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Kweku Collins: Ten Albums that Changed My Life

The eclectic hip-hop artist picks ten albums that helped shape his creative voice

Kweku Collins interview

Kweku Collins. Photo by Bridges

Kweku Collins makes breezy, soulful hip hop with a colorful array of stylistic influences. The rapper, poet, and producer recently released Nat Love, a record that overflows with soulful vocal melodies, a playful romanticism akin to De La Soul (De La invoked daisies; Kweku’s got ‘Stupid Rose’), and the same S.E. Hinton literary allusions as a generation of emo bands (Collins’ song ‘The Outsiders’ even quotes the same dialogue as Lifetime’s ‘Ostrichsized’).

Pitchfork recently called Collins a “hip hop misfit” with “adventurous taste” in its ‘Rising’ feature on the artist. It’s that wellspring of genre-hopping style that makes Kweku’s influences so fascinating to probe. I spoke with Kweku for a feature that was intended to be ‘Five Albums that Changed My Life’ – but the list just kept growing, so we doubled its size.

Here are ten albums that had a profound impact on Kweku Collins.


1. Kendrick Lamar, Section.80 (2011)

kendrick lamar section.80

Section.80 is Kendrick Lamar’s debut studio album. Kweku says: “What’s so great about Section.80 is that it’s so cohesive but each moment could be taken out of the context of the whole project and still stand on its own as an amazing work of art – which is really the mark of any great album, but this one especially, because it was so different than anything I had heard up to that point.”

Section.80 was really the beginning of my reintroduction to the use of different genres in hip hop – mainly jazz at that point. A lot of the music that I had been making or writing was pretty boilerplate rap – not anything fancy or different, or genre-bending. But when I heard Section.80, I heard the live instrumentation – but it didn’t sound like they were mimicking the drum machine at all… It’s so organic and artful.”

2. Bob Marley & The Wailers, Bob Marley: Chant Down Babylon (1999)

Bob Marley Chant Down Babylon

This remix album features studio-engineered duets between Bob Marley and hip hop luminaries.

Chant Down Babylon is really cool,” Kweku says, “because the Marley sons took Bob’s old B-side recordings, and they got in the studio with Steven Tyler, Guru, Busta Rhymes, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Chuck D. They took their favorite Marley songs and they remixed ‘em. They’re his songs remixed – but it doesn’t sound like a remix project. It sounds like a Marley album with a bunch of features. It’s the cross-pollination of genres that I really respond to. It took the best of both worlds to me – the hip hop beat, that thriving heartbeat – but also the melodies and harmonies that I love about singing music as opposed to rap music. That intersection was just perfect.”

“It’s the cross-pollination of genres that I really respond to.”

3. MGMT, Oracular Spectacular (2007)

MGMT Oracular Spectacular

“This album has the seamless cohesion that is the mark of a great album. This album was my first introduction to psychedelic music. Prior to this, I hadn’t been exposed to that… I was up on The Beatles, and ‘Within You Without You’… But it wasn’t until I heard MGMT that I was like ‘Woah, this is deep and it’s layered.’ It’s abstract and colorful. The rises and falls, the plotlines of a great piece of work. That changed my whole outlook on music because it opened the doors to this whole new flood of thinking, of taste.”

4. Outkast, Aquemini (1998)

Outkast Aquemini album cover

“That album is crazy because if it came out today, it could very well be as relevant today as it was then, you dig? It’s confidently experimental. It has a certain self-awareness about it that was really captivating to me.”

The title of Aquemini refers to the duality of songwriting partners Andre 3000 and Big Boi. Would Kweku ever see himself forming a band or collaborative project? “Yeah, definitely,” he says. “I still think about the dream groups I wanna create. The possibilities, man.”

5. The Beatles, 1967–1970 (1973)

The Beatles 1967–1970

This compilation album features over two dozen Beatles hits including ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,’ ‘Hey Jude,’ and ‘Let it Be.’

“So much of who I am and what I create,” Kweku says, “I attribute to listening to The Beatles for so many years. Their sound was always evolving and always changing. Their music is very visual music. The storytelling on ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ ­– every time that song comes on, I get sucked back in to actually being on that river (pictured in the song’s lyrics) and seeing this weird orange glow of sunlight and people laid out on the riverbanks. Their music takes me away every time.”

“My grandfather used to play this Beatles album when we’d come home from fishing trips. We’d have this great day, and we’d go out fishing – he’s a great guy to spend time with, and I also really love fishing. I’d have these awesome days, we’d get in the pickup, pack up all the shit. On the drive home, this album would always be on. It would start with my favorite Beatles song, ‘Strawberry Fields’ – there’s not a single song on that album that I don’t absolutely love. Every song felt like this different journey. It was so visual – visual in a sonic way. It was such a special album for me because it was also accompanied by these great memories I have.”

Kweku on his grandfather: “He’s a really warm dude. He literally has a twinkle in his eye. I’ve seen that shit! (laughter)”

kweku collins photo

Photo by Bridges

6. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fever to Tell (2003)

Yeah Yeah Yeahs Fever to Tell

“That was my first introduction to dirty, gritty, grungy shit. It’s a wild mess of an album.”

7. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Electric Ladyland (1968)

Jimi Hendrix Electric Ladyland

“I can’t fully explain the magic of Jimi Hendrix. Something about the way that his guitar speaks is a very vocal way of playing. This is the other album that me and my grandfather listened to on the way home from fishing.”

8. Sade, Soldier of Love (2010)

Sade Soldier of Love

“Sade to me is the ultimate calmer. So much warmth emanates from her music. It’s passionate in the love of the music – it radiates through every song and wraps around you. It’s something very special – there are very, very few artists that I have that type of artist/listener connection with.”

9. Passion Pit, Manners (2009)

Passion Pit Manners

“Every song is a weird little emotional pocket. It really makes me feel nostalgic – but in a good way. It’s like a sunset: shit looks nostalgic as hell, but you don’t get sad.”

10. Everclear, Ten Years Gone: The Best of Everclear 1994–2004 (2004)

Everclear Ten Years Gone Best of

“I heard that album when I was in fifth or sixth grade. That was one of the very few things that I was listening to that has lasted until now. Everclear is still definitely one of my top ten favorite bands of all time. I love that band. They have a very California vibe about them. It’s very sunny music, but then it’s also got this very biting, harsh realism – both musically and lyrically. It creates a great juxtaposition.”

Bonus Pick: Baroness, Yellow & Green (2012)

“The vocal harmonies on that album are tight and powerful and it’s strong and beautiful. The rises and falls musically on that album – that album’s my shit.”

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