While he aspires to be “Houston’s response to Drake,” as he told Complex in a 2020 interview about the Toronto rapper who made it big in the Bayou City, BBY Kodie is following the path created by the likes of Kanye West, the late Virgil Abloh, and Westside Gunn. Like them, he’s channeling his vision and creativity to push far past music, and intertwining the worlds of rap, contemporary art, and fashion.
Like a lot of people these days, the “Started This” emcee never received any technical training, but developed his sound and creativity on his own, learning the technical stuff on the internet. Online is also where he got a lot of his inspiration.
“You had Soundcloud for your sound and Tumblr for your visuals. I’d see things on Tumblr that I thought were cool, gold grills, and stuff like that,” he shares.
He began to make songs with his friend and collaborator HVN, and their creations would go viral overnight, leading to singles like “Milkshake,” the upbeat interpolation of Kelis’ 2003 hit single.
Once he realized he had an audience, he began to make a song each day and threw free shows in Houston. The small high school audience would transform into a cult following, amplifying tracks like The Godfather-influenced “Korleone,” which would help him to gain recognition from acts like Lil Yachty.
His debut, Vogue, and his hit single “Kodie Kardashian,” released in 2019, really put him on the map. Now with a record deal from Motown under his arm, he’s trying to let his fans know there’s more in store from him on this latest effort.
Sonically, Kodie ventures into a more sinister sound on his current project, he still brings his lavish raps, but you also see some of the same audaciousnesses translate into his album artwork.
Kodie infuses elements of 17th Century Baroque, the prominent European art style that birthed the masterworks of Carravagio and Rembrandt. The visual for his single, “Children,” is reminiscent of portraits from Caravaggio, positioning Kodie in scenes such as the Last Supper, and the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
“I was trying to give the fans something that wasn’t too left field,” he says about the sound of his latest album, Emotions Running High, which was released in November.
Emotions Running High is an album complete with dark, menacing beats, and a confident rhyme style. Kodie incorporated different elements in his production, using hints of autotune for the first time, boom-bap drums, and more ambient melodies. There’s also a hint of jazz music, something he had a distaste for growing up, even though his father played it all the time. On songs like “Survival” and “In The Moment,” the subtleties of trumpets and saxophones come from his father’s taste in music, he says.
A product of both Texas and Louisiana, Zawon Handy, better known by his stage name BBY Kodie, was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and raised by his aunt. As a young child, he moved to Houston but still traveled between Texas and Louisiana, to be with family.
“My dad wasn’t riding slabs, and he wasn’t involved in the culture. So I wasn’t listening to Keke and other Houston rappers until later on,” Kodie explains. He says when his dad was raising him on jazz and soul music, his ear was tuned to hip-hop, and performers like Swedish rapper Yung Lean, Memphis emcee Xavier Wulf, and the New York-based collective, A$AP Mob.
He was also a studious youngster, too. “I wasn’t a street kid,” Kodie tells Houstonia via Zoom. “I had stern parents and I made good grades.” His family also taught him about the pitfalls of the music business, and what it means to come this close to making it big; he saw it happen first-hand to a member of his own family.
Growing up in Houston, Kodie, now 21, was surrounded by music. His sister, LaTavia Roberson, was one of the original members of the iconic Houston girl group, Destiny’s Child.
His father, Kodie tells us, wasn’t a fan of the music business after Roberson left the group. He recalls his parents didn’t agree with a career in the arts, but their position changed once they saw their son's emerging career.
You could say he’s creating his own magic in his home studio in Houston. And it’s paying off.
The energetic, high-octane emcee envisions himself where he is taking over multiple fields, and pushing the culture forward in a positive way. He hopes his latest album is proof. “It was almost like a bridgeway to the next sound that I’m trying to push,” he says.