K.Flay’s crushing sincerity adds weight to indie hip hop

Genre-bending rapper K.Flay is no stranger to the challenge of saying something that’s been said a million times before.

The 31-year-old Stanford graduate proves she’s up for the task with her open-heart, confessional approach to hip hop songwriting.

“There's only so many variations on the basics of human relationships,” says Kristine Flaherty, who started making music on a dare in her college dorm room. “To me it’s all about the detail and how you tell the story. How you say I love you.”

The L.A.-based artist’s latest EP “Crush Me” dropped on Aug. 19, her first release since signing with big-name Interscope Records. The cut channels her hip hop foundation but also features punk and DIY vibes by mixing in live drums and guitar.

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“Each song deals with a force that can be emotionally oppressive in some way, crushing,” Flaherty says. “There’s a defiance to each of the tracks. Sort of ‘crush me’ as stated as a challenge — not as an acquiescence to being crushed.”

In "Hollywood Forever," the melancholic second track on the EP, Flaherty sings about the toxicity of fame: “I’m hiding from mirrors/I’m frightened of sex/Despising my image/I’m enlightened and slightly obsessed.”

She says she was inspired as she drove past one of the oldest cemeteries in Los Angeles, which houses a century-plus of Tinseltown’s bones. In the song, Flaherty attempts to dissect this image-obsessed world.

“I was thinking about how we’re so in touch with our image now. That conception of ourselves in a very physical sense can be oppressive,” Flaherty says. “You find people wanting to be in dark places, not really see themselves, see themselves as a filtered image. A curated image.”

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Fans see the real K.Flay online via social media, a dynamic that has let the artist keep in touch with supporters so she can grow and sustain her career.

“It’s a collaboration in a lot of ways,” Flaherty notes about the relationship between the people who create music and those who listen.

This was especially true when the artist and her hard-to-pin-down sound struggled to blend into a major label world in 2012.

“Is this an alternative thing, hip hop, electronic?” she says as she remembers the confusion over which genre she belonged to at RCA.

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After parting ways with that label, Flaherty reconnected with fans, who crowdfunded her independent full-length “Life As A Dog” in 2014.

The Illinois native finds honesty and authenticity go hand in hand with her style of music.

“I think the kind of music I make, I really focus on the lyrical content. That’s very confessional and cathartic,” she says. “So I think that’s been the basis for a lot of that openness with fans.”

The biggest motivator in the face of uncertainty for Flaherty remains simple.

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“More than anything for me, making music is about taking nothing and making something,” she says.

Those who want to hear more from K.Flay can catch her at Brooklyn’s Baby’s All Right on Nov. 18.

Amid the influx of tour dates and fanfare, Flaherty continues challenging herself to capture human drama in her own voice.

“If you can say a sentence or two that says I love you in a new way, that’s pretty good.”

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