Kwamé’s Story Is So Much More Than Polka Dots (Video)

Writer, producer and performer Kwamé is the subject of a recent episode of Unsung, the docuseries that explores the lives and careers of entertainers who have gone unheralded, over time. As is the case with most installments of the show, Kwamé’s story is told from the beginning to the present, and it likely is the most extensive visual biography ever assembled about the talented artist. In addition to the man, himself, Ed Lover, Monie Love, Chubb Rock, Dana Dane, Kid ‘n Play, Taboo from The Black Eyed Peas and many more join in telling Kwamé’s story.

From the beginning, Kwamé Holland was musical, playing both keyboards and drums at a young age. He grew up in Queens with both parents, in a house that was just blocks from artists like Eric B & Rakim and Kid ‘n Play. When he reached his teens, Kwamé took an interest in Hip-Hop, learning to DJ, Rap, Beatbox and Break Dance. His love for the culture extended to his music and he soon connected with Herbie “Luv Bug” Azor, producer of Kid ‘n Play, Salt-N-Pepa and more, who also lived close to Kwamé. The pair began making music together, and Kwamé soon signed to Atlantic Records.

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At the young age of 17, Kwamé: The Boy Genius, Holland’s debut album was released, spawning 3 Top 20 Rap hits, including the smash single, “The Rhythm.” In addition to a smooth sound that fused Jazz and Hip-Hop, pre-A Tribe Called Quest, Kwamé brought an entirely new fashion style to Hip-Hip, with his high-top fade and blonde streak, and what became his signature polka dot clothing.

For his second album, A Day in the Life: A Pokadelick Adventure, Kwamé took creative control from Herbie Luv Bug, and produced his biggest hit, “Ownlee Eue.” The record climbed all the way to #3 on the Rap Chart. The album was released in 1990, just before the musical landscape in Hip-Hop began to shift. By 1992, acts like Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg were beginning to take over the airwaves with harder sounds and tougher images than those projected by Kwamé. He tried to change his style, but it was not well-received, and he ended up leaving Atlantic Records at the age 21.

Much to his surprise, he was unable to get another deal, and was forced to move back home with his mother. Making matters worse, in 1994, The Notorious B.I.G. released his smash single “Unbelievable,” with a lyric that made Kwamé a punchline. “Hate to blast ya, but I have ta. You see I smoke a lot. Your life is played out like Kwamé, and them fuckin polka dots,” Biggie rapped, simultaneously crushing Kwamé’s career.

For years after, Kwamé was broke, living with his brother, but he continued making music. In 1999, he got a call from Ron “Amen-Ra” Lawrence, an A&R executive at Bad Boy Records, asking Kwamé to send him tracks to be used by other artists. Ironically, a man working at the label home for Biggie would be instrumental in resurrecting Kwamé’s musical career. Soon, Kwamé had tracks placed on projects by Mary J. Blige, Will Smith, LL Cool J, Christina Aguilera and more. And, the artist once deemed too soft for current Hip-Hop scored one of his biggest hits with Lloyd Banks’ club banger, “On Fire.” To this day, Kwamé continues producing successful records and scoring films.