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KCUR's Gina Kaufmann brings you personal essays about how we're all adapting to a very different world.

Kadesh Flow's Pandemic Birthday Was The Best He Ever Had

Trombonist and emcee Kadesh Flow feels the love from Kansas City at The Ship, one of the stops on his 31st birthday.
Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Trombonist and emcee Kadesh Flow feels the love from Kansas City at The Ship, one of the stops on his 31st birthday.

Musician Ryan Davis — known to fans as Kadesh Flow — didn't just survive a brutal year. The hip-hop performer is climbing up from a low place feeling stronger, more joyful, and more deserving of love than before.

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For his birthday back in June, Kadesh Flow went out to a couple of bars with a few good friends. He'd thrown bigger birthday parties in the past — epic blowouts lasting for hours in his backyard, starting with an early crowd of families and ending with a late crowd of post-gig musicians.

This time, he didn't host anything at all. He just showed up. And for the first time, at age 31, Flow felt the love.

After the year he endured, he knew he needed it.

When the pandemic hit, Flow (whose legal name is Ryan Davis) was two years out from quitting a lucrative day job at Cerner to pursue music full-time. He managed to make a name for himself as a trombonist and rapper, performing on his own and in a few local bands: Marcus Lewis Big Band, Brass and Boujee, the Phantastics.

In a moment of total artistic bliss, he even opened for Janelle Monae at Starlight; he danced so hard in his track suit that cold October night, he ended up shedding layers until he sweated through his tank top.

Financially, though, Flow spent most of those first two years "eating dirt," as he puts it, stressing about whether he'd made the right decision.

Toward the end of 2019, it looked like Flow might finally achieve the kind of solvency he'd aimed for as a career musician. His 2020 calendar wasn't just filling up; it was packed with dream gigs.

And that, of course, is when COVID-19 shut live music down.

"Thousands of dollars of bookings vanished," Flow recalls. "All these amazing conversations, tour ideas, massive festival and convention show conversations immediately evaporate."

Once again questioning the path he'd chosen, Flow flew into a state of despair. And the pandemic's toll wasn't just professional. People he knew were dying of COVID-19. He contracted the virus himself, as did his girlfriend.

His relationship ultimately buckled under the weight of sickness, grief and every kind of stress. A crushing breakup added to the mix.

"I felt so much optimism going into 2020, only to see everything get wiped away," Flow says. "And it broke me down."

Flow says that ambition defined his entire life — up until that moment. He grew up in the woods, in what he calls "the bottom of Alabama," in a family that valued tough love. He attended school far from where he lived, in the suburbs, where he excelled both academically and as a musician, eventually acquiring an MBA and a good job.

"I'm goal-oriented. I'm always thinking about the next move," Flow says. "I don't like stopping and smelling the roses."

What he needed to do now required a whole new skillset. He needed to take care of himself as a person. He needed to love himself, without using accomplishments to justify that love.

"It's always been go, go, go, grind, grind, grind," Flow says. "This year has definitely been more, honor my feelings."

Kadesh Flow's biggest pandemic project was working on himself.
Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Kadesh Flow's biggest pandemic project was working on himself.

It's not that Flow hated his birthday. He just didn't care. "I literally forgot my 16th birthday," he confesses.

As an adult, Flow says his birthday always fell during evaluation periods at work. On a subconscious level, he started treating birthdays as a time to measure his accomplishments, rather than celebrating another year to be alive.

But in 2021, being alive is an accomplishment. And being alive among friends? That's something to be savored.

Flow knew what it was like to question who will survive to his next birthday. To face that uncertainty without the distraction of work, without the validation of a crowd, without the comfort of a relationship.

So the night Flow went out for his 31st birthday, back in June, he says every smiling face felt like a gift.

"It's not like no one's ever tried to celebrate me before. It just meant more this time," he says. "I don't like to assume that people actually like me, beyond the fact that I'm talented or that they're shooting me drinks and I'm paying for them or something along those lines. It means a lot to internalize that they actually care enough to celebrate me."

When stages went dark, Kadesh Flow did some major self-reflection.
Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
When stages went dark, Kadesh Flow did some major self-reflection.

Flow swung by the Phoenix, the Ship, and Caddyshack, all places where he gigs on a regular basis. Everywhere he went, people recognized him. Every crowd he joined turned into a party — celebrating his mere presence.

Friends at the Phoenix told him to stop by, but when they surprised him with a cake, it genuinely caught him off guard. At the Ship and Caddyshack, the number of people wanting to buy him drinks turned into a competition; not only did bartenders refuse to let Flow pay for his own tab, the buddies who took him out had to stand down too.

By the end of the night, he was on the verge of tears — happy tears.

This summer, Flow released a new album, Room Service 2. He's back to gigging like crazy. His calendar is filling up again.

And now, when he performs, the faces in the crowd aren't just fans. They're friends, something that darkened stages can't take away.

People don't make cameos in news stories; the human story is the story, with characters affected by news events, not defined by them. As a columnist and podcaster, I want to acknowledge what it feels like to live through this time in Kansas City, one vantage point at a time. Together, these weekly vignettes form a collage of daily life in Kansas City as it changes in some ways, and stubbornly resists change in others. You can follow me on Twitter @GinaKCUR or email me at gina@kcur.org.
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