On a sunny but brisk day, rapper Kent Archie sits in Dewey's, a Shaker Square coffee shop where he once worked, and recalls his time abroad as he reflects on the journey that has prepared him to release his new album, The Thoughts in My Head
He sports a black jacket with patches depicting the countries he's been to in his lifetime. There's the United States, Canada, Austria and Holland among others — then there's Romania. Romania?
"I was born and raised in Cleveland, but I've only been back here for about two years or so," Archie says as he takes a sip of his drink. "I was living in Romania for about five years on and off. I had a group out there — the Bridge Committee."
Archie credits an ex-girlfriend for his first exposure to the country.
"I dated a girl from Romania," he says. “We even went to prom together. She asked me to come visit and I liked it a lot. I also met some kids from Bulgaria when I was working at Geauga Lake, so I would go out there as well. I just ended up staying out there and doing music. The vibe was really nice. I've been to a couple places. I'm trying to even travel more."
Archie's first musical influences were courtesy of his dad, but he would play more than just rap music. The neighborhood kids also held a pivotal role in his gravitation towards this cool and new thing called hip-hop.
"When I first moved onto our block near 105th and Superior, there were these kids rapping over there," Archie says. "I was maybe 8 years old at the time. One of the older guys asked me if I knew how to rap, I said no, and he told me to just rhyme and don't try to make sense."
That was enough to hold Archie's interest, but it would be the work of a certain author that would prove to be an unlikely source of motivation.
"Eventually, I just fell in love with it," he continues. "I started to write little poems and songs for no reason, simply because I enjoy doing them. Dr. Seuss' 'Cat in the Hat' and 'Green Eggs & Ham' really got me going because he was telling a story and also making sense at the same time."
Archie's journey hasn't been without some struggle, as he's readily willing to admit.
"Just coming home and trying to get my name out there [has been difficult]," he says. "Especially coming from Romania where I was already established as an artist on the underground level. People knew me and sometimes even asked for my autograph — which I thought was weird, but to come home and it's like ground zero — starting from the bottom and trying to build my name back up. So just that whole thing with trying to get on shows and knowing who's who and what's what."
Archie can't help but laugh as he reveals some of his previous monikers he considered before decided to rap under his own name.
"When I first started rapping, my name was Pitch Blak," he says. "Then I went with Clark Kent because of my name and the whole Superman thing. After awhile, I got tired of making up names and decided to just go with my real name."
The Thoughts in My Head
is the end result of over a year of hard work and dedication. It's his most personal project to date.
"There were some late nights," he says. "I was working here and I also had the other gig downtown. Just working trying to push this album out on some 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. type shit. Everything I've been through in the past three years or so, I put into the album and I told myself that I would get more personal than I usually do."
The personal approach is something different for Archie.
"When I was rapping in Romania, we would talk about social problems and issues, and it was moreso a third person kind of thing," he says. "But this album is more from my point of view and getting out of my comfort zone — and it's going to get even more personal with future projects. I got out of that zone as far as beats too. The majority of the project was produced by other people. A large chunk was made by Shatta and some of the other tracks were made by my dudes in Romania, and I made two of the beats. It was my first time doing that."
One of Archie's most popular songs early on was "MoneyGoldChains," but he seems to have another hit on his hands.
"It was one of my biggest songs, but now everyone seems to like 'Takin Noff,' and that's not even on the album," he says. "That's going to be on an upcoming mixtape called Fuck Your Comfort Zone Volume 1
, so we're going to do that by the end of the summer. That project will be us working with different artists around the city that we like and vibe with. I let a few people hear some songs on the album and 'Oh Lord' was one that a lot of people like. I'm surprised by that because it's one of my most personal songs."
In addition to music, Archie also has a clothing line called Lafen Stock. The name is inspired by his experience in Romania.
"Back when I was Pitch Blak and Clark Kent we had this group, we were doing things differently," he says. "When we got on stage, people didn't boo us, but they would look at us like 'okay, that's different.' So I looked at it like we were the laughing stock of all these groups. We were doing a different thing, but we flipped it and made it positive. I feel like most of the people who change the world are the laughing stock of the town at the beginning until they succeed at what they do. I was always drawing this 'LS,' and it wasn't until 8 years later that I decided to make it a clothing line because the logo was tough."
When it came time to work on The Thoughts in My Head
, Archie really wanted to keep his cards close to his chest.
"I did a lot of the recording with my dude Go Roger," he says. "He helped me make the first two beats and sat there and went through the process of making everything from scratch. My cousin Tache Akira did vocals on one of the tracks, but it's mostly just me. I was telling my story, so I didn't think it was necessary to have too many people on it. I do have my dad's pictures on the truck now. He's not a rapper or anything, but he's definitely an entertainer. He's almost like the Flavor Flav to my Chuck D."
The release party for Archie's album coincides with the sixth edition of Glow. The show typically features up-and-coming artists in the city who haven't had many opportunities to showcase their talent on a big stage.
"We got some dope artists," Archie says of the lineup. "Wrecking Crew Red Panda Bears is dope. I love Dirty Kicks and Mikal Callow is a raw singer. The show is going to be better than any show I've ever done before. People like my style and my energy and stage presence, but I'm preparing this release show to outdo that by a long shot. I'm going to have some backup singers and some horns as well. Bang Messiah is going to be my DJ for the night."
While Archie loves being a rapper, he wants to take his performance to the next level.
"I want to do some real dope stuff outside of a typical rapper thing," he says. "I always feel the rappers don't do as much as they should. When I was younger, and I would see Jay-Z or Snoop Dogg on stage, [I realized] they really don't do much, they just had their swag. I always wanted to be dynamic like a punk rock kind of guy."
Glow 6 Featuring Kent Archie, Wrecking Crew Red Panda Bears, Fresh By Nature Records, Mikal Callow, Dirty Kicks, Megadon216, 9 p.m. Friday, March 23, Grog Shop, 2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., 216-321-5588. Tickets: $10 ADV, $15 DOS, grogshop.gs.