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The artist formerly known as YC the Cynic is taking a giant step forward on his new album Negus—one so big that it necessitated a whole new name, Kemba. The Bronx native has always made music inspired by acts like Mos Def and Goodie Mob, who are lyrical and not afraid to address crucial contemporary issues. But he felt like his original rap name, bestowed at a young age, no longer fit this new material. "I've been CY since I was 12 years old," he says. "I outgrew it. I was limited by the sort of Golden Era brand that I built as CY the Cynic. Now I'm able to let my true inspirations and influences show through melody as well. Starting new as Kemba feels like the next step in my evolution."

Kemba's story starts in the Hunt's Point section of The Bronx, where he was the middle child of a single mother in an R&B-filled household. By the time he was nine, Kemba was already writing music, and he never looked back. The ability to rhyme was his one relief from childhood teasing over severe eczema, which lasted well into his teens. At 17, Kemba faced another, even more serious obstacle—a tumor in perhaps the worst spot for an aspiring rapper, his jaw. He faced constant surgeries ("If I wrote a 'Through The Wire' for every time my mouth was wired shut, I'd have a concept EP," he jokes), and doctors told him he'd be lucky to be able to talk at the end of the process, never mind rap.

As YC the Cynic, he released critically acclaimed projects like Fall FWD and 2013's powerful GNK, the latter of which earned near-universal critical praise as "one of the best projects of the year" for its "lyrical mastery" and the artist's "smooth, yet complex, flow." But Kemba's new moniker marks a new phase, one that was inspired by the same events that would cause a protest movement that shook the country. The Black Lives Matter movement, and the police violence and political corruption that inspired it, are at the core of Negus. Songs like "Heartbeat" and "Greed" deal smartly and passionately with matters of literal life and death to Kemba and his community.

Kemba's roots in hip-hop's birthplace of The Bronx come through in everything he does. He is a co-founder of the noted local hip-hop organization, the Rebel Diaz Arts Collective, which runs a community center in the South Bronx with lectures, classes, and more. That mission to return something to the community is forever a part of Kemba's mission. And he does it with the rarest of qualities, radical openness and honesty.

"As an artist, I finally learned where my art and my life meet," he says. "I finally learned to be completely open and honest, baring my soul and insecurities, because that'll make for the best art, and the best artist."

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