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DEPRESSED UNTIL HE MADE THIS :: Kembe X Sees the Light and Speaks His Truth

DEPRESSED UNTIL HE MADE THIS :: Kembe X Sees the Light and Speaks His Truth

Kembe X is just like the rest of us, a human being who struggles with mental illness. Whether it’s depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, Kembe has battled it. Born and raised in a small suburb of Chicago’s South Side called South Holland, Dikembe has long treated music as his therapy, an outlet to articulate his deepest thoughts and feelings.

Recently, he released his new project I Was Depressed Until I Made This, a title he chose specifically so people wouldn’t ask him why he chose that title. While it may seem self-explanatory, the album was merely an outlet for him to let go and do what he loves most in this world, make music. At age 13, Kembe was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, yielding trying moments and flashbacks he touches on throughout the project. On “Voices,” he sings on the chorus: “Voices in my head, push me to the edge / I didn’t take my meds, smokin’ dope instead.”

The musicality in these records is spectacular, pairing live instruments and hard-hitting production with the message he delivers. Kembe’s ability to convey his story in such a visceral way could be one of the reasons that lead to his joining the TDE family. The Chicago artist became friends with Isaiah Rashad over the internet and eventually moved to LA with him when Zay was brought into the fold at Top Dawg. The crazy part is SZA lived in their house, too — along with about seven other people.

Kembe X arrived at The Hundreds headquarters in high spirits, surrounded by close friends. While he may have just got kicked out of his ex-girlfriend’s house, he didn’t let it affect his mood. Although he admits to thinking about the recent incident with his ex on the car ride over, the “Scoreboard” rapper accepts life for what it is — he is blessed, humbled, and grateful to be where he is.

What was it like growing up in South Holland?
Once you pass the Altgeld Gardens to the projects, you go through this place called Riverdale, then you go through Dalton, then you’re in South Holland. I was pretty sheltered growing up. About 70 percent of the time, I was with my mom because my parents were separated. I was going to church, after school shit, basketball practice, football practice, baseball practice, church and repeat. I wasn’t allowed to listen to rap. With my dad, he had all these properties on the Westside in the hood. All his tenants were Section 8 tenants, that was his hustle. He flipped properties, renovated them, got them picked up for Section 8. I spent a lot of time over there.

I’d be scared when I was little and my dad would be like, “No Kembe, you can’t be scared of people who look like you. Just because it’s not as nice as where you’re from, speak to people and be nice. If there’s ever a problem, I’ll handle it.” When my dad was doing really good, he’d spoil me. But he gave me more context. He’d let me listen to anything, watch any movie. My world view was shaped by the amount of time I spent with him. I went to private schools until I was a sophomore in high school, then ended up dropping out when I was a junior.

Why did you drop out?
Honestly, because I went to four schools in two semesters.

Were you a bad kid?
I wouldn’t say I was a bad kid, I was just a very passive student. I never did bad in school but I never did my homework. As soon as I started liking girls at 11-years-old, my hormones switched up. I started becoming a class clown. I asked questions. I was an inquisitive kid. Teachers always said that about me but they’d always get on me about: “you in the real world, you have to do things you don’t want to do.”

I was also stubborn. ”Why am I at school for 10 hours if I’m about to go home and keep doing school?” I never got that through my head. The first school I left because I wanted to play baseball and my GPA was too low, so I went to another school. That school was like a daycare, it was five teachers and 200 students. I learned all of the gang shakes, saw fights every day. I made some of my best friends there. That’s when I really started spending more time in the city, my first school in the city on 49th and Cottage.

But my mom wasn’t happy with the school. Then, I went to my first public school, that shit was worse than the school in the hood. That’s when I found out the nature of where I lived for real. Because I always saw it as the suburbs but I didn’t realize I was being sheltered from what it actually was. I saw fights all of the time but it’d be grown ass men from the neighborhood beating up 16-year-olds with bricks and shit. N*ggas from other schools breaking into the school, beating up kids at lunch. It was a lot of fighting and n*ggas on crutches because they just got shot.

For me, I didn’t care anymore. I stopped being shocked.. At that point, I didn’t take school seriously. It was all about the drama, I was always trying to get out of class. I got a lot of in-school suspensions for leaving class, walking around the school, finding my friends or leaving outside the building.

When did you start rapping?
When I was 15, right before my junior year. I started rapping that summer of 2010. I went back to another private school in the city, but they held me back a grade. I told my mom I was going back, she’s like “okay if you really want to take this seriously, let’s go to a good school.” I went to De La Salle, that’s where I met Chance. At one of the football games, Him and his best friend Justin Cunningham were passing out mixtapes when they still went by Instrumentality. In November, I remember being like “fuck I’m not about to stay in school if they’re about to make me do this shit again,” so I asked if I could test out because I knew I could test out. My GPA was a C-, they’re like “no your GPA is too low. If you test out, it’ll lower our image for standard of difficulty.” It’d make them look bad, I’m like “fuck ya’ll.”

I told my mom I was done. At that point, a whole bunch of shit had happened at my house. My dad had came and left. Just a very rocky home and I think my mom had gotten used to me not going to school. I told her no matter what, I was going to get my GED as soon as I’m old enough — which I did. I got my GED a week after I turned 17. Two months later, I dropped my first mixtape that got on Forbes Best Free Albums of 2011. It was a fast turnaround from when I started rapping.

What’s your relationship with Chance like?
We’re definitely cool. I’m one of those people where I could be around somebody for a long period of time. We don’t fall out, we just don’t speak much anymore. But whenever we do link, it’s good. If I ran into Chance somewhere and reached out to shake his hand, he’d give me a hug like “what’s wrong with you?” If you know my parents and I know your parents,, I consider you family. It’s mutual.