UNC alumnus and North Carolina artist Kevin “Kaze” Thomas, who goes by Kaze4letters in the music community, released a new album Oct. 10 titled “A Thousand Shades of Black."
Thomas, who is also the director of arts and culture for the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, has always had a love for music. He said that coming to UNC allowed him to realize that making and producing music was his dream.
Thomas was one of the founding members of Hip Hop Nation, a student organization at UNC.
“Hip Hop Nation was the beginning of my trajectory,” Thomas said.
Thomas released his first project, “Spirit of ‘94," independently in 2003. In 2009, he signed with Universal Motown Records. He spent time traveling to Los Angeles, New York City and Atlanta, before ultimately returning to Chapel Hill, where he opened his own studio, VibeHouse 405.
“I thought that would be the beginning of a larger, broader conversation for myself and it didn’t go that way,” said Thomas. “You hear about people who get signed and then you wonder what happened to them after that and I became one of those stories.”
However, the music did not stop for Thomas, and he hopes his sixth album and newest project, “A Thousand Shades of Black,” will reintroduce people to his music while also celebrating diversity.
“I really think that this album, even though it’s so late in my timeline, can open people’s eyes back to me for the first time,” Thomas said.
He said that even though quarantine was a scary time, it put him in a place where he was at home and able to concentrate on his music and focus on himself as an artist.
“Back in April, we were in a different world,” Thomas said. “I thought that if this was the end of the world, then this was the album I wanted to leave everybody with. If this was it, I wanted it to be really good, I wanted it to be the best representation of myself.”
The album tackles different topics, including Thomas’ journeys with creativity, identity and the diversity of Blackness in all forms.
Although usually known as an underground hip-hop rapper, Thomas said that this was a step forward for him as an artist. He wanted to create a song for whatever mood the listener was in.
“In this project, I sing more than I rap,” Thomas said. “This was my way of saying that I’m not just a rapper.”
Stephen Kay, a long-time friend and business partner to Thomas, said that throughout his career Thomas has always stayed authentic to who he wanted to be.
“He’s always been an artist that tries to speak to the relevance of what is going on,” Kay said. “He’s always been somebody who never needed to fake anything or present this big persona.”
Both Kay and Thomas said they hope that the album will allow people to see that they can be anyone they want to be and do not have to conform to stereotypes.
“Don’t be afraid to come outside of your shell, be yourself and be something different than what people expect you to be,” Kay said.
“There’s a thousand shades of Black,” Thomas said, quoting his music. “You don’t got to shoot ball, try to rap, or sell crack. You can be a lawyer, a CEO, a doctor, or a president, only God knows.”
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