Perched on a bed during her set at the House of Blues in Dallas, Kari Faux is bathed in red light from a glowing neon sign. In a video posted to her Instagram page at the first stop on her “Help Wanted” tour, viewers see Faux as her fans saw her that night: simultaneously high-energy and calm as she delivers a verse from her 2017 album, “Primary.”
“I’m finna follow through on everything I plot,” Faux raps. “Baby I’m the coolest thing that’s coming out of Little Rock.”
A bold claim and an earned one.
The capital city native’s bossy single “No Small Talk” was featured on Issa Rae’s HBO show “Insecure” after being remixed by rapper Childish Gambino, who first took notice of Faux’s talent with the release of her 2014 mixtape, “Laugh Now Die Later.” Faux is also a frequent collaborator with Malik Flint, the artist behind bLAck pARty and a fellow Little Rock native. Faux has been featured in Office Magazine, and her wildly textured, colorful style has made her a sought after figure for brands, including watchmaker MVMT for its Femme Fatale campaign.
She attributes her success, in part, to the work she’s been putting in since high school; she’s a 2010 Little Rock Central High School graduate, and she began rapping during her time on the historic campus. She attributes it, too, to a personal philosophy. “I have this mantra that I always say: ‘Opportunities are endless and abundant,’ ” Faux said. “You don’t want to think with a mindset of lack, because if you think with a mindset of lack, the thing you want won’t happen.”
With fame has come a sort of clamoring for Faux’s attention, an experience she explores in the second song on her most recent EP, “Cry 4 Help,” released in March. “Leave Me Alone” is a straightforward title for a straightforward song, with a chorus that implores, “Don’t hit my line/Don’t call my phone/Don’t waste my time/Leave me alone.”
“With ‘Leave Me Alone,’ people think that that’s just a song, but it’s really not. I really do enjoy being left alone,” Faux said. “My phone gives me so much anxiety. … When people enter my space and want things from me, and it doesn’t feel genuine, it doesn’t feel real, it really makes me unsettled inside. I’m so sensitive. I’m super sensitive.”
Faux calls herself a “sponge,” a trait she feels is in line with her natal chart — she’s a Gemini sun with a Scorpio moon and a Sagittarius ascendant, for those fluent in astrology — and says this is why she’s selective about the people she chooses to spend time with.
“So much clarity happens when I’m alone,” Faux said. “I know who I am. I know what I want. I know what I’m trying to be or what I’m striving to do, and I have a purpose. But when I’m around people for too long, their wants and desires and personalities, they start to rub off on me. … So, I try to spend as much time alone as possible.”
She hasn’t always been this way, Faux explained.
“I used to be super extroverted, super outgoing, wanted to be friends with everybody, wanted to please everybody,” Faux said. “And over the years, I just realized there’s no happiness in that. There’s no true happiness in wanting to please everybody or be everybody’s friend. So, yeah, I just kinda was like, ‘Fuck that.’ I’m just going to be on my own and figure that stuff out.”
“Cry 4 Help” is a departure from the cool girl cockiness of Faux’s previous projects. It’s more raw, more revealing, layered with insight into the artist’s depression and anxiety.
“[‘Cry 4 Help’] was easy to make because it was how I felt,” Faux said. “It was genuinely where I was at that moment in time. But sharing it was hard because it was super honest. It’s vulnerable, that’s the word. But for me, I was exposing myself.”
The first track on the EP, “Medicated,” kicks off with Faux’s soothing alto voice dragging a bit behind the beat, a nod to the song’s description of self-medicating and emotional whiplash: “Here we go again/Another high again/Here we go again/She’s rollercoasterin’. ”
“I’m suspended from the ceilin’, I been drinkin’ all my feelings, tryna sustain the life that I’m livin’,” Faux raps. “Cry 4 Help” maintains, and even refines, the intentionality in Faux’s earlier work to portray herself as a whole person, one with needs and dreams, fears and regrets. The music is deceptively mellow and melodic for a project so emotionally saturated, a lush hybrid of hazy ’70s soul and warm synths, all sailing under lyrics that find Faux at her most confessional.
It’s Faux’s retreat into herself, and the resulting clarity, that allows her to in turn give listeners permission to also be messy, complicated, multi-faceted and still worthy of their own love. “I’m so many things,” Faux said. “I’m goofy. I’m creative. I’m smart when I want to be. I’m sexy. I’m loud. I’m fearless. Sometimes I’m scared, sometimes I’m a crybaby, sometimes I’m dismissive. Sometimes I’m detached. I’m all of these things, and me being all of these things are fine, to an extent, if I don’t get too wild and crazy with it. Everything in moderation. So yeah, it’s me just living and figuring shit out.”
Faux’s honesty is especially potent in the last track on “Cry 4 Help,” titled “Latch Key.” Background instrumentals are minimal, and Faux raps in a more subdued but determined tone about the miscarriage she had at age 15: “Peel back the layers of trauma/Like a fuckin’ banana/I remember when you tried to make me your baby mama/Told you stop when the condom broke/You said you didn’t wanna.”
Faux said she began writing “Latch Key” while she was journaling, but she didn’t originally intend for it to be a song.
“I was just writing, and it was rhyming. That’s how it tends to happen,” Faux said. “I was feeling all these different ways, and I’d never really written a song that actually was pertaining to my life. I write songs about my feelings — ’Oh, I like this boy,’ or ‘Oh, I’m so cool’ — shit like that, but I wanted to write something that was really, really honest and actually something that still bothers and burdens me, a little bit.”
Mother’s Day is hard for her every year, Faux explains, “just because my kid would be 11 now.” And though Faux said she’s “very private,” she wanted the song to help other women feel less alone in their trauma. “There’s so many women that I meet and women that are my friends that have had abortions and had miscarriages, and it’s a common thing. It’s so fucking common,” Faux said. “I just want to get this off my chest, because nobody knows this about me. And if I’m gonna say this, I’m gonna just tell the world, ‘Yeah, I had a miscarriage one time, and it sucked. But I’m still here, and shit gets better. You just keep going. If you need to talk to somebody, talk to somebody.’ That’s the whole point of “Cry 4 Help” [and] the Help Wanted tour, because help is wanted.”
“Latch Key” also explores Faux’s feelings about being a latchkey child — unsupervised during after school hours until parents return from work — and how it affected her relationship with her mother: “I needed more hugs, you didn’t have time to/So TV and my imagination, I was confined to/Now I’m all grown up, sometimes I hate myself/To be completely honest, I wouldn’t date myself/A prideful, needy girl/Who hates to ask for help.”
Faux explains that being a latchkey kid had its “pros and cons.”
“The pros are you’re independent early on, [so] you can take care of yourself,” Faux said. “I know how to take care of myself, I know how to be vocal about the things I do and don’t like, very independent in that way. But the cons are you may dabble in drugs and alcohol and sex early on, which for me, yes, that’s true. That happened. But also, I’m not a fuck up. I just lived and learned. And I feel like it just depends on the person that you are.”
“Latch Key” ends on a more positive note — “Been harborin’ some feelings/But it’s safe to say we good/Just know I love you deeply/And you did the best you could” — and Faux said she’s now in a better place in her relationship with her mother. “I love her. I’ve always been super rebellious, but now I can be that and there’s no issue. I can talk to her about anything,” Faux said. “We’re women. It’s not like a mom and her daughter, we’re two women that are having conversations about shit women go through. And I think even just me living my life and doing whatever I do, that really inspires my mom to be a little bit more free.”
Faux said the independence she learned from an early age has contributed to her comfort with solitude, and it’s also allowed her to find a place in the music industry — which she describes as “literally high school all over again,” with all its “cliques and clubs” — that’s uniquely hers.
“I make myself laugh, I’m so entertaining to myself, so … I’m gonna create this space for myself,” Faux said. “And what you’ll realize is once you start congregating with yourself and doing things on your own, people will be like, ‘Oh, what you got going on over here? Oh, this looks like fun? You’re at this party and you’re dancing by yourself? Now I want to dance with you.’ … And that’s just how it is with everything. You just have to focus on yourself and create happiness for yourself. The people that see that — if you build it, they will come.”
As Faux continues the “Help Wanted” tour with shows on the East Coast, in Canada and in California, she said she’s “stepping into her power” and watching the world follow suit. “Lately, I’ve been consciously trying to be aware of all that I am, without trying to hold back because I think somebody is not gonna like me,” Faux said. “In the last month of me just actively being like, ‘Be all that you are,’ things have been rapidly aligning so much [that] I’m kind of scared right now. I’m scared because I feel like I have too much power. … All the times I was depressed, it was literally because I was trying to contain my power.”
Maybe it’s the arrival of Gemini season, or an ear better tuned to her own intuition, but Faux is finding pleasure and power in being herself — just as she is. “I’m about to have such a Kanye moment,” Faux said. “Do you wanna know what brings me joy? Waking up and being me. I literally have moments where I wake up, open my eyes, and I’m like, ‘Oh, wow, wait, I’m me and this is my life.’ I remember days waking up and being like, ‘This sucks. I’ve gotta go do something that I fucking hate every day.’ I’m just glad to be here, and I’m glad that people are glad that I exist.”