Devil In Disguise: An Interview with Boston’s 7981 Kal

Adam Gourabou speaks with 7981 Kal about being next up in Boston, rapping about life's struggles, and going to jail.
By    July 25, 2018

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Left undisturbed, or rather, unaided from the music industry at large, Boston has begun to produce singular artists with futuristic ideas. Enter 7981 Kal, the Dorchester native, who took a drill foundation and caused an evolutionary rupture. It’s a distinct style, full of cohesive thoughts, creative and vivid slander, and a strained, unmistakable voice.

In his first year (along with frequent collaborators G Fredo, Illy Dee, and Hamma Thang) 7981 Kal dropped only nine songs and accumulated a buzz that made him one of the city’s most popular rappers. His first music video, “Dead Opps Pt. 2,” features him and G Fredo excitedly recounting incidents and exchanging threats of spinning blocks and catching smacks. Filled with local slang and a depiction of Dorchester’s hazardous side streets, this first look at Kal quickly blew up. As he tells me later, these early songs were created an even longer time ago, just for fun. He wasn’t serious then. But the reception was massive. His talent was widely evident and he ran with it.

What separated him even further from the masses was the recent release of his debut project, Devil in Disguise. This was no longer drill, but something elevated from it—a proud and dark self-portrait, now elaborating on the complex realities of his aggressive world but driven by the same fiery energy. He’s not boasting, he’s explaining. It’s equipped with stories, passionate and keen observations on himself, his friends, family, surroundings, others’ missteps and code violations, and, still, a whole lot of fearlessness. The project begins:

“You ain’t never left the crib, fully loaded, knowin’ you gon’ catch a body
Head shot, dead opp, hope the witnesses don’t tell nobody”

The atmosphere is grim. Kal begins to appear in full form; he’s tabled the amusement. Instead of a flurry of punched-in bars, his phrases stitch together patiently detailed thoughts. Whereas straight drill can occasionally feel performative and hyperbolic, this project blends the offensive with abundant reflection and narrative to form a searing journey through his world. It’s chilling but it genuine. This is his life and we probably shouldn’t be dancing. —Adam Gourabou

What was it like for you growing up in Dorchester?

7981 Kal: I’d say it’s like growing up in any other hood, you feel me? Dorchester’s the hood, so it’s like growing up in any other hood. Same shit that happens everywhere; there’s good and there’s bad everywhere. So, you just got to make what you can out of it, really.

Some people call your music drill. Is that what you would consider it?

7981 Kal: I guess. I wouldn’t really say…I’d say I have a lot of drill style music, but I do have a lot of music that’s not drill as well. I just haven’t really put them out yet, but I’ma start putting them out soon.

Before Devil In Disguise you had a lot of drill style tracks, but then Devil in Disguise was more of an actual story about your life, and you got detailed. It was impressive and it separated your music from where it was before. How’d you go about making that project?

7981 Kal: No bullshit, all those songs I was putting out before was all songs I already had, I just never put ’em out cause I never really took rapping serious. I just used to do music just to do it. Then, I started taking it serious once I started seeing it really doing numbers, you feel me? Devil in Disguise and all that shit, I just got in the studio and I was talking about what was going on at the time. A lot was going on and I was just making tracks about it.

And I consider myself versatile, so I had to just switch it up on that, just to show niggas I’m a little versatile. But Ima switch it up on the next one again. ‘Cause I could do a little bit of everything, you feel me?

So you just mentioned how you didn’t really take rap too seriously at first. How did you start making music?

7981 Kal: To be honest with you I started making music catching rec. Just for the fuck of it, just for fun, talking shit. And then, just rocked with it.

As far as I can tell, you’re probably one of the most popular rappers in Boston right now. How did your music become so popular? Was there one thing that took off? How’d that happen?

7981 Kal: I can’t say it’s one track that took off, but I’ll say one track that made a big impact was “Dead Opps.” “Dead Opps” made a big impact. When that shit came out everybody was fucking with it. That shit did numbers—still doing numbers.

I feel like, whether or not people can relate to your experiences, they take to your music because they feel your personality and energy is real on everything you say. You take a lot of pride in standing on your own two feet, maneuvering correctly, and being fearless. Where did that spirit come from?

7981 Kal: I think it was just how I was raised, I guess. [Laughs] I don’t even know dude, everything I been through made me who I am today, I guess? How my mother and father raised me, they did a good job. I was always taught…I guess they raised me to be a man. Get yours. Go and get yours. Don’t fucking…don’t wait for no handout.

I just rap about real shit. If you’ve been through it you can relate. If you’ve been through the struggle I guess you can relate to what I’m talking about. Feel me? And even if you haven’t, if you know someone that has you can still relate. Or even if you know about the struggle period and you’ve never been through it you can listen to my music and probably be like, shit…you feel me…about the art. I live it so, it’s not hard to talk about. It’s not like I’m telling a story, like a fake story.

In your song “Voices,” you say that you were out on the block while others went to school. But it’s also clear that you’re a real smart dude, and you’re a gifted writer and storyteller. Did that come out in your schoolwork? Did your teachers see your talent?

7981 Kal: To be honest, no, ’cause I used to hate school. I used to like school just because of the girls to be honest with you, and ’cause of my friends. I used to like having fun. But I wasn’t a dumb kid, I was smart, like I would pass my classes, I never got kicked back, I never failed, I graduated high school, all that. I wasn’t a dumb kid, it was just that I wasn’t into school.

I knew I wasn’t gonna go to college or nothing. I tried—like a hands-on type of school, like national aviation academy. I tried going there. I actually did good there. I just knew I couldn’t do no 9-5 shit. The writing and stuff—I can say I learned that from school, ’cause even though I didn’t like school, I learned a lot from school. I paid attention when I had to.

In the song “Not Guilty,” you talk about how you beat a case that people thought you wouldn’t. You don’t have to speak on that if you don’t want to, but I’m wondering how the experience of going to jail impacted you, if it did at all.

7981 Kal: Jail impacted a lot. Jail changed me. Jail’s wack, so jail changed me, to be honest with you. It just made me look at life different. It didn’t change who I am as a person, ’cause I’m still the same person, it just changed the way I look at life. Like, shit’s real, there are niggas in there that are never coming home and you can learn a lot from them. I learned a lot from people that are never coming home. And it’s like…don’t let yourself be a statistic, I guess is what I’d tell you. Just make the best out of what you are. Just go hard.


Has anything been different for you since becoming a local rap star?

7981 Kal: Yeah, a lot of shit changed, like a lot of people know me. I got a lot of fans…that shit’s cool. Then again, I got a lot of people that don’t like me as well, so, it could be a good and a bad thing, you feel me? A lot of people know me that I don’t know so when I’m around it’s like…I don’t know. There are pros and cons to it.

Kind of like, people run into you and you don’t know—

7981 Kal: Yeah like I like the love I get. But I don’t like all the attention it brings. Feel what I’m saying?

You often work with G Fredo, Hamma Thang, and Illy Dee. Those guys are all so fire right up there with you. How did you guys all come together?

7981 Kal: We’re like family. I met Hamma a couple years ago, but besides Hamma—like Illy Dee and Fredo—we’re like family. I look at Fredo like my blood brother, that’s like my little brother. Dee’s my cousin, so I knew him since forever. Hamma’s my brother too though, you heard? I got love for Hamma too but he came in after, like I met Hamma after, like I would say like two or three years ago.

I saw on your Instagram that you linked with Albee Al a little while back. How’d that happen?

7981 Kal: I guess one my of peoples got in contact with him and then my peoples hit me up and just brought it to my attention like, ‘Yo, you wanna do this feature with Albee Al?’ I’m like, “Yeah, sure. Why not?” And they brought me out there and I did the feature. I didn’t expect it; it was just some quick shit.

Do you ever get people telling you that your music is too violent or too negative and how do you respond to that?

7981 Kal: Yeah I have some people that say, “Yeah you should change it up, make some music about some other shit,” but it’s like, I try to only rap about what I’m going through. I can’t rap about some shit I’m not going through, I can’t get on the track and talk about fucking making a million dollars and all that other shit, ’cause I haven’t done that yet. I can only rap about what I know. But I have been getting out there, though. I’ve been traveling and doing all that so, like I said, these new tracks I’ma drop is a little different. You’re gonna see a different Kal, you feel me? Shit’s gonna get crazy.

So, what’s coming next, and what’s the dream for 7981 Kal?

7981 Kal: I can’t say I’m working on a specific thing, but I’m working on a bunch of different projects. So next I’d say I’ma drop a couple more visuals, just get that out there, then I’m gonna start working on a tape and all that, ’cause I already got a lot of shit that’s done that’s just in the cut.

The dream is, shit, to make it out, to fucking get rich off this shit, get money off this shit, get paid to do something that I like doing. Take everybody with me. Can’t leave nobody behind, I wanna take the whole hood out. That’s the dream.

What is your opinion on the city’s music scene? Pros and cons, or whatever you feel?

7981 Kal: I feel like Boston got a lot of good rappers, like Boston got a lot of talent. It’s just that, niggas just hate on each other so nobody can really get out there, you feel me? Like, I feel like I’m fortunate that I even got out there as much as I am ’cause niggas can’t even do that in Boston. People will hate on you. You got to go and get love from a whole different city, a whole different state, then come back to get love, feel me?

It’s like people from Boston got to make sure you get approved somewhere else before they can show you love, like, “Oh yeah he made it, now he’s official.” Feel me? That’s what I think it is really. Boston got a lot of haters and dick riders, [laughs] that’s really what it is. If they ain’t hating, they dick riding, for real. But I do appreciate the real love, ’cause I know there are a lot of people out there that show me real love and I appreciate that.

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