, but some struggle. The bottom line: We owe our women better.
Q. Growing up without a father, you were blessed to have a strong male role model in Anthony Lorenzo “Sir Mix-a-Lot” Ray. What role did he play in helping to lift you out of poverty and stay away from gangs and drugs?
A. There were some things Mix simply got right, straight up. He had a relationship with his father which likely impacted him as a man. He elected to not drink or do drugs. Period. I looked up to him as a music and personal mentor. I tried weed and drinking a couple times to be “down” with my friends, but I didn’t want to disappoint Mix, so I ditched it faster than I picked it up.
So many of the guys I grew up with turned to gangs and selling drugs. Once I was on TV, radio and music charts, most of them (especially the ones a couple years older than me) not only wouldn’t let me be around any of their activity, but I was threatened often that if they heard of me getting involved or affiliated that swift consequences would follow. In their minds, I was too valuable to the hope of the neighborhood kids to do anything stupid. They meant business, and I listened.
Q. Your music is sold as two artists, Xola, and from your younger days Kid Sensation. You recently recorded your old Kid Sensation albums without any profanity. What prompted the change?
A. Xola (Malik) is now my legal name. I changed it from Stephen Spence when I was in my 20s. I didn’t feel comfortable carrying my father’s last name when he wasn’t part of my life. I was still resentful and wanted to distance myself from his identity, which was impossible with him being half of me. I got the name Xola from an African name book, it means “stay in peace.” I gave my life to Jesus, and it changed everything about my flow as a man and artist. I even reconnected with my father. I started recording under my own name, but I also wanted to acknowledge the role the Kid Sensation brand played in my life and career. I considered deeply the impact of my language and material, that my albums would be around long after I’m gone and what I wanted that legacy to look like. I want kids to recite every lyric, what does that look like? It had to change. Without destroying the authenticity of my journey, removing the profanity for me was a suitable compromise.