Akeem Ali is here to bring back that R&B, soul, and hip-hop we all know and love from the 70’s, in the form of his alter ego “Keemy Casanova.” Hailing from Jackson, Mississippi, the singer-songwriter recently went viral with his new single and visual of the same name, streamed over 8 million times with no label or marketing backing him.
“Keemy Casanova” takes us on a nostalgic journey back to the 1970’s pimpin’ era, with funky mannerisms and groovy accents that immediately sparks movement and dance no matter who’s listening. With the success of the record, Akeem went from 14K followers on instagram to 149K, and the numbers continue to rise daily.
Following the rave reviews of “Keemy Casanova”, Akeem Ali has released the second single and visual for “Shugga” today with Flaunt. Almost like being placed in a time machine back to Detroit in 72’, “Shugga” is filled with the sounds of live instruments, background vocals and flare; with a visual that accompanies the groovy vibes.
When it comes to his music, Akeem reveals he loves rap more than anything. His sound and style work best with a live band, reminding the masses the importance of live instrumentation. He states, “I love the art of putting words together, layering it over beats and paraphrasing.”
Most recently, Akeem signed to indie label Winners United, founded by NBA player Lou Williams. “Keemy Casanova” serves as the lead single from Akeem’s forthcoming 70’s inspired project titled Mack in the Day, slated to be released Spring 2021.
Flaunt caught up with Akeem in downtown Los Angeles, who was visiting the city of Angels for a few days. Read below as we discuss the turning point in his music career, biggest influences, his name inspired by Muhammed Ali, the inspo behind “Keemy Casanova,” shooting the visual at no costs, his forthcoming project, studio essentials, linking with Lou Williams, goals, and more!
What was it like growing up in Jackson, Mississippi?
It was rough growing up, but it built the character in me. Definitely played a big role in my music and the way I create today.
How would you describe your sound?
My primary sound is right between trap and boom bap. I’ve experimented with other things, like with “Keemy Casanova.” My traditional sound is grounded in hip-hop, then it veers off sometimes to other things. Just being experimental with it.
Biggest influences coming up?
Lil Wayne, Boosie, Eminem, Kanye West. By the time I was an adult, Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole.
At what point did you realize you could do music for a living?
When I was 15 is when I started writing it consistently. I always had a thing in the back of my head where I knew I wanted to do it for a living. I just wanted to write. I started off writing poetry, wrote my first rap when I was 11. I wanted to write as a way to vent, but then it grew into me wanting to write it all the time as a habitual thing. Seeing what it did to other people when I rapped it to them, something sparked out of that. I wanted to keep doing it, realized I could make it mines and do what I wanted to do with it.
What’s the inspiration behind your name?
Akeem is my real name, I gave myself the Ali.
After Muhammad Ali?
Yeah. Akeem means wise, and Ali means noble, exalted, or champion. I was watching the Ali movie one day and thought “Damn, this dude’s fucking great.” I was already pondering on making that part of my name but that solidified it, so I went with Akeem Ali.
How did “Keemy Casanova” come about?
I guess it came about from how I was raised, watching the older people. Some of the movies I watched coming up, it was one of those things where I wanted to say the things that other people feel, but don’t. [Stuff] the kids will say a lot of times. Definitely one of those experimental things and it turned out pretty good for me.
How does it feel to have it go viral?
It’s a good feeling. It definitely did what I didn’t expect it to do. It was a surprise to me, but I wasn’t mad at it.
Can you describe this alter ego?
Keemy Casanova is a guy who does what he wants and says what he wants. He’s the inner player in most dudes, or the inner pimp in most dudes. He doesn’t let out. He’s unapologetically himself, says and does what he wants. It’s like luxury/player/gigolo, he swerves into a lot of different lanes.
What brought you back to the 70’s pimpin’ era?
It’s very very nostalgic, it’s something music needs to get back to. It doesn’t feel like anything sometimes. You feel the beat, you feel the melody, but the nostalgia and the place it takes you to puts you in a different mindset. The aesthetics was cool. I want to feel what it’s like to live in a different era. We can always see pictures of our parents in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, but we don’t know what it’s like to live in those times or we haven’t experienced it. Keemy Casanova and the way I decided to make him, puts people in that. You feel like you can be a part of it, even if it’s actually not the 70’s.
How was it shooting the visual?
The visual was really quick. This is the lady who was with me. [points to Danielle] We shot this visual on a brown backdrop with grapes. I didn’t even have liquor, I had Worcestershire sauce and water in a cup. [laughs] I had the liquor bottle, we had run out of liquor. I’m like “I’ll use the bottle, people won’t be able to tell.” I might have put something in the bottle too. It was a still frame, the camera didn’t have to move. I didn’t have to get all these emotions, it was more about the creativity and bringing together the stuff you’d probably see from a pimp back then—with the razor blade, filing my finger nails. The charcuterie aspect of it was the luxury part that I was talking about. A lot of people used to drink brown liquor or sip on cognac, that was a part of it. I wanted to capture all that.
How’d it feel to go from 14K followers to 149K followers on Instagram alone?
Man, it was a big jump. Before the video came out, I had about 8K followers on Instagram. It took off in a matter of… from September 30th till now, it’s grown to 148K followers. I got 140K new followers. I have a lot more followers, but people just don’t know my Instagram. I’ve definitely seen people listening to my music, or someone sent me another person listening to it and they didn’t know it was me or they weren’t following me. It’s crazy to know that people know about me and who I am, they’re just not hip to me on Instagram.
How important is social media?
Social media is definitely a tool and asset. A lot of people use it for fun and recreation, but it’s definitely a tool you can use to help elevate you. It feels more so like a job now, versus getting on there to be entertained by it. I have to be careful what I post. I have to post what I feel people are going to interact with and take to more. It’s being calculated with it now versus going on here laughing at video and liking pictures. It can definitely help you a lot if you know how to use it.
Are you active on TikTok as well?
No, I’m not really active on TikTok. I’m in between social media platforms. I want to be more active, but I try to focus on creating than the social media aspect of it. Try to create more and get those things done. That falls more to social media being a job because you have to be active on these things to take their brand further. You have to get used to it.
How did it take off? What platform was it?
Facebook. It actually took off on Facebook first, then it went viral again on Twitter. It’s never gone viral on Instagram, that’s what’s crazy.
What clip did you post?
“Keemy Casanova,” the whole thing on Facebook. It went viral on Facebook, people started coming from Facebook to Instagram to find me. I posted that on September 30th, it went viral in October. Right after that in December, it went viral again on Twitter.
Did you put money in ads or anything?
No I didn’t put money into anything, what’s crazy the video didn’t even cost me money. I got a good relationship with my cameraman, it did what it did and took off. I didn’t have to pay anything for promotion, it went viral on its own. I’ma let it do what it’s doing.
What can we expect from your forthcoming EP, Mack in the Day?
Akeem Ali presents Mack in the Day starring Keemy Casanova, a 6-song EP I’m about to put out and then after that I’ve got more Akeem Ali music coming out. The second part of my rolling series is coming. I’m actually working on more and more music. I’m actually working on a potential second part to the Keemy casanova project. I finished the first one so I’m working on a potential second one and debating whether I want to do that or not.
How has the independent grind been?
I can’t say it’s been easy. It’s what you make of it because I was doing it before. It’s not hard. I’m with an independent label. I’m still independent, just not signed to a major label. It’s not hard at all, having the support from the label I’m with. Having them back some of the decisions I’ve made has definitely been good and made it a lot easier for me.
How did you link with Lou Williams initially?
Through a friend, we both have a mutual friend. My barber’s barber Louis is also Lou’s barber, so we linked through him and started hanging out. It fell over into wanting to do business, everything like that.
Talk about the potential Snoop Dogg remix, is that true?
Yeah, that could be a possibility. It most definitely is something I’d like to do. We gotta get things in order, but it definitely can happen.
3 things you need in the studio?
Nos energy drink, Sour Cream & Cheddar Ruffles, and maybe a Little Debbie Honey Bun. I need my phone charger. I can take the honey buns out for a phone charger, but that’s about it. I take it back: Nos energy drink, my phone charger, and my beats. I’ll be in the studio, but I still have to listen to stuff on my phone for some reason. I let the producer pull up the beat, but I have to listen to it separately in my headphones and write to it like that.
How important is family to you?
Family’s very important. A lot of my close friends are like family. It’s the foundation of what you’re doing. You consider your family in a lot of things, especially doing things like this when they think you should take a traditional route like going to college and getting a regular job, what they consider to be successful. Family’s very important and very supportive in of giving me their green light on a lot of stuff I was doing. Even though you want to be your own person, you want to do it whether they agree with you or not, it’s still very important to you they’re going to support it.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing music?
Barber or acting, or public speaking. I like to motivate people with words. You ever heard of the hip-hop preacher, ET? Eric Thomas? I like what he does. He’s a really great, great motivational speaker. He goes around and gives great speeches. You know those speeches that have very motivational music behind it? Talking about “you can do it, you’ve got to believe in yourself!” Yeah, I’d like to do that. I talk to my friends and other people like that all the time, motivate them. If I had the music playing in the background while I was talking, that’ll be good.
Any goals for yourself at this point in your career?
No, I’m already achieving most of my goals. I guess working harder. I got things set in motion that I’m trying to get done, but I’m doing them now so it’s not like they’re not getting accomplished. Getting these projects out, I’ve got projects I’m working on. Baby steps count. If I wake up and write a line to one song in order to get a project out of this whole thing, I feel accomplished. As long as i’m not stagnant and not doing anything. Goals… being the greatest.