Allways Kahlil says he made his newest music because he felt disrespected. The San Jose hip hop artist had something to prove—mostly to himself.
“I been at work for a long time. Now I feel like it’s my time,” he says. “I’m in competition with everybody. I don’t care who it is. I’m here to compete.”
This summer, the rapper born Kahlil Fennell released his first EP as Allways Kahlil. The album, Forever Green, demonstrates the young emcee’s mastery of flow and lyricism.
Fennell has already spent the better part of the last dozen years making raps and recording music videos throughout the South Bay. He wrote his first verse, “Half Sober,” with a band called Contra Ville in 10th grade while attending San Jose High School. The song opened up performance opportunities and stages to practice on, the first of a long slew of tracks that now make up his multi-leveled discography.
Allways Kahlil recorded his six-track EP on a Tuesday night this past May. He canceled some plans to go to a party and instead booked a studio session, laying down the whole EP in one go. The next day, he booked a music video shoot. A month later, he dropped Forever Green, an album that makes a clear statement on his knowledge and proficiency as a veteran South Bay emcee.
“When I made it, I was furious. I was mad at the world,” Allways Kahlil says. “By the time it came to release, I was alright. I was good. And I feel like being able to express myself in that manner helps me. I don’t have to linger. And I’m learning that.”
He also learned, as a single father, how to be a man raising a young, impressionable son. In 2018, he stopped using his former rap alias, Tha Real Craig White, saying it became something he didn’t want to represent anymore: a fake persona. Nothing about the character of Craig White was real to him, so he dropped it entirely.
The next year, he stopped making music completely, prioritizing instead his son’s development. He stopped going out to shows and making open mic appearances, slowly disappearing into a day job at UPS as a delivery truck driver.
As Always Kahlil, Fennell comes with a fresh record but a host of familiar influences: Wiz Khalifa, Dom Kennedy, Kanye West, Mac Miller and, his first main influence, Lupe Fiasco.
“What I realized is, when it comes to image I’m not a gangster. My music doesn’t reflect that. It reflects me and it’s going to always be me.”
For the young parent, music took a backseat to hustling extra hours and making a steady check so he could get a place where he and his son could spend some more time growing together.
“I felt the pressure. Women in my life just hounding me. The world was hounding me. I felt like I didn’t have respect as an artist, as a rapper,” he says.
Then 2020 came. Early in the pandemic, a wrist injury took him off the job. His grandfather died from COVID. Thankfully, Fennell was able to get COVID relief money which he put into his clothing brand, The Hometeam Company, selling T-shirts, hoodies, sweatpants and more.
In his downtown one-bedroom apartment is a record player, a handheld JBL camo-wrapped boombox and, on the bookshelf, a full collection of the Artemis Fowl novels next to a hardback copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. His bedroom is also a studio, equipped with a desk workstation, microphones, cables and recording equipment. Across the street is San Jose State University, always buzzing with new, young faces and ideas.
While working on his music, Fennell would pace back and forth, committing lyrics to memory. Normally a solo act, he’s collaborated on a microphone with other Bay Area artists like LaRussell and Jay Anthony. Anywhere he steps throughout the Bay could turn into a stage.
But he won’t be resting on his laurels. Just a few months after releasing Forever Green, Allways Kahlil has a new single dropping Monday. There will be more to come after that. The ambitious rapper is just starting to compete.
“If it’s not a competition, I don’t have the fire in me.”