As one of 10 siblings growing up in North Las Vegas, life came at Kiari the Stone fast. That might be why the 21-year-old rapper seems wiser than his years.
“In the North, you learn ain’t shit sweet,” Kiari says in a tone that doesn’t require further elaboration.
Despite his surroundings, Kiari’s done alright for himself. He’s found a fledgling success in music. He’s got his own apartment in Las Vegas proper for him and his two pit bulls—2-year-old Willow and 5-month-old pup Norf. It isn’t luxurious, but it’s his.
“I made my surroundings my own promised land,” Kiari says. “It looks different to other people than it does to me because I know how long it took.”
He shares that journey in all of its sweet anguish on his latest album, PRMSLND. It’s a stark, autobiographical look at life through the lens of a kid from Northtown who wasn’t a victim of his environment, but a victor. As such, the album can get grim. I think I’m flying / I feel like dying, he raps in his shaky drawl on “Smile 4 Me,” before turning on the camera: The first time I seen a nigga get shot was at an MLK parade. It isn’t completely dark, though. There are flourishes of happiness in dance cut “Closer” and in the breezy “Summertime,” which recalls his childhood fondly, even if it was “five kids in a twin bed, two at the leg, three at the head.”
Though North Town shaped his perspective, Kiari had to leave his comfort zone to get to where he’s at. “I woke up and was on the same shit every day,” he says.
Now he’s focused more than ever. “I’ve caught momentum and I’ve lost momentum. I’ve lost momentum from being cocky and I’ve lost momentum from being comfortable. I don’t want that to happen again,” he says.
Locked in, Kiari’s putting everything he’s got into music. It’s the only thing he was ever really good at, he says. As a student at Las Vegas Academy, he fell deep in it. He played bass and keyboard in high school bands but once he jumped on the mic, he never looked back. That’s when he joined neo-soul and hip-hop band Noir Movement, his gritty raps balancing singer Audrey Brazelle’s sultry vocals.
Even Kiari’s solo projects are a group effort. He designed PRMSLND specifically to have an organic sound so members of Noir Movement can join him in the studio and on stage. “The fact that I know that I have a band and have that resource, I can’t take it for granted,” he says. He learned that after his first album, which didn’t translate well in a live setting. “I felt like I was doing my band a disservice. … This time I wanted to do something a little bit more groovy and a little bit smoother, so I can bring them with me everywhere I go.”
Kiari just might be onto something with that smoother, jazzier sound. Since dropping in July, PRMSLND has generated a modest music blog buzz, garnering him new fans from across the map. It took him to the Bay Area, where he just wrapped up a short run of shows.
Sitting in his apartment with a blunt in his hand and the sunlight peeking through the blinds, the dread-haired emcee looks like a long lost Marley. Playing with Norf in between puffs, Kiari seems like a typical 21-year-old. He’s stoned, having fun and making music with his friends. He might seem content, but he’s far from it.
“I’m not 100 percent happy,” he says. “That’s the thing about the ‘promised land.’ You’re always in it, and you never completely reach it. It’s a forever thing.”