Atlanta’s Bktherula is letting go and levelling up
Bktherula is ready. It’s album release day when she greets NME outside a frantic cafe in East London and, despite a relentless schedule, the rapper, singer and all-around creative is surprisingly zen. After three years in the works, her fourth album ‘LVL5 P1’ is now out and, following the success of 2021’s ‘LOVE BLACK’, finds the artist ready to level up while navigating her relationship with religion, spirituality, and truly letting go of ego.
“What I’ve realised is the more successful you are, the more spiritual work is going to be thrown at your face,” she says, leaning forward to share this lesson. “While making the album, I was gearing up, I was getting on my armour, I was getting my whole team. Now that the album’s out, I’m ready. I’m in the headspace of never giving up.”
To get here, Bk’s had to work through a series of hidden challenges – from industry pressure to the more introspective discoveries uncovered in the creation of ‘LVL5 P1’. “We’re all characters,” she explains of one of the truths she’s gleaned from the latter. “You gotta choose which role you wanna play and play it. But once you start playing it, you can’t stop.”
Music is something the 20-year-old found herself gravitating towards from a young age. At just nine, Bk – aka Brooklyn Rodriguez – and her mother captured her first forays into the world of song with a tape recorder. Encouraged by her family – her father was a rapper in the group Planet X – Bk’s affinity towards music grew quickly. By 13, she’d begun to experiment, uploading early versions of her songs to SoundCloud.
It wasn’t long before singles like 2018’s ‘LEFT RIGHT’ and ‘FAYGO’ gained attention across the platform, and Bk found herself at the forefront of SoundCloud’s alt-leaning scene. Whilst a mixture of labels like cloud-rap and emo-rap were thrown around, Bk has never been one to conform to genre expectations. Instead, she’s continued to forge her own path.
‘LEFT RIGHT’, her breakout single, and hits like ‘SANTANNY’ and ‘Tweakin’ Together’ have led to a TikTok frenzy around her. Through it all, she’s continued to evolve and learn, retaining her sense of individualism and charm throughout.
Bk’s latest project finds her at her most self-assured. Having spent the previous three years learning to ground herself, this record reinforces her determination to do things her own way. As her artistic vision translates internationally and she continues on her own spiritual journey, the multi-hyphenate is on the cusp of a new and increasingly boundless era. NME caught up with her to hear more.
What did you learn about yourself during the making of ‘LVL5 P1’?
“I feel like I learned humility throughout this album: by working with other people, putting myself into situations, going out to events. By humbling myself, I’ve made the pieces [of music] bigger than what it is, learned to expand versus just keeping it to myself, and looked at it from everyone else’s perspective. You just gotta really let go of ego [and] pride because if you don’t, then there’s no way you can expand and grow. Ego and pride will be the death of you: it’ll be the death of your career. You hold that too long and it’ll ruin your creative space.”
How did you learn to let go?
“I had to humble myself, and going through regular experiences of life taught me to let go. Thank God I wasn’t really too egotistical, to begin with, but small little things throughout my life have humbled me. What also taught me to let go is how I felt after people treated me with those same emotions applied. So say if someone was holding those same types of jealousy or envy, I didn’t feel good after that. So why would I do that to other people or hold that on to myself? That’s when I decided that’s not the way I should be moving.”
What does the concept of level five mean to you?
“Level five is a balance between the seen world and the unseen world. Obviously, some things in the seen world matter, but there’s a lot of things in the unseen world that matter too that a lot of people aren’t necessarily hip to yet, so it’s like the balance between that and kind of manoeuvring off that. But it can also be an adjective: level five coat, level five hat, level five shoes, it just depends. Level three is just the very simple third-dimensional world: it’s the ego, it’s the pride, ‘I look better than you because I have $24,000 shoes on’. Or the hating for no reason, the jealousy, the envy, the anger, and staying in the same cycle over and over again.”
Moving forwards into this new era, how would you describe your headspace?
“The headspace I’m in right now is I’m ready for war, and what I mean by that is I’m ready for whatever life has to throw at me. What I’ve realised is that the more successful you are, the more spiritual work there is going to be thrown at your face. While making the album, I was gearing up, and now that the album’s out, I’m ready: I’m in the headspace of never giving up.
My plan with that in mind is to just have a kingdom to rule. I want to have this stationary place where me and my team are. We are very stationary right now, but I want to build a kingdom. In order to do that, I gotta be very, very humble, and I also have to be very wise. I was gearing up for war, now I‘m gearing up for telling other people how to gear up for war.”
You’ve had various viral moments across both SoundCloud and TikTok. How do you find navigating being increasingly in the spotlight?
“I definitely do feel pressure at times, and I’m sure everybody does. To get me back into gear, I always just gotta remember that everything happens the way it should. In order to get those super-high successes, you’ve gotta see where you mess up, and I feel like the fact that I’ve been very slow and steady, I might just win the race — along with the other winners. I used to feel super under pressure, but now I’m not really stressing it because I know the plan is huge. It’s a feeling I can’t shake: I’ve not been able to shake it since the moment I touched anything musically. The pressure comes, but it goes just as fast as it comes.”
How would you describe your current intentions with music?
“When I was younger, I wanted to be a star. I was like, ‘I’m going to be famous, I wanna be rich’. As a kid, you don’t know nothing about morals, really. Then, the older I got, I realised I wanted to be a specific type of star. I don’t want to be the star that leads people in the wrong direction, so that’s when it kind of started shifting into it’s beyond money, it’s beyond fame for me. My standout moments are how I get through the bad times because those are my breakthrough moments.
“I don’t know everything, and that’s what I mean about being humble. That shit made me learn so much. You operate in this life. and you gotta learn more and more every day: I’m not going to move if I don’t listen. So when I was stuck in that [mentality of] ‘Damn, everybody’s sleeping on me,’ that was a standout moment for me because I realised, ‘Oh, it’s me too. It’s not just other people that made it like that, it was me’. That’s when I kind of broke out of that. It drives me.”
What’s been the most surreal moment of your breakthrough?
“Dropping this album is the most surreal moment for me because I haven’t dropped an album in like two years, so this is a new time. This is a new gen, this is the next wave, and this is my most surreal moment. I’ve put so much work, so much actual human improvement, emotional improvement, into this album to give to the world. So that would be my most surreal moment, dropping ‘LVL5’.”
What can we expect from you in 2023?
“To become wiser and to apply my knowledge to my creativity way more than I am doing now. My plans are to sell out shows, sell out arenas, tour crazy, continue to drop and just rule the world — amongst all the other great rulers in the world.”
Bktherula’s new album ‘LVL5 P1’ is out now
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