At age 15, Dikembe Caston, better known as Kembe X, decided to drop out of high school and pursue hip-hop.
After an argument with his father, the former De La Salle student shifted his focus to rhymes, with an understanding that time and concentration breeds success.
“I knew that if I focused on [rap], the way stuff works, if you work at it, you’ll get good at it,” said Kembe X, 18, a native of South Holland. “I figured if I worked at it then and took the four or five years necessary to develop , and I’ll be like 19 or 20 when it comes to fruition.” .
It was a chance for sure.
That chance began to pay off in 2011 when his debut mixtape, “Self Rule,” landed on the Forbes.com list of top free music for the year, placing above the likes of Frank Ocean and The Weeknd.
Since then, Kembe X has released a project with sometime partner Alex Wiley, “Can I Borrow a Dollar?” He was quiet in 2012, save for lending his voice to some local records.
While that success was well-deserved, it did put added pressure on the teen artist. “The pressure actually was like immediately after I dropped ‘Self Rule,’ and it was more so [about] people’s expectations,” he said. “The pressure was making me apprehensive with my writing. It just wore off because I wanted to make music.”
The product of his renewed efforts is the follow-up mixtape, “Soundtrack II Armageddon.” The project, released Monday, is a departure from the dark, interpersonal theme of his debut, and is the first in a multi-part series that will be released throughout 2013.
“This project, for me, is even more personal as far as the way that I think,” he said. “The way that I think has changed, I’m not in the same dark place. It’s the same subject but the view is just different.”
“Soundtrack II Armageddon” demonstrates the sort of growth one would hope to see from an artist his age, with lyrics that show a knack for subtle detail.
To help celebrate the release, Kembe X will join his good friend Alex Wiley for an all-ages “Club Wiley Appreciation Show” starting at 4 p.m. Feb. 9 at Reggie’. The show will be the second visit to Reggie’s in three weeks for Wiley, who impressed as the opening act for Action Bronson on Jan. 27.
If nothing else, the leap of faith seems to be working out.
“Last year, we wanted things to be big, but we knew it was kind of a set-up year,” he said. “This year is going to be really big, though, with everything we have coming out. I’m excited.”
Jake Krzeczowski is a local free-lance writer. Follow him on Twitter @jakekrez