Rapper Kari Faux Finds Her Truth in the South

The Little Rock, Arkansas-born artist wants you to know that she is here to stay.

By Amarie Gipson January 6, 2022 Published in the Winter 2021 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Kari Faux had a viral hit with “No Small Talk,” off her first EP; it landed her music on the HBO series Insecure.

Image: Bria Lauren

Houston is only a stone’s throw from Arkansas and for Kari Faux, the indie rapper/singer-songwriter whose influences stretch from Andre 3000 to space funk godfathers Parliament-Funkadelic, it has been the perfect place for a fresh start. 

While at home in Little Rock during the pandemic, she found herself at a crossroads. “After I left LA, I had been crying to my mom about how I felt like I had nothing to show for the past 10 years. No car, no house, no kids, no spouse. Nothing. I was so upset and I just felt like a failure.” It was her mother who reminded her that the experiences she cultivated in the music industry were more than valuable. A year later, this reminder has been the fuel to Faux’s new beginning. 

Music rooted in the South has always been a part of her life. Faux’s mother filled the household with gospel tunes, while her father exposed her to funk and soul. “My family is responsible for my love for music,” she tells me over lunch in Montrose. She’s wearing a bright red, crochet sweater and a pair of plaid patterned pants, both hands filled with gold rings and eight finger tattoos that spell out “STAY TRUE,” a perfect snapshot into her day-to-day style. 

In elementary school, Faux (born Kari Rose Johnson) was notorious for writing rhymes for her classmates and has vivid memories of sifting through her older brother’s CD collection. Living in such close proximity to the Lone Star State made her a fan of some of Texas’ rap pioneers, like Devin the Dude, Scarface and UGK. “Houston just has its own way of doing things, from the music to how people dress, and the cars they ride in. It’s a place with a very distinct culture,” she says. 

"For a long while, I was really sad but I realized that this is what I’m supposed to be doing—I just have to do it the way I want, and trust myself.” - Kari Faux tells Houstonia

Image: Bria Lauren

Faux came of age during the ringtone rap era of the early aughts, when Soulja Boy’s 2007 hit “Crank That (Soulja Boy),” set the precedent for musical virality, and forged an inextricable bond between hip-hop and the internet. After graduating from high school, and a brief stint studying audio engineering at the Art Institute of Atlanta, Faux released her EP Laugh Now, Die Later (2014), featuring “No Small Talk”—the viral hit that catapulted her music career and garnered the attention of Donald Glover, also known as Childish Gambino, (who jumped on the song and featured her vocals on his 2016 album Awaken, My Love) and made her one of the defining musical voices of Issa Rae’s award-winning HBO series Insecure.

Navigating the music industry proved challenging for Faux. Based in Los Angeles at various points in the past eight years, she found herself disconnected from what’s most familiar to her— the South. Three years after her debut effort Lost En Los Angeles (2016), her EP, Cry 4 Help (2019) was deemed her most confrontational in its unflinching address of past traumas, and its demand for space to heal. “It was a really psychologically abusive time. For a long while, I was really sad but I realized that this is what I’m supposed to be doing—I just have to do it the way I want, and trust myself.” 

Kari Faux, styled by herself, photographed on location at King Best Mall by Bria Lauren and assisted by Spencer Young. 

Image: Bria Lauren

Ten years later, Faux has maintained her status as an independent artist and continues to empower herself to take risks. Her move to the Bayou City has only bolstered her autonomy. 

On the heels of the release of her second studio album, Lowkey Superstar Deluxe, Faux is her most fearless. Abbreviated LSD and recorded in London, the album is a psychedelic sonic offering that enlists a host of rising, Southern talent including Atlanta’s Yung Baby Tate, Deante Hitchcock, JID, and Smino from St. Louis. The record is energetic, humorous, and self-possessed. With Lowkey Superstar Deluxe, Faux makes it abundantly clear that no matter what is thrown her way, she’s here to stay. 

In addition to signaling a new chapter in Faux’s life, LSD has inspired a number of ventures, including the launch of her label, Lowkey Superstar Records, where she is experimenting as the first artist. She also has a clothing line of the same name. Reflecting on the moniker, she says “I consider myself a ‘lowkey superstar’ because every day I wake up and choose to show up as myself, regardless of how it looks, or how it may make someone else feel. It’s not a self-deprecating statement. I know I’m a superstar, I just choose to be lowkey because I don’t need all the extra shit that comes with it. If I wanted to take over the world, I could, but there are more important things, like my peace of mind.” 

Houston’s dual spirit of slowness and entrepreneurial hustle has served as the perfect landscape for Faux’s personal and artistic expansion. “I think that my being here is bringing me closer to myself. The closer I am to myself, the more authentic the music and everything that stems from it will be. I love it here.” 

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