Falling in Love

UC Berkeley student and rapper Kaila Love dishes on her background and inspirations

Kaila Love
Betsey Vincent/Staff

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“It’s all about energy; when you catch a flow, you’re maybe starting out with a couple words and a contact or a rhyme but you literally catch it. You can feel the energy building,” Kaila Love said when asked if one could learn freestyle. Like her response, her energy caught the attention of everyone in the room. She is electric. Love’s demeanor, her pithy rhetoric and her absolute sense of presence exist palpably as she sits, cool and collected, in Tivoli’s loft space. She opens up without a trace of inhibition.

Love is a Bay Area native. Born in Santa Rosa, Calif., she grew up in San Leandro about 15 miles from where she currently goes to school at UC Berkeley. Love is a third-year political science major and education minor who is known for her masterful rhymes and freestyle music. She wrote her first poem in fourth grade, sang for the first time in front of an audience in eighth and wrote her first rhyme as a freshman in high school.

“First in my fam that made it to this campus,” Love says in her song “Student Anthem.” When she was 17, she met her father for the first time in jail; she never knew her mother. She was raised by her grandmother for part of her life, but ultimately raised herself.

Love was 16 when she ran away from home to pursue her college dream. She managed to bypass a foster care system thanks to the hospitality of a Marin County relative. Love details her life as if she is eternally lyricizing; each word is deliberate, each sound is pronounced, and every thought is articulated eloquently.

“I want my music to go as far as it can go,” Love said. “I do it for the women that come up to me and were like, ‘Wow, your piece really stuck with me,’ or for the biracial guy who was like, ‘Wow, I’m half-black and half-white, and that piece really spoke for me.’”

Her interest in rhyming started in ninth grade. “There was this guy I liked, that’s really what it was,” Love said. “He was a rapper. I was like, ‘I could totally impress him if I started rapping.’ He and his bros smoking, drinking, being out on the patio just rapping in a cypher with each other, and I would just sit to the side and listen and then I came to the realization ‘man I can do this shit, and I can do it better’ and I started rapping,” Love said, smiling.

But music isn’t Love’s only interest. Her diction betrays her education. Just as she says in “Irreplaceable,” “If we want to make a change, we got to utilize our brains.” Love’s academic studies serve as context when she says she plans on running for president in 2040. “I want to be president so I can rap all my speeches, make it entertaining,” Love said.

She derives a lot of her inspirational fuel from the support of those around her, using them to propel every dimension of her future aspirations. “We try to support each other as much as we can,” Vanessa Whatley, a close friend of Love, said. “I try and be there,” she continues.

The life experiences Love has endured make her humble. She is in the process of building herself, and it is worth watching. Whatley has been a part of Love’s life long enough to be able to see her go through different stages at different moments. “That’s the nice thing about having had her as a friend almost since I’ve started school here . . . I feel like I’ve been able to see her grow,” Whatley said.

“It just takes will power,” Love continued. “I want to see a change in one or all of these: politics, education, music. Those are the three spaces I am intermingling with. I don’t know if I’m going to fall into all three or one, or two of them, but I know that whatever one I touch, I’m going to change the whole game,” Love said.

Part of being an activist and a lyricist is being selfaware. Kaila is hyperaware of who she is and how she relates to the world. She performed an original piece for The Vagina Monologues in the 2012-13 cast and will be the director for 2013-14. Thus, it is no surprise that she is attuned to the female presence in the hip-hop scene. “There are no real artists that are able to break into the mainstream that really just talk about the female experience,” Love said. She wants to empower women with a voice of confidence and embody the reality of womanhood.

Propelled by her sense of womanhood, she feels comfortable sharing her experiences with domestic violence in an abusive relationship. “It was actually how I ended up homeless in a bad place,” Love said. “This dude that I was with, we got into this fight, and he started punching my arm, he just kept punching me and punching me, and I was to the point where I was hurt more mentally and emotionally,” Love said emphatically. There is weight in the issues she candidly unveils; they are clearly wounds but no longer raw ones.

Kaila Love’s voice carries. Her humility and honesty only propel her into action as she continuously evolves and grows. If there was a way to sum her up, it would be from her own words. “If I’m going to say it then the world needs to hear it.” And hear it we have.

Contact Shanna Holako at [email protected].