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KC Musician Kemet Coleman On Being An Urbanist, Rapping For Mayors

Tory Garcia
Courtesy of Kemet Coleman

The Phantastics describe themselves as “dance floor activators.”

For the last six years, they’ve been activating local dance floors with songs that meld rap, jazz, gospel, funk and more.

“We definitely try to incorporate as many genres as possible to create not chaos, but a winding river of music,” rapper Kemet Coleman told host Gina Kaufmann on KCUR’s Central Standard.

According to Coleman, The Phantastics are an “intergenerational, interdisciplinary” diverse group. It consists, technically, of nine members, three of whom were formerly in StoneDeph, a local jam band. The band also includes a trumpet player with a funk background who performs on cruise ships.

While metal and gospel might seem like an odd mix, there are more similarities that one might think, said Coleman. Both genres have an energy in which people can lose themselves in the music. And hip-hop and jam bands contain interactive, improvisational elements.

Coleman grew up in Kansas City. His family exposed him to different genres of the black experience, he said.

His father was an African Methodist Episcopal preacher and his mother a fundamental Baptist, so gospel was a big part of his upbringing. His older brothers were ‘80s kids who were into rap. His mother also forced him to take piano lessons, which he hated until he started making music on his own.

He studied music in college, but he thought the programs were too conservative. Then, he took an urban studies class at UMKC and the professor opened his eyes, he said. He loved learning about different aspects of the city, from transportation to education, demographics, geography and more.

He calls himself an urbanist. That stems mainly from the sense of social justice that his parents instilled in him, he said. His father was also a civil rights attorney, and Coleman watched him help his clients.

“I know that some of his clients weren’t able to pay for his services, and he volunteered … time and money and effort to make sure that justice was brought when they were done wrong,” he said.

Hearing the way his parents talked about KC also played a part.

They’re from the South, and when they’d take family trips around the country, his parents would always comment on how other cities' downtowns were so much cooler than Kansas City’s.

“And I’m like, man, I’m from here. You can’t just bash my city because you’re from different cities,” Coleman recalled.

Coleman’s interest in urbanism has also influenced his music. As Kemet the Phantom, he wrote “Get Out,” a song about the streetcar. He also created what he calls the “first-ever Kansas City mayoral candidate rap song” for Sly James.

Aligning himself with a politician is risky, he said.

“But, you know, life is very short as well. You just have to make the call sometimes,” he said. “I felt like Sly was probably the one to bring about the most change … it was important for me to engage an audience that wouldn’t be engaged in local politics.”

Engaging audiences and being dance-floor activators can be a challenge — especially when people aren’t imbibing, he said.

“We love that challenge, we love it especially when children are around,” he added. “Whenever we can show that local music is danceable, that sounds like some stuff on the radio, we love it.”

The Phantastics will perform on Saturday, September 9 at Library in the Park and at KKFI's Crossroads Music Fest.

Jen Chen is associate producer for KCUR's Central Standard. Reach out to her at jen@kcur.org.

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