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Jensen Karp is truly a jack-of-all trades thanks to a CV which includes operating one of LA’s premiere pop culture-themed galleries, writing for the WWE, directing a documentary about a blind wrestling fan and arranging a live readig of Space Jam featuring a diversified cast including the LA Clipper’s Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, and actors Seth Green, Paul Scheer and Danielle Fishel. Needless to say, Karp has done and seen a lot, and left an impression on you regardless if this is the first time you’ve seen his name in print.

Despite his self-deprecating humor, one subject he wasn’t so keen to expand upon was his time as “Hot Karl,” a rapper who earned acclaim for his Roll Call freestyles on Los Angeles radio station Power 106, where he lasted a record 45 days on air to become the show’s all-time champion.

With Eminem not yet established, Interscope signed Karp/Hot Karl to a million-dollar deal and sent him into the studio to work on his debut album, Your Housekeeper Hates You, which would feature guest appearances by Redman, will.i.am, DJ Quik, Fabolous, Mýa, Sugar Ray, Celph Titled, DJ Clue, MC Serch and a yet-to-blow-up Kanye West. Ultimately, the project never saw the light of day.

After a medical scare which involved brain tumors that ultimately turned out to be benign, Karp knew he had to tell the crazy, true story about his time as Hot Karl. The result: the comical and poignant, Kanye West Owes Me $300: And Other True Stories from a White Rapper Who Almost Made It Big, which is out today on Amazon and other brick-and-mortar store locations around the world.

We caught up with Karp to talk about recording with Kanye West and other strange nuggets from his past as Hot Karl.

Penguin Random House

Was having Kanye West a part of the project something that you sought out, or something that Interscope did?

I was given his beat CD by my manager, who had originally engaged with his managers (Gee and Hip-Hop) about my desire to work with Just Blaze. Just’ was basically the main sound of rap at that time and he was just too busy to take on any new gigs. So they suggested a new dude from Chicago who just moved to NY. I heard the beats on his CD, which included what would later be “H to the Izzo” and a few other recognizable tracks, and freaked out. I knew I wanted to work with him, so we started the process and got on the phone together. I know he had worked with Beanie before and Ludacris the same week as me, but I still think I was one of, if not the first major label check he ever got for a beat.

Does the Kanye West you met back then have any resemblance to the Kanye West we know in popular culture today?

Glimpses, yeah. He was always confident. He always had plans. He had already named every album before his managers were even telling people he was a rapper. His dreams were clearly there and I don’t think anyone was going to stop them from happening. I was his plus-one for a Jay Z birthday party at the Chelsea Piers and he was insistent in walking the red carpet so he could throw up the Roc sign on the step-and-repeat because he had just signed there. Even when it seemed like no one cared about him doing it. But he knew how he wanted it to look, he knew he wanted to do it and nothing was going to get in his way. I think you still see that determination in the guy, just on a much larger scale.

What was the particular song you were working on like? Are there any songs that we’d know that you’d be like, “it was kinda like that.”

You can hear the song on the internet. It’s called Armand Assante. It’s a soul sample in line with the music he was putting out back then. It was all very sample-based and way less progressive than anything he does now. I believe he also ended up double dipping with the beat and giving it to Carl Thomas for a mixtape.

Was the studio session with Kanye particularly memorable?

Absolutely. Walking in, so many things immediately stood out. He was wearing the baggiest Enyce jumpsuit I had ever seen. And he had adult braces. I remember being stunned at how much he looked like Bowfinger and my mananger kept whispering “Urkel” in my ear. But as soon as he saw I was wearing jeans and a vintage shirt he said he was relieved and would dress like his normal self the next day. He arrived in a rock shirt and jeans like he promised 24 hours later, saying that he wore the other outfit just to make rappers comfortable.

Jonathan Mannion

The book title and the chapter perfectly lays it out, but why in fact, does Kanye West owe you 300 dollars?

I rented him a car service to take him home after a late recording session. The train had stopped running and he either had to leave the session or find a way. I didn’t want to stop working, so I put down my card.

The book blurbs span from Bun B to Hannibal Buress. How do you think that speaks to rap music’s ability to connect people from all walks of life?

Well, Bun B and Hannibal I think are friends, so that’s not a crazy span. Kay Cannon, the writer of 30 Rock and Pitch Perfect also gave a blurb, which seems nuts to me and I’m really thankful for people outside of the hip-hop genre to understand it. I started rapping in 1986, so no one in my predominantly white area even knew what it was. To see it come full circle in 2016, where it would be difficult to find a suburban kid without a mixtape, is mind boggling.

How big of an impact do you think Eminem’s career had on shelving your own project.

I’ll never really know. I’ve been told a million things by a million different people, some with a little too much credibility and weight to ignore. I think having your cash cow be a white rapper made for a weird predicament for both me and Bubba Sparxxx at Interscope. Being 36 now, I see how that’s weird business for them to even test the waters at the time, but at 21 I didn’t get why they could just put us all out and market us differently. But as a white rapper, back then, you got pigeonholed, and that’s enough to cause from friction. So who knows? But in the end, I’m happy it played out the way it did.

Buy Kanye West Owes Me $300: And Other True Stories from a White Rapper Who Almost Made It Big.

Words by Alec Banks
Features Editor

Alec Banks is a Los Angeles-based long-form writer with over a decade of experience covering fashion, music, sports, and culture.

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