Don’t Yield Keep Enduring: KayelaJ
For those who are tapped into Portland’s local music scene, it’s only a matter of time before one hears of Makayela Johnson (KayelaJ). Between her explosive first single, Heat Gentlemen’s Club, her many shows at local venues, and her podcast centered around black and brown artists in the Portland music scene, “Press n Play,” KayelaJ is an artist that is hard to miss.
Born and raised in Northeast Portland, KayelaJ proudly reps her community. With the support of her family, she spent the majority of her childhood and high school career utilizing the guidance and resources of “Self Enhancement Incorporated,” (a Northeast Portland based nonprofit whose mission is to “guide under-served youth to their fullest potential.”) By the time she graduated high school, the organization had awarded her with a scholarship that allowed her to complete a degree in psychology at Lewis and Clark University.
KayelaJ knew she wanted to be rapper since age 7, when she heard Lauryn Hill’s Doo Wop (That Thing) for the first time. Though KayelaJ was contemplating going on to graduate school, she chose to hold on to her lifelong ambition to pursue music instead. Clearly, this decision was not made in vain; in the last year alone, KayelaJ has popped up at some of Portland’s most loved venues and released a 25 track mixtape Homage (Thank You). All the tracks on the tape are dedicated to women of color in rap who KayelaJ thanks for opening up doors for her. Rapping over tracks from Lauryn Hill, Janelle Monae, Queen Latifah, Young M.A, and more, KayelaJ proudly thanks artists who have influenced her, inspired her, and have set the stage for the type of rap she wants to put into the world.
“It’s Black as fuck, woman as fuck, gay as fuck, and I want to get that across in all my music,”
KayelaJ values authenticity, and her take on Portland’s rap scene is refreshing. After spending her whole life in NE Portland, she is now accessing an entirely new community. According to KayelaJ, engaging and collaborating with other local artists has opened up her eyes to a whole different side of Portland. “I think people come to Portland and think we’re not ‘real’ Black people because we’re surrounded by so many white people, but if you listen to our music you’ll be able to see we’re for the people, our music [is too.]” KayleaJ says.
KayelaJ’s rap is unapologetically gay, she describes her acceptance of her sexuality as a pivotal moment for herself and her art, “when I was younger and would make music I would write about guys,” despite her really writing the songs about girls, she would go back and change the lyrics to portray a desire for men. “Kayela to the MF J’ was my first really, like, provocatively gay song I ever put out, so I just loved it. I loved the first time that I performed it, people could see the confidence I have.’” Since coming out, KayelaJ refuses to compromise her music again. The ability to express her sexuality and her love for women through her art is a means of therapy and empowerment for herself and others.
KayelaJ is expecting to release an approximately 14 track album this spring, titled “D.Y.K.E.” (Don’t yield, keep enduring). The Aim of the album is to show her fans that she’s got a lot more in store. KayelaJ says she’s excited to show fans and new listeners more of her original work, and that “D.Y.K.E.” will be a peek into her life, where she’s been, and where she plans to go.
“I will never ever alter myself or filter myself or nothing like that ever again, I don’t care who’s listening, I don’t care if I miss out on awards, or miss out on this person, or this fan. Nothing’s worth it.”
It is clear that wherever KayelaJ’s rap career takes her, she will continue to be her most authentic, honest, empowered self, and bring a little bit of Northeast Portland along with her.