August 1st, 2023
From Prodigy to Powerhouse
The prolific artist has spent years making moves on the low, and is now finally ready to show the world what he’s made of
Photos by Ueart
At a glance, KayCyy seems to have skyrocketed to stardom. The truth is that his success didn’t materialize overnight—rather, it was a slow burn that took time, patience and intention to craft. Before the Kenyan-born singer/songwriter released his debut mixtape in 2021, he was behind the scenes producing for artists like Lil Wayne, Travis Scott and Justin Bieber. Credits like that don’t go unnoticed, and things reached an ultimate high when none other than Kanye West recruited him to contribute to “DONDA.” At the same time, KayCyy was picking up traction with his solo music, and soon he was able to step into the spotlight on his own.
Growing up without superfluous luxuries was a blessing in disguise for the rapper. Before moving to the States at 9, KayCyy, whose real name is Mark Makora Mbogo, lived with his family in Kenya. He remembers filling his days with all the spontaneous joys of being a kid, at the time not realizing what a distinct experience it actually was. “I used to play soccer with my friends,” he explains. “How we would play soccer was different from how people would play over here. We would make our own soccer ball out of plastic bags—just fold them up and wrap it around, and it became a ball. I didn’t have as much as I have here, so it just makes you appreciate things more.”
When Mbogo moved to the US, things were off to a rocky start. “In Kenya, I felt like I wasn’t alone. I was with my brother or my friends, I didn’t have a lot of lonely moments,” he says. “I only felt a little lonely when I moved to America, and I had to live without my mom for two, three years. That’s when I started really feeling that lonely feeling for the first time in my life.” But that feeling wasn’t the end of the world, because Mbogo had an outlet to turn to. “A lot of people in my family love music—reggae, hip hop, pop music,” he recalls. “There was a lot of stuff that was always being played, whether I’m in my uncle’s car going to the water park for the weekend, he was playing a lot of reggae music. He took us to our first concert.” Upon arriving in America is when his palette started to open up to more hip hop and R&B, building the foundations which would inspire his future sound.
Mbogo quickly sought direction from the greats—Michael Jackson, James Brown, Drake, Kanye and Usher, just to name a few. With such a diverse intake, it only makes sense that the singer’s own music would be constantly fluctuating and hard to categorize. Take KayCyy’s recent release, “Get Used To It.” Here, the singer paints a paradise of ethereal ballads intertwined with heavy-hitting, experimental pop rap. His latest drop, “TW2052,” a collaborative project with French DJ Gesaffelstein, goes in a different direction with ground-shaking electronic sounds that make you feel like you’re at a futuristic club. “My influences are all part of what made me versatile,” he observes. “I was never in one sound. I want everything to stand on its own theme. ‘Get Used To It’ has its own theme, ‘TW2052’ has its own theme. I don’t want things to sound like each other or similar, I think it’s dope that they sound different.”
Many are familiar with Mbogo for having worked on “DONDA,” specifically contributing vocals to the soulful track “Keep My Spirit Alive.” This is only one of the many surreal moments the singer has had. “The Kanye stuff was crazy,” he reflects. “Listening back at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium and everything I was playing, it was crazy to hear my voice playing out loud. Or even thinking, ‘that’s the joint I wrote.’”
Aside from contributing to his idols’ art, witnessing their processes is something Mbogo doesn’t take for granted. Kanye’s development of “DONDA” particularly helped him realize that making impactful music isn’t a race. “[He showed me] what a long time it could take to finish a song or an album,” Mbogo recalls. “You hear a lot of different versions, and kind of get to pick and choose which the best is.” Similarly, advice garnered from Travis Scott during the process of making his upcoming album “Utopia” involved knowing how much energy to give to a project versus how much to preserve for something else. “There’s so much stuff I’ve learned by just watching and observing,” Mbogo ultimately says. “I like being a sponge. Those types of experiences where I can learn are the most surreal.”
As far as Mbogo has come, he is still able to look back and find the kid who intrepidly dove into music in the first place. Now, he’s at the forefront of a new generation of hip hop artists who are inspiring those who were once in his shoes. “I’m honored and humbled to be a part of it,” he says. “To share space with some of the greatest artists in this generation. I definitely feel like I’m one of the leaders in a way.” Because of who Mbogo is, he doesn’t hesitate to share his wisdom with aspiring musicians. “Just follow your dreams, be yourself and be the greatest version of yourself,” he says. “Work in a good circle and on a good team.” Mbogo also adds that understanding the business side of one’s endeavors will serve them greatly in the long run. “Once you figure it out, the label’s just gonna follow your lead. Basically, just be proactive.”
Mbogo has never been one to shy away from tattoos. The ones that currently cover his body consist of core traits and experiences that make him who he is. To represent his proud roots, he has a Kenyan flag on his arm. Perhaps his biggest tattoo is one that reads “Son of God” behind both of his arms, symbolic of his deep religious beliefs. Beyond these is a memorial piece for his friend, Lexi, which reads “LLL” for “Long Live Lexi.” One tattoo that stands out to Mbogo is the large Pluto splayed across his stomach. “I really just wanted to get it on my stomach on some Tupac type of vibe,” he explains. “Like ‘thug life,’ but really ‘Pluto life,’ you know? It’s just part of the lifestyle.” Originally, before Mbogo shortened his artist name to what it is now, he chose to go by KayCyy Pluto, which some still refer to him as. Early on in his career, Mbogo could already feel that rapping would take him to far and away places he’d never imagined. “Even when I pictured myself [in the future]—not necessarily rapping trap music, but just anything that I’m rapping—I kind of felt like I would take myself to Pluto in a way.”
KayCyy prefers to let his art speak for itself. “I don’t want you to expect anything,” he says. “I just want you to be ready to listen and see.” What we can expect, though, is a new album on the way. This project will see Mbogo in an even more confident and uninhibited light, as well as put what has been on the singer’s mind lately on full display. “I’m really about self-assurance, stuff that I’m going through in my life, and putting it all on one thing that has never been heard before from me,” he shares. “It’s gonna be dope, the people are gonna be happy for sure.”
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