YMTK probably should have performed during Game 7 of the NBA Finals, when the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Golden State Warriors (insert crying Jordan meme here). The R&B singer was raised in East Oakland and now resides in Los Angeles. When he was home during the playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, he had two shows that coincided with Game 6 and Game 7 — and the Warriors won both, taking the series at four games to three.
When YMTK was up on stage during Game 7 at the Red, White & Booze Memorial Day mini-festival at The Uptown Nightclub in Oakland, the Dubs unexpectedly came back from a deficit and were starting to take the lead in the third quarter. As YMTK and his live band delivered a set of high-energy, feel-good jams, the crowd danced ecstatically and cheered for the game on the projector behind the singer. It was as if the positive vibes of the show were somehow pushing the Warriors into the lead. It felt uncanny.
“I really do feel responsible being on the stage as we were doing the turnaround,” he said in a recent interview. “There was a certain vibe like, ‘Bruh, we’re about to do this.'”
YMTK (Murphy Holmes), whose stage name stands for Young Murph the Kidd, was raised in the church and his mom is a gospel singer, so his first experiences with making music were during worship. However, he first began to take his singing career seriously while he was a student at UC Santa Cruz, where he studied sociology and played basketball, coincidentally enough.
“I probably sang in front of people like three times my whole life when I decided I was going to do music,” he laughed. He said his cousin gave him the push to compete in a singing contest in Santa Cruz called Oakes Idol, and that he won first place for his cover of Musiq Soulchild’s “Just Friends.” Dahi, a producer who’s worked with Kendrick Lamar and Drake and is a fellow UCSC alum, was a judge for the competition and took a liking to YMTK. “From there, everyone [in Santa Cruz] would walk around and be like, ‘What’s up, it’s Young Murph.'”
After graduating college in 2007, YMTK decided to move to Los Angeles, where a couple of his Santa Cruz teammates who were musicians lived already. While pursuing his solo career, YMTK began writing for other artists, and now is a pretty prolific behind-the-scenes songwriter. He’s worked with nationally recognized artists such as Kid Ink, Sean Kingston, and Prince Royce. In addition to his own R&B career, songwriting has provided him with a steady hustle.
Despite the fact that he’s now an Angeleno, YMTK is still heavily involved in the East Bay hip-hop scene. Rising rappers Elujay (see “Protest Songs for a New Generation,” Music, 6/8/16) and Rexx Life Raj (see “Dad Style,” Music, 6/15/16), who both tend to opt for similarly soulful production and genre-bending sounds, have become frequent collaborators. Recently, both artists recruited YMTK for features on singles that have been getting buzz on mainstream music sites such as Noisey and Pigeons & Planes.
Elujay and YMTK teamed up for the track “Flagrant,” a laid back, melodic joint with jazzy, brass-instrument flourishes. In the single, YMTK’s often metaphorical, punny lyricism stands out: Ain’t with that foul shit/But you flagrant, he croons (making a play on “flagrant foul,” for those who didn’t pick up on the basketball lingo).
Ekzakt, a prominent Bay Area producer who for a long time was Mistah F.A.B.’s primary engineer, produced the single. He and YMTK teamed up recently for YMTK’s upcoming album, All the Right Places, due out at the end of July.
The album is an ideal soundtrack for summer, with an upbeat sonic palette that combines the singer’s flowery R&B vocal style with strains of house, soul, jazz, and hip-hop. The project collages bits and pieces of these genres, juxtaposing glossy synths and thumping drum machines with the muted thrumming of an electric guitar and celebratory trumpets that evoke a New Orleans brass band.
Ekzakt weaves in retro-sounding elements with these samples, but the project has an over-all contemporary feel: At their core, the beats are all clappers that wouldn’t sound out of place in a club at 2 a.m. or even on a Fashion Week runway.
“As much as I like to say clever stuff or implement an underlying consciousness … really where I’m at is just the vibe of the song,” he said. “[This project] is flavorful, all over the place but still cohesive. I’m singing, and there’s some rapping. But more so, it’s all about the real smooth vibe.”
While All The Right Places won’t be coming out til the end of July, YMTK gave us the exclusive on “Muse,” which the Express is premiering on our site today. The track is one of the album’s funkiest, with YMTK delivering syrupy harmonies over a groovy bass line and cheerful horn section. The track’s funk and jazz influences evoke the musical stylings of Sade, and YMTK demonstrates his gift for fashioning intricate vocal arrangements into catchy refrains.
Up next, YMTK has plans to tour with Seattle R&B-EDM crossover trio The Flavr Blue, with whom he put out a house-inflected single called “Pretty Girl” last year. He also has an upcoming collaborative EP with Rexx Life Raj, and Bay Area legendary producer DJ Fresh also tapped him to do an edition of his famous mixtape series, The Tonite Show.
“I really wanna connect with people. I haven’t figured out how to do it on a mainstream level without becoming mainstream,” he said, citing Wiz Khalifa and Chance the Rapper as artists who portray themselves in ways that feel authentic. “I don’t want to be a role model, but I realize people look up to you, especially kids.”