When Kenneth Cole — who performs under the name K Sankofa — decided to release a new single that focused on black excellence, he originally wanted to drop it during Juneteeth, the holiday that commemorates the abolition of slavery. He later decided to release it on February 1 as a way to commence Black History Month.
“It was important,” Cole said in an interview. “We ended up coming up with the idea that it might be best to release it during Black History Month and let it roll out that energy goes out through that. So that it could carry on the message of Black History Month and black excellence.”
The single, called B. Excellent, is a celebration of the black community.
However, Cole didn’t expect to be writing songs and rapping. Though he did grow up writing songs, he decided to leave it all behind in college due to fears of being stereotyped.
“When I did get to undergrad, I felt like there were all these associations and stereotypes of blackness,” he said. “I didn’t want to just be your typical black male rapper from this lens that I came to understand it as.”
At the time, he wanted to pursue other paths that felt more realistic than being a rapper, such as law or public policy, but later recognized that he was letting others’ perspectives dictate his decisions.
“I’ve come to realize that there is a lot of beauty and positivity that can be spread through music to do the same type of uplifting that I would want to do with a law degree or within the realm of public policy or community organizing,” he said.
Since coming to that realization, Cole spent more time rapping. He even adopted the stage name K. Sankofa, taking inspiration from the Ghanaian proverb Sankofa, which means go back and get it.
“When I adopted the name, I was going through a lot of things in my own life that were weighing on me and took a lot of the spirit out of me,” he said. “I was trying to figure out a way to be at peace and find inspiration again. Something told me to go back into music and so the music was a form of the expression that allowed me to redefine myself and tell my story.”
B. Excellent, which is now available on YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music and SoundCloud, is the leading single on a larger project Cole has been working on called Parrhesia. By naming the album Parrhesia, which means to speak boldly or freely, Cole wanted to illustrate his experiences during his undergraduate career and “cultivate a project around the concept of speaking truth to power,” he said.
Cole started working on Parrhesia a year and a half ago with local producers and ultimately, they produced 12 songs including B. Excellent. The album will be released this Saturday, February 29 on Spotify, Apple Music, SoundCloud and YouTube.
“We had this synergy of people who all had the mind of wanting to portray and display social justice and wanting that to be our central message,” Cole said. “We were aiming as a jazzy vibe, whereas jazz music can be seen as music that started off as counterculture, music of the people, music that was very expressive of struggle and very relatable to audiences who are in oppression. We used that sort of music, coupled with some writing, raps and some poetry. Some songs that started off as poems ended up turning into full songs. So we spent all that time getting together and making sure that everything sounded good. It’s been an incredible process now being here at the end where we have 12 songs that we’re ready to present.”
Since releasing B. Excellent, the feedback has been exciting for him, Cole said.
“Right now we’re close to 1400 views [on YouTube]. A lot of my friends and family have reached out just completely excited about the video,” he said. “They’ve been saying that they’re proud of the work that we’re doing. A lot of people are reaching out saying that they enjoyed the message.”
Cole has also been able to perform his single at Sherman Middle School, where he also works as the director for after school programs. He will also be performing at Sennett Middle School and Blackhawk Middle School. Additionally, he has been doing a Madison tour, performing shows at cafes and even the Kohl Center for UW athletics.
Outside of his music career, Cole was also recently named one of the recipients of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award for his work with the community.
Ultimately, Cole wants to inspire others to be the change in their community.
“I hope we can inspire people. I hope that we can build enough capital to open up businesses and be entrepreneurs that can help build the community. I also hope that this project will encourage people to actually go out, vote and engage in the political process this year.”
“I’m super excited to be here,” he added. “I couldn’t have done it without the team working with me. I can’t wait.”