When Devonté "Dev" Hynes officially announced the forthcoming release of the next Blood Orange album titled Negro Swan, he also unveiled the cover art. The stunning photo taken by his longtime girlfriend Ana Kraš displays Kai The Black Angel sitting inside the front window of a car with white wings and a matching du-rag. The striking image also comes to life in the gorgeous visual for "Jewelry."
The 19-year-old meets me on a Sunday afternoon in Union Square where he tells me about his former life as a rowdy kid from Philadelphia who always craved something more internally fulfilling for himself. "I couldn't stay there," he says while sitting on a park bench. "I just felt life was on loop and I was constantly not doing anything. I had this mission and goal to come out here to do whatever I wanted to do here, and here we are right now. Nothing else really matters but this moment, you know?"
Kai is a Taurus, a fixed sign in astrology, so it makes sense that he became more chill and grounded as he got older. He's comfortable in his own skin and doesn't waste time thinking about how he's perceived by others. Although he originally moved to New York for school, the city has given him invaluable opportunities to explore different sides of his creativity. Kai is currently involved in a variety of mediums including DJing, producing, and digital art. At some point, he might put out an EP of his own, but he's not feeling pressured to rush his creative journey. Lately, he has also been drawn to film because he likes the idea of being able to capture moments with video.
To ease the financial burden that so many budding creatives are familiar with, he works at Starbucks during the week and rents an apartment located in Queens. "It's a nice job, it's just that I know that's not what I wanna do," he shrugs. "I really need the money, but I really wanna work for myself and have my own thing going on."
As Kai speaks about making the unexpected transition from Blood Orange fan to the face of Hynes' next full-length album, he maintains a genuine sense of humility. Not once did he consider how the photographers on set might be capturing a special moment as they documented the video shoot that was taking place. While he recognizes the significance of the image, he still hasn't fully processed his role in it; his innocence candidly shines through.
In the meantime, Kai The Black Angel will be playing a DJ set at the astrology-themed bar Mood Ring in Brooklyn, NY on August 22. Negro Swan is out on August 24 via Domino Records. Get to know the face behind the album in the interview below.
Tell me about crossing paths with Dev Hynes. How did that happen?
This is actually a cool story. When I first found out about Dev, it was from a GAP commercial. He was basically dancing through these different scenes and I was obsessed from that moment. I literally was like, "I don't know who this man is, but I love him." And then one day I think I went in his [Instagram] Live and said he was beautiful or something like that and he DMed me. It was weird. We were supposed to work with each other early, like my senior year of high school, but it fell through. He was working and traveling at the time so it didn't work out.
Then he hit me up later like “I really want you to be a part of this" and it finally worked. I eventually found out—the people who were at the video shoot were telling me "Dev doesn't like people who are impatient." I was grateful. They were like, “This is really cool. You should just know this is really cool that you're here.”
I love him. He's such a down to earth person. He's very chill and normal which is nice. He's such a sweetheart.
How did you come up with your name and the whole black angel concept?
I love this story. So Eartha Kitt is really brilliant to me and I was watching something about her life story one time. She had mentioned something like "Whenever you go into a church, you always see white angel children. You never see a black angel." And then I looked up black angels [on Google] and there isn't a real representation, I wanna say. So I just like, "What if I was the first black angel?" That's pretty much how I came up with Kai The Black Angel. My real name is not even Kai, but it's something my mom called me when I was younger. I like that better than my actual name which is Kafiq, but Kai is cute.
Before I found out about you on your Instagram, I saw the album cover and I was like "Is this going to be a trend now?" because I was seeing black angels appearing in other visual art like Ashton Sanders in Chloe x Halle's "Happy Without Me" video. I think it's interesting how it's starting to pop up more.
That is very interesting. I didn't wanna seem conceited or full of myself when I started realizing that it started reoccurring a lot more, like that whole black angel sort of persona, but it is nice. I'm not mad at it at all, there should be more black angels. We should come in different shades and different colors. One day, hopefully, I do wanna have a house--I wouldn't even call it house of angels, but that will be our thing. We will be angels, but we wouldn't say that, 'cause you already know that.
As a black person, I appreciate the representation aspect of it. We really don't see any black imagery when it comes to religion, especially in the church. It's an interesting time to see diversity even spreading in that way. Back to the album cover, can you tell me what was going on when that photo was taken?
It was a lot going on. I actually think they were still shooting and getting me together or they were getting ready for the next shot because I did that shot multiple times. That scene, it was done multiple times, so I think in the middle of transitioning and going back around the corner it just happened. I didn't realize we were shooting something. I knew it was gonna be fast, but it was actually really tiring. It was low-key draining 'cause I was just like “Damn.” And there we have the album cover.
How did you feel when you found out that was going to be the album cover?
Honestly, I still don't understand none of this. I don't know how to take it and none of this seems real. Dev showed me this picture of me on a billboard... I'm just like "This is crazy." I still feel that way. None of this seems real. I'm just going with it and letting it happen. It finally hit me like, "Oh shit. I was on the cover of Dev's album... Thank you." Oh my god, I don't know.
Listening to the album and then seeing the image paired with it is quite the experience. It's really, really amazing that you get to be the face of this moment and journey.
I'm really grateful, I still don't know what to say. I'm just so grateful for the experience. I really appreciate it.
When I think back to all of the images that Dev has chosen for his past work, every one has a specific vibe and intention. Especially with the times that we're living in right now, seeing you in that photo is really powerful.
I'm always talking about how I'm afraid to diminish and die one day 'cause I feel like nobody will ever remember me and that hurts so bad. Every day I ask myself, “How could you make someone's life better?" or "How could you make an impact?” I don't know, just really trying to leave that sort of imprint. I do feel like, especially because it's something I created within myself, to see that become a part of history, that is really, really cool. I really lucked out with what I set out to do in a small amount of time. I'm content, actually. I mean, there's more work to be done, but I'm satisfied. I have no complaints.
I mean, what a great way for people to get introduced to you and your art, and what you're going to do with the world.
Yes. I hope the world is ready. I'm very ready. I feel I've been through a lot the previous year and this year. Living out here, financial situations, it's not easy. It can really do something to someone's spirit, their heart. It really does something... It done something to me, but I don't know. I'm happy I'm still here, in good conditions, and really trying to make it.
That's super real... How old are you?
I'm 19. I mean, I'm young [but] I feel like I'm older though. I know a lot more about myself, especially when it comes to the creative side of things. I know what I want and what I don't want. New York has this weird way of taking people in, shaking them up, and kinda throwing them back out... It seems fucked up a little bit. But yay, we're here.
What else do you do while living out here? What are you typically doing on the weekend? What's your scene or vibe?
Before, I would put a lot of pressure on myself 'cause when I'm chilling, I feel like I need to be working. You know what I mean? So recently, I've just got this idea like "I don't need to reflect on the past because it's behind me. I don't need to look toward the future too much because then I become anxious. It's better to live life right now." So now on the weekends I will try to find some way to make something or create something to push outward to keep my name alive which is kinda stupid to say, things I do for love.
Really on the weekends, I'm chilling on my friend's rooftop. The roof is really nice, but then it has this water tank that's sitting on a higher level and I'll go up there, smoke my weed, and basically look over New York. It feels nice. That's my solitude, that's me on the weekends. I'm starting to get more into films, so now I'm doing a lot of visual studying on the weekends. And then, Monday through Friday I'm at Starbucks getting through, trying.
For more features like this, check out our interview with Doja Cat about her viral hit "Mooo!" right here.