We all have the power to see through the veil to a much less distinct and mysterious reality. Borders, genres, races or genders eventually reveal themselves as imaginary lines. Without them, however, the world becomes too vast, too vague to process. So we fall back on the familiar categories we assign to people, music or land.
There are a few relevant genre tags to describe the music of Lil Traffic: trap, hip-hop, alternative rap. Describing the emotional resonance of his sound isn’t as simple. Listening without those genre tags in mind, one might have similar feelings as listening to alternative rock, pop, Balkan brass bands, heavy metal, or a gathering of kids playing drums in a Rio De Janeiro favela.
“At the end of the day, it’s all energy, and what you put into it,” he said. “I wanna put my energy into my music and whoever is willing to listen to it.”
For this reason, Lil Traffic, a.k.a. Kai Englund, has gained recognition for his adventurous attitude toward booking shows. Aside from other rappers, he has shared the stage with sludge rock duo Pinkwash, atmospheric, doom-laden Yung Deathwish, and the dark, introspective shoegaze of Miserable, just to name a few. It’s a strategy that’s allowed audiences to react without the context of trap music in mind.
“People go wild,” he said. “I got to crowd surf at our first show at Holland. I was addicted on it after that.”
But it wasn’t always this way. Lil Traffic said he was raised on a diet of mostly church music, and though he made his own songs, he felt mostly disassociated from them.
“I was just such an awkward kid in high school,” he said. “I was making shit because I was attempting to be a rapper. I had this mentality like, ’I’m not gonna take it serious, just gonna rap, then one day I’ll make something crazy.’”
A major breakthrough came to Lil Traffic when he worked up the courage to reach out to Yung Milkcrate. The DJ/producer liked what he heard. The new union helped Lil Traffic write and produce better music. It also helped him discover new sounds and scenes—and gain the courage to reach out to people online who he admired and wanted to work with.
He became part of a crew that includes artists such as Daniel Cruz, Icy Dave and John Z, many of whom perform live with him on a regular basis. In addition to taking themselves out of their comfort zones, they encourage audiences to do the same. On at least one occasion, this meant stopping the show to urge more movement and energy out of the crowd.
“All my songs, you gotta move to it in some way,” he said. “I give everything to my audience. I expect them to give me a lot of energy back.”
On Nov. 2, Lil Traffic tweeted, “A year ago today, I knew I was doing something right.” He explained how that date didn’t necessarily mark the beginning of his music career, but that of coming into his own as an artist.
“I lived a life for a minute where I felt like I couldn’t rise above certain things,” he said. “I couldn’t give myself the confidence to speak up for myself. Now what it is, is being able to talk about what I wanna talk about, the way I want to, which is what’s so cool.”