This woman is engineering your favourite rappers’ songs

Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

The hook to Kwesta and AKA’s latest single, “Day Ones”, was recorded by a 23-year-old woman called Kay Faith, at Cape Audio College in Cape Town. At the time, it was still the Angolan rapper, E-Jay, and the producer Tweezy’s song. She was working on the two’s collaborative EP — which ended up being E-Jay’s Apartheid EP, after he and Tweezy had a fallout.

Kay Faith, whose real name is Karien Barnard, calls herself a hip-hop engineer/ producer. “At the beginning of 2015, I said I’m going to be a hip-hop engineer. This is my new title,” she says, as we sit in a cafeteria at Cape Audio College on a Tuesday morning.

The most recent project she recorded, mixed and mastered is Cape Town rapper Uno July’s Uno ‘n Only album. She also worked on Youngsta’s “Own 2016” single. About three years ago, Faith found herself in a session with Yasiin Bey (formely Mos Def), through working with the Brooklyn-born rapper’s ally, Whosane. “Whosane opened a lot of doors for me,” says Faith. “He introduced me to Ill Skillz. He also brought Mos Def through, and I ended up engineering for that session.”

It was through Whosane that she found herself in studio with Da L.E.S last year. “It was supposed to be Da L.E.S and AKA actually,” she says, “but there were issues with AKA’s bags, so he had to stay at the airport. Da L.E.S came through, recorded some demos for his album, and we had a nice connection.”

Growing up in a farm

Faith grew up on a farm in Knysna, where there weren’t a lot of kids to play with. What opened her mind to other cultures was being friends with the farmworkers’ kids. “I had black, coloured, white and Indian friends,” she says. Though unassuming, she expresses herself with a natural confidence, spotting a tom-boyish look in a Cape Audio College hoodie, faded blue skinny jeans, and a pair of Yeezy Boosts.

Faith went to an Afrikaans medium school. “Most of the music consumed at school concerts was Afrikaans music,” she says, “which I was never into.” It was her elder brother who introduced her to various genres. “My music taste is influenced by what he was playing in the car or at home.”

“He listened to everything, from Peech Boys, to Missy Elliot, to Nirvana, so at a young age I was exposed to a lot of genres, but for some reason, hip-hop just stuck with me. There was something about it. My brother always tells me stories like, ‘You were rapping along to “Let Me Blow Ya Mind” by Eve and Gwen Stefani.’.”

“I got into sound by accident”

After matric, Faith applied for a fine arts course in UCT. But her portfolio, which was supposed to accompany her application, got lost in the mail. She re-applied for the following year, and enrolled at Cape Audio College for a one-year sound engineering course, in the meantime. She fell in love with the craft, and found herself ditching art, and going back the following year for an advanced diploma in sound.

After graduation in 2012, she interned at different companies and also Cape Audio College. It was then that she met Whosane. She was just supposed to set up the studio for the rapper, but they ended up having a working relationship. She then got employed as a sound engineer at Cape Audio College in 2014.

A few days before our interview, I spent a few hours with Faith and the rapper Dope Saint Jude, for whom she’s recording, mixing and mastering her upcoming EP. It was interesting watching two women making beats, and recording on their own. Hip-hop, just like sound engineering, is filled with men.

Being a woman in sound engineering

Faith says she doesn’t get why there aren’t that many women in the field. “I’ve been looking for other women to collaborate with,” she says, “but just finding anyone, it’s tough.” I imagine being a white woman must somehow put her at the bottom of the hip-hop totem pole. “I do get the ‘Wow, a white chick [who’s] a hip-hop engineer.’,” she says. “I feel like it’s a secret weapon, because when you get undermined, and then you prove yourself it’s like, ‘Oh wow I take back what I said.’.”

Faith is currently immersing herself more into beat-making, a craft she only started exploring recently. She played a few beats during the Dope Saint Jude session — some heavy 808-trap bangers. Today, though, in her office, she lets me listen to a skeleton of a beat she was working on. She was chopping a Brenda Fassie sample on her MPC drum machine. “I actually want to turn this into something,” she mumbles above the boom bap drum pattern, “I feel like it has so much potential.” So does she.

Listen to tracks Kay Faith engineered, below, and follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and SoundCloud.

Images: Sabelo Mkhabela