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Is Kanii The New Face Of Retro-Futurism? [Interview]

It's Kanii’s first time in London. He arrives at the Warner Music Group office wide-eyed, snapping some photos of the screens which flash with music videos of some of the label's biggest artists. Not only is it his first visit to London, but it's his first time in the UK. I sense him soaking up this new experience and embracing the culture differences from New York City. Kani Shorter Jr, known professionally as Kanii, is only 18 years old and has already made his mark on the pop and electronic music space. Kanii began gaining traction after the release of the single ‘attachment (she wanna love)’ which became popular on TikTok. 

His first single released under Warner Records went viral on TikTok in 2023, has since amassed over 129 million streams on Spotify and became the song that landed him in the Billboard Top 100 charts. He describes the song as having ‘changed the trajectory of my career’ and his rise to fame from social media as both 'a good and bad thing’. While he recognises the importance for artists to have an online presence, he expresses that he’d rather stay offline if he could. Kanii’s music is an enchanting mix of the pop, hip-hop and electronic genres, with his inspiration for XXXTENTACION being evident through many of his songs. Other musical influences include Michael Jackson, Brent Fiyaz and Juice Wrld, which reflects the genreless sound of his music. Set to support PinkPanthress on her Capable of Love tour this spring, big things are coming for Kanii who’s only at the beginning of an exciting career in the industry. 

Photography by Guled Hassan

New Wave sits down with Kanii, one of our 10 artists to watch for 2024, to discuss artist development in 2024, meeting PinkPanthress and the impact some of his musical influences have had on his style. 

Hey Kanii, welcome to London! How’s it been here so far? 

It's cool. I like it out here. It reminds me a lot of New York so it feels familiar. 

You were born in Washington and currently live in NYC. What was it like growing up there? 

I was pretty sheltered growing up so I wasn’t outside too much but when I did go outside it was pretty active. It’s just like a normal city.. You have your friends that you meet up with and do stuff with. 

What were some of your favourite things to do when you went out? 

I liked escape rooms, and riding bikes and electric scooters. I liked shopping. Nothing too crazy. 

How is New York different from Washington in your experience? 

New York is way more fast-paced whereas DC is calmer. DC is pretty diverse but New York is the same but ten times more people. 

How would you describe your music to someone who hasn't heard it before? 

I use the term retro-futurism if I'm going to categorise it. I would describe it as new but familiar. I bring new stuff to the table by trying to keep it familiar so it's not too far out of the box. I feel like when you go too far out of the box there’s only so far you can go where it becomes unlistenable. 

Was there a particular moment when you realised you wanted to make music? 

In 2018 I was 12 and would listen to a lot of XXXTENTACION because he was popping at the time. He would do Instagram Lives and tell people to chase their dreams and go after what they wanted. I thought that since I’ve always been a musical kid, why not give it a go? The repetition ended up getting me here. I just kept doing it and trying to improve each time. 

Is there any particular song of his that’s your favourite? 

I like all of his songs but my favourite right now is probably ‘Guardian angel’. It was from the album that came out after he passed. 

How did his passing affect you? 

That day was really weird. I remember Fortnite and Snapchat were big at the time. I went on Snapchat and saw him dead in a car and people were saying it was a publicity stunt. I thought it wasn’t real at first and then I realised it was. Being an artist, at the time I looked up to him and took inspiration from him so it was a shock. 

Do you feel like you've taken the message that he sent to his fans and applied it to your fans in some way? 

I feel like that's one thing I need to get better at. I always try to convey that age shouldn't be a barrier to what you can accomplish. All it took was for someone to say it to me and to have the confidence and belief. The will to self-improve is also really important. Some people don’t even have someone encouraging their dreams. Parents might push for their kids to go to school or college as a priority whereas they might want to be artists. 

So I’d want to be that voice that tells people ‘You can do what you want. Don’t let anyone tell you what to do'. If you’re passionate enough about something you should go ahead and take the risk. It's like the saying: ‘High risk, high reward’. 

Visuals are important to your artistry. What are some music videos that have influenced some things that you've done visually?

It's definitely a lot of the Michael Jackson videos. A lot of his videos have stories in them. The song is always great, but having  visuals to put together to the song makes it 10 times better and that inspired me to want to have my own world, have these songs that all kind of live in this pocket of space. A space where you can see it through the videos.

If you could play one of your songs from Michael Jackson, which one would it be?

Probably ‘Pretty Photos’ or ‘Name’, those two songs that I feel are the most like Michael Jackson vibe songs I've made.I obviously take a lot of sonic inspiration from him. I would just want to get feedback on what he thought about it, that's all…or maybe Nightcrawler.

Your grandfather and your mom as you mentioned, have been big influences in exposing you to music. What are their thoughts on your music?

My mom, she listens to me all the time. And it's not even annoying because she's always like, “Oh, I see we're in a studio, send me what you made”, and I'm just like “Nooo, it's not finished” [Laughs] She loves my music because she's been the one supporting it from the start. She put me in programmes and had me in the art school that I was in. She’s seeing her work as well kind of pay off, So I think she enjoys it. 

About some of your projects that you've released, EPs like ‘Exit’ and ‘It Was Nice Knowing You’. How did those projects influence your current fan base?

let me be honest, Exit definitely had the so-called classics of my catalog at the time. Songs like ‘Artisan’,  ‘Go’, ‘I Know’. I feel like people were like, Oh, shit, like, this is the project that has the songs. And then ‘It Was Nice Knowing You’ had ‘Sins’ on there and ‘Marry Me’ which were the harder tracks on the project, which introduced them to the Newer vibes that I had already been working on for months. I feel like that solidified more people to really be like, Okay, I fuck with this kid. My manager said that the project was like ‘You got your seat at the table. But what are you going to say?’. Now I'm at a point where I'm figuring out what I'm saying, and if they’ll keep me at the damn table.

You’ve previously said that your single ‘I Know’ changed ‘the trajectory of my entire career’. Why did you and your team decide this was the right single to release? 

I signed back in October but since I was underage there was a whole load of legal things in the way. So I used those seven months to figure out what to drop. There were a bunch of different songs to choose from. 

I’d made ‘I Know’ way before I got signed and it wasn’t even a second thought in my mind. My A&R encouraged it because it's a Jersey song. After all, it paired well with my previous release which had a similar vibe. 

Do you feel the seven-month hiatus was necessary to establish your sound since signing with Warner Records? 

I care about the music more than the money so it was frustrating at first but it gave me the time to think about what I wanted to get across to people. So I think it was beneficial even though I didn't realise it at the time. 

Your music is infused with dance / electronic sounds as well as R&B, what gravitates you to that sound?

I don't feel like genre matters to me too much. If I hear something that I gravitate towards then I’ll hop on it. I've recently been more on the pop side of things but I can get sent 30 dance beats and not like the sound of any of them. 

How do you feel about the current state of artist development as a growing artist? 

I feel like it depends on the artist. Some artists have their minds set on getting better and want to be put in the right places for that. Other people just think they’re the best and they don’t need to get better. 

At the moment, I think labels struggle with artist development. With social media, TikTok especially, being the prime music app right now, you have to be an influencer, content creator and be your promoter all in one. Labels don’t need to do as much as they did even ten years ago. They want the artist to do a lot but sometimes the artists need to focus on just doing the art. 

I feel like the music industry is super over-saturated at the moment and we rely on the internet to find new artists. I have a feeling things will change soon and the artists who care will come to the forefront and those that aren’t as serious will fall back. Hopefully, things will go back to how they were before the internet. 

Your performance at COLOURS on the 25th was the first from your ‘It was nice knowing you’ tour… What can fans expect for the upcoming tour? 

My overall goal is for it to be an experience. Being an artist is one thing but being a good performer is a whole other skill. I want my supporters to leave the show feeling like they had a good time and it wasn’t just me jumping around for an hour. 

Ultimately, I want my shows to be more intimate in a way where I can connect with my fans. If I could talk to and have a friendship with all of them then I would. 

Do you have a favourite place to perform? 

I love performing in New York. They’re my family out there and they always show hella love every time. I had my first show there in the Market Hotel which was fire.

You’ll be supporting PinkPanthress on her US tour in April… Is there any potential for collaboration with her? I feel like it would make a lot of sense. 

I hope so! I think it would make hella sense and I’d love to do that. We met briefly when I went to see her album release in LA. I went not even expecting to see her and it was around the time it got confirmed that I was signing to Warner. I was curious to see what her fanbase was like and met her manager who introduced me to her. I knew that she knew of me through the internet so it was cool to meet in person. 


Listen to Kanii's latest single here:


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