Real Bitches Don’t Die is not only the name of the Little Rock, Arkansas artist Kari Faux’s most recent album, but it is a sentiment for her, empirically. Stemming from a real-life conversation with her friend centered on grief, it led them to write the song and create the concept for the entire album.
“I had lost an aunt and my cousin, and I was also just talking about how I was just kind of over it,” Kari said. “I was like, ‘I don’t want to do this shit no more. I’m over it, whatever.’ And we just ended up just writing that song. So I was like, damn. Real bitches don’t die is, like, some real shit because it’s true. Even if you are to leave this plane of existence, those people that have left me, they’re still with me.”
After a decade in the music industry, Kari still finds ways to keep pieces of her life in her music amid the tumultuous music industry. REAL B*TCHES DON’T DIE! is her fourth studio album since 2017. During the duration of her ten-year career, she’s remained independent. Every body of work she releases is a piece of her life at that very moment. It is all she knows.
“Some of the things that I’ve authentically been through or have experienced that I’ve put in songs, I wouldn’t have a conversation with anybody about it,” she said. “It’s like if you heard it in the song and you understood what I was saying and you feel that, then that’s what it is. You got it. But I can’t talk. It’s personal. I know that’s weird to say, but the only way that I feel safe and feel good about being vulnerable a lot of the time is only in the music.”
With songs like “Latch Key,” from her 2018 EP, Cry 4 Help, she dives into her experience of growing up as a latchkey kid and miscarrying her secret pregnancy at home. For so many artists, but for Kari especially, her music resembles Anne Frank’s diary. A journal she made to document her story, became mandatory reading for 6th-grade history class. Except with Kari’s music, people are listening to these tales to hear stories they identify with.
When she started her career with the 2014 mixtape, Laugh Now, Die Later, being a musician was never what she anticipated from this job. In every show, she is driven to the point of tears to see that people are connecting with the music that she wrote for herself. “Sometimes people have told me, like, ‘Oh, you put words to things that I was feeling that I didn’t even know I was feeling.’ or like, ‘Something you said in a song struck a chord with me that made me understand how I feel.’” Kari said. “The human experience is basically just like us mirroring each other and also understanding who we are through our experiences with other people. And so I think that it’s cool that people can do that with me and me not have to be there or know them physically. That shit is tight.”
Kari is giving her fans the same experiences she got while listening to artists who were raw and authentic in their delivery like some of the women who spearheaded rap in the South, Gangsta Boo, Mia X, and La Chat. “Gangsta Boo might have a song about being hard, being hard as fuck, the next song is like, yeah, you broke my heart and I hate you and you ain’t shit, but you still broke my heart. And I think that was cool to me, you know what I mean?” Kari asked.
Being born and raised in Arkansas means she was predisposed to all of the music from the South and Midwest. A lot of the music that ended up shaping her life, she found when she was listening to the music her brother was playing around her during the late 90s like Snoop Dogg, and Dr. Dre, and later moved to the artists of the early 2000s like 50 Cent and Soulja Boy. After finding music through her brother, she went out on her own to see what she was interested in, eventually finding her genuine love for music after listening to the 2003 Outkast album, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below an album showing two juxtaposing entities coming together to exist in one space.
Twenty years after that album the Grammys dubbed the 2003 Album of the Year, she found herself on tour with Big Boi. In her ten-year career, she is still grateful to be doing the thing she loves independently after numerous years and various projects in the fickle industry loved by so many. But at the end of the day for Kari, it is always rewarding amid the ins and outs of the business.
“The fact that I can still be a part of the conversation and people still consume my art and it makes them feel things, it makes me genuinely happy,” she said reflecting on her career. “So, yeah, shit be hard. I’m an independent artist. The shit that you hear and that you see, nine times out of ten, I’m funding it myself and making these things happen, which can be hard.”
Kari got her start creating as an independent artist at home. She and the artist bLAck pARty used to navigate all over Little Rock throwing shows, supporting the local artists in their city. In Arkansas where the young population is locked in, not only by land but also the fact the city is not a traditionally youthful place, it allowed them to create a stimulating space for people like them to thrive.
In doing that, she honed her creative abilities, so much so, she picked up and traveled the world thanks to her music. From Little Rock, she went to Los Angeles and began to make music reflecting her time in the city of the sun with her 2015 album, Lost En Los Angeles. She spent some time in New York, where it was too chaotic to make music, and she ventured overseas to London which exposed her to different genres of music like drum and bass, garage and jungle.
“I just think that I am a sponge. I do go to different places and hear things like, oh, my God, I like that,” she said. “But then I always just kind of bring it back to what feels good for me. Like I said, I don’t really want to be a complete derivative of something that’s already existed. I like to take things and filter it through what it is that I like.”
In all of these different places, Kari has been able to experiment with her sound through different influences, but one thing has remained the same in all of her music – her vulnerability. Coming to terms with emotions on a public stage is a taxing act.
Yet in that vulnerability, she maintains an air of confidence in her music, a tactic she learned from the women she grew up listening to. She went from being a fan of these women as a child to having Gangsta Boo herself being a mentor and guide for Kari.
Earlier this year, we, unfortunately, lost Gangsta Boo. Before her untimely passing, Kari was able to collaborate with the legend. REAL B*TCHES DON’T DIE! is such a fitting title for an album where both Kari and Boo teamed up for “White Caprice,” a song embodying the spirit of these two southern women coming together as one unit. But their relationship went beyond music, they bonded over the authenticity in both of their music.
“I just think that to have somebody that you looked up to because at first, I’m not going to lie, it was weird,” Kari said thinking about her relationship with Gangsta Boo. “Because it’s like you hear this person in your headphones, you have their CD and you’re watching them on TV and then to grow up and then see them in person and they can see you and can recognize you and also give you encouragement and give you your flowers and let you know that what you’re doing is authentic. That shit is crazy. That’s just crazy to me, the fact that we’ve had conversations where she’s like ‘Yeah, I can see where you’re saying that I influenced you or this person influenced you or whatever, but what I’m hearing is you I can hear the influence, but you’re not copying anybody. This is authentically who you are.’”
Receiving a message like that from an artist as impactful as Gangsta Boo, she never needed validation from any other outside source. Gangsta Boo said it was hard? That was all the confirmation she needed.
Through Boo, Kari learned how to show the duality of what it means to be transparent and strong simultaneously. In an industry where women are often the minority, it is easy for us to be written off as emotional, but emotional awareness is not to be negated, especially in making honest and authentic music. Kari doesn’t know if she would ever be able to create without inserting those feelings into the music, and her fans see that as well.
“I’m glad that I got to make this song with her and put it out into the world and show people that she was still going hard,” Kari said with a reflective tone. “Don’t get it twisted. She was still going hard. People like to kind of just be like, ‘Oh, well, they was cool back in the day.’ It’s like no, she was still cool. She was still hard. She was very encouraging. She showed love to all the girls. She was very supportive. And so rest in peace to her. We miss you.”
This is the sentiment of REAL B*TCHES DON’T DIE. Through the guidance she gained from Boo, from her music and the relationship they shared, part of Gangsta Boo’s importance will live on through pieces of Kari’s music. Beneath the surface, laughter lives as a motif in Kari’s music. The first project that garnered the attention of fans, critics, and artists like Childish Gambino, was the 2013 mixtape, Laugh Now, Die Later. She centered the industry expressing her life as a 20-something woman in Little Rock.
Kari uses laughter in the same way she uses all of her other life experiences in her music. “As much pain that I felt existentially, I also find large amounts of joy in very small, simple things,” she said thinking about what she places in her music. “And so I think for me, that’s just life. Life is about ups and downs and just kind of going with those things, like laughing and crying. For me, I just know I’m always laughing or crying. Sometimes I’m laughing while I’m crying. You know, it happens so often, so often. So often I am laughing and crying at the same time, whether it’s good, because sometimes I’m like, crying.”
Life is the drama mask representing comedy and tragedy, and that is also felt in music. Blending these two identities shows up consistently through Kari’s music, she is always laughing and crying, a theme that has remained in her music since the start. It has given her the space and opportunity to grow into a new person beyond the 22-year-old she was when she was rapping about being the motherfucking shit. During this time, she has become more experimental with her craft blending the genres she’s picked up from the different places she’s lived. She’s also added varied ways to use her voice like singing and unique flows.
“I think yeah, I’ve just gotten better at making music and understanding what I like to hear and just, like, better at the recording process,” she said. “I’m just always trying to learn how to get better, and I just, like, trying new things. And so I think every project I’m trying something new and trying something that I may not have done on the last one. And that’s why I think none of the music sounds the same because I don’t want it to. I work very hard to make sure I’ve never made the same song twice.”
The originality and versatility found in Kari’s music come naturally to her. As she was listening to the music her older brother playing, she also received the soundtrack of Sunday gospel and funk music which informed her creativity. “It wasn’t up to me to play those things, but even those things still influence my sound today. I think I just kind of pull from childhood stuff, but then also stuff that I found as I got older, as I got older, in my late teens, early twenty’s, I started listening to punk music or whatever,” she said thinking back to her influences.
Her life’s influence also made known in her work. While working on REAL B*TCHES DON’T DIE, she tied in her gospel influences sonically through the chords in the song “Make A Wish.” Through the chords and sounds, Kari melded the sounds of the Baptist church altar call and the rough chants of Lil’ John’s Crunk era.
Kari started reciting some of the chant in the song, and said, “That was me taking Kirk Franklin and Lil John and being like, what would it sound like if they made a song together? To me, they’re like one and the same, but on different ends of the spectrum, and they’re both influences of mine.”
Kari is in her studio working like she’s in Dexter’s Laboratory. Like so many Geminis, she is creating unorthodox things and making them work. She’s mixing all of the influences in her life, and putting them in one place. Today, she is further in her career, with more backing and support, but she is still the same person making music that is true to her life.
After ten years of releasing music independently, she is still on a path of maintaining consistency and innovation in her music. She explores themes of loss, love, and life, however, it was more recently she realized what she was doing with her music was more than her hobby at home. It finally clicked that music was her job around the 2017 release of her PRIMARY EP. After the realization of her new career, she was able to take her music seriously and make music that has been a safe space for her fans.
At a Kari Faux show, fans are connecting with her music in new ways. They say her music allows them to know they weren’t walking through life alone, she was right there with them. “I don’t know that I can never not be honest about how I feel in my music,” Kari said with a reflective tone. “The human experience is basically just like us mirroring each other and also understanding who we are through our experiences with other people. And so I think that it’s cool that people can do that with me and me not have to physically be there or know them. That shit is tight.”
Earlier this year she was able to get back outside to connect with her fans on an earlier tour with Big Boi, but while touring with him, Kari realized she wasn’t in the correct mind state to finish the tour. Currently, she is on her first headlining tour since COVID-19, performing in 27 cities all over the country. “I’m excited. I hope people show up, even if they don’t. I don’t care if three people show up, I’m going to perform for them,” she said. “I am excited to just get out there and just see people again, perform the music, being able to travel around. I’m also bringing my dog.”
Even though REAL B*TCHES DON’T DIE! started as a project for Kari to express her feelings of grief, Real bitches never die, we can all live forever. It has become a way for everyone listening to celebrate themselves and the loved ones they have lost. And while she is taking this album on tour along with her dog, she can finally share the experiences of this album with her fans. The album has become so much more than just a piece of music, it’s a message for life.
“Real bitches Don’t Die is, like, some real shit because it’s true. Even if you are to leave this plane of existence, those people that have left me, they’re still with me. They’re not gone to me,” she said. “And just understanding that I also have the honor of living, keeping their legacy alive and me continuing to live and do what I want to do and live my life how I see fit is me living in their honor. And so this album is really just like an homage to those people that I’ve lost and how much they’re still with me and they still push me and they still be like, ‘No, you have to do this thing.’”