Kool Ade Kam aka Kam Komics aka Kamron Reynolds is a Washtenaw County Creative With Drive, Energy, and a whole lot of multifaceted talent
"It's your friendly neighborhood comic book artist and rapper, Kool Ade Kam," wrote Kamron Reynolds in an email that was as breezy and direct as his stylings on the mic.
I knew the Ann Arbor-raised, Ypsi-residing Reynolds' art via his DIY comic-book series Kam Komics and his cover illustration for fellow rapper Nickie P's recent EP, Collective Thought. But I had somehow missed Reynolds' own music until I discovered his new and joyous Strictly for My Homies mini-album on Bandcamp—his ninth release as a solo artist. That led me back to The Gostbustaz, his long-running hip-hop group, whose members include "Bredd Loaf, JU-C Juice, and Grandmaster Kas," Kam said. "Sometimes Ant the Champ is in the group too. I don’t really know what the future of the Gostbustaz is. I think for the Gostbustaz to happen again we’d all have to sit down and talk about it."
The Gostbustaz last released a slew of singles in 2016, including the absolute banger "Banned in Ann Arbor," which is based on a massive guitar riff.
"Yeah, 'Banned in Ann Arbor' is dope!" Kam confers. "You’d have to ask [producer] Bredd Loaf where he got that [guitar] sample from. It could be anything from Slayer, AC/DC, Quiet Riot, or Miley Cyrus knowing Loaf, ha ha ha. The Gostbustaz is the greatest rap group you’ve never heard about."
Where Gostbustaz play with hip-hop bravado, Kam's solo albums are pretty squarely in the geek-rap realm.
"I am a proud nerd!" Kam said. "In my opinion, nerds are the new cool. I’m a rap nerd, comic book nerd, Star Trek nerd, Prince nerd, sports nerd, movie nerd, political nerd, you name it! I rap what I know, even in the Gostbustaz music I always wrote something that I related to or did."
Kam also treats his records like floppy comic books, the monthly serials where greater stories are told then collected into a complete volume when the tale is done. His cover illustrations look like comic books, too, complete with issue numbers.
"I love concept albums and I think when you hear my music it is another issue or chapter of the adventures of Kool Ade Kam," he said. "I’m a black comic-book artist that raps. I truly want people to come over and kick it with Kool Ade Kam for a minute. We’ll have some fun, have some laughs, good food and drinks, but we might talk about life issues that affect us all."
Unlike Gostbustaz layered and detailed production, Kam's solo records sound bedroom-y in the best possible way: four-track vibes, early '80s sing-song-y flow, and old-school, minimalist beats.
"My solo music does sound 'bedroomy' or minimal because that’s what hip-hop music came from," Kam said. "I mean hip-hop in New York was straight DIY. Hip-hop is raiding your parents' vinyl, figuring out how to make a tape, figuring out how to make a beat, figuring out the levels of sound, figuring out how to record in a small bedroom, or closet. That’s what I try to capture with my music. I want it to feel like a cypher, I want it to feel like a dirty room, I want to experiment with vocal sounds, I want to beatbox, I want to design my own album covers, I want to create something from nothing. In an age of computers, technology, clean beats, streaming, etc. I’m an artist. I use a laptop with a microphone. Early on I couldn’t afford a fancy mic, but I didn't want that to stop me from making music. I have a waaay better mic now."
Reynolds was born and raised in Ann Arbor with his older brother, Timothy Jr., and his mom, Charisa Russell.
"Up until I was age 7 or 8, I stayed in University Townhouses—or Braeburn as we call it," Kam said. "The bulk of my childhood was living in Woodbury Gardens, which is just off of Industrial and E. Stadium. We stayed right down the street from the Big House. I went to elementary school at Allen, then to Bryant. I went to Pattengill, Tappan Middle School, and Ann Arbor Pioneer High School, class of 2000. Played basketball under the great Brian Townsend and Jim Roberts. "
His parents, both recently retired, are from Detroit and both graduated from the University of Michigan.
"My mother was one if not the first black woman to work on 6A Rehab as a Registered nurse at U of M hospital, where she worked for over 38 years," Kam said. "My father, Timothy Reynolds Sr., worked for the State Treasury department in the capitol building in Lansing."
Kam is an Eastern Michigan University grad and lives in Ypsilanti with his wife, Rachel, and their dog, Stevie. When he's not making music, Kam is all about the comics.
"I teach virtual comic book drawing classes through my small business, Kam Komics. I work with homeschoolers, nerds, and reserved kids who love drawing comics. My students are my homies. They inspire me. I also work part-time at the Belleville Area District Library."
Strictly for My Homies kicks off with Kam and Jacob A. Gibson, aka Beatbox Jake, having a chat on the phone/Zoom, and the former asks the latter for a beat, who proceeds to live up to his name and spits a guttural bass-drum drop and snapping-snare sound via his piehole.
"[He] helped me with most of the production on Strictly for My Homies, during COVID lockdown last year," Kam said. "Jacob A. Gibson in my opinion is the No. 1 beatboxer in the state of Michigan. If there is an amazing open mic happening in Michigan, you’ll find him ripping it up."
Most of Strictly for My Homies follows in the geek-rap realm with tracks like "Nerd Alert!" and "Kam Komics Theme," but "Pride" has a political bent inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Kam also references a bunch of local places in his music, whether with Gostbustaz or solo, so I asked him to pick three tunes that drop local names and tell me the stories behind them:
"Get Up” from Kool Ade Kam and His Wonderful World of Comics
I used to clean hotel rooms before I ended up running the same hotel. When I wrote that song I was really trying to harness the essence of Ann Arbor through my eyes to the listener. All while working a crummy 9 to 5. I think I reference the Fab Five, Blind Pig, and the AATA bus.
“How You Doin'” from The Pitcher Is Half Full
The homie Ant the Champ used to text out a “Champ Challenge” of the week for the rap homies Gostbustaz. He wanted everyone to make a brand new song in one week, including himself. I was the only one to do it, ha ha ha. Again, you rap what you know.
“The Vault” from In tha House With Kool Ade Kam
In a way, this was how I was able to land a performance gig during Art Fair and have a working relationship with The Vault of Midnight comics. I seriously wrote this album in a week and recorded it in a week just so I could have more family-friendly music to perform during the Art Fair weekend. I made a nice chunk of money the three or four times I performed there. I love Vault of Midnight and I hope we can continue to do some more stuff in the future. I’d love to teach a comic-book workshop or class there.
Back in the day, the Vault of Midnight Comics was on South University downtown Ann Arbor near Pinball Pete’s and you had to go downstairs to get to it. It was ill. I loved going to the old spot a lot. The new spot is great and the manager, Liz, is so cool. But do you remember Dave’s Comics? That is a comic book shop in Ann Arbor I really loved. Plus, it was where my childhood friend Morgan Jones and I sold our first comic book! 10 copies of Cyber Genes No. 1.
In the Philosophy section on kamkomics.com, Reynolds mentions numerous comic-book writers and artists as inspiration, including Stan Lee, Frank Miller, Jim Lee, and Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez among many others. But I was curious about which rappers have influenced Kool Ade Kam's music and asked him about his favorites. "I love this question because my answer will change every day," he said.
Say what you want about Too $hort’s subject matter, but this guy did it before you even thought to do it. Too $hort is and will always be the illest rapper. Too $hort was one of the first rappers to make his own music without sampling. He can play multiple instruments. He raps about black struggle, drugs, violence, sex, the music business, and corruption all within his community. He raps about it in a laid-back California flow. He’s the epitome of rap entrepreneurship. He made tapes and sold them out of his car. In an era where music artists, especially rappers were not taken seriously getting paid for what they deserve,Too $hort would cut out the middleman. He’s gone platinum and gold without having radio hits. He owns like all of his music and he’s still making new music! The number one rule of the rap game is … "Don't Stop Rappin'."
If you don’t know who Kool Keith is then I’m really sorry for you, ha ha ha. No, but seriously Kool Keith is like the Prince of rap. Conceptually, no one is on his level. He has so many classic songs, albums, and collaboration projects that you lose count. I mean Ultramagnetic MC’s, Black Elvis, MATTHEW, Dr. Doooom, Dr. Octagon, Sex Style, the list will drive you bonkers! He will rap circles around your favorite rapper. You’ll hate his music the first time you listen to it but then you’ll realize you’ve just listened to it 25 times in a week, ha ha ha. See him live! It’s the best thing you’ll see in rap.
RIP to the greatest rapper to show us the true beauty and anger of what rap is. Super Villain MF Doom reminds us all that rap in its simplest form is AMAZING. I feel like Doom knew how to score a rap cypher. A rapper and producer who was all about the music. The tales of him selling out rap shows and having another person dress like him and perform only to trick his fans is so ill and evil. The average person might find this to be a “jerk move.” But he gathered millions of people together in a room to recite his rhymes—sheer beauty. If there is a rap cypher going on in the world, someone is quoting or talking about an MF Doom rhyme.
Kam's enthusiasm for art and music is rivaled by his love of sports, specifically Michigan Wolverines basketball and football. Last season he even took some peeks at his alma matta's basketball team, which is, to put it politely, not good.
"I must say, it’s way better to watch than it used to be," Reynolds said of EMU basketball. "I like where the program is headed. I’m going to be watching more games this year. Last year with COVID lockdowns, I wanted to watch more sports but my focus was all about the election and hoping Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were going to be elected. When athletes, musicians, performers, dancers, etc., have to risk their lives to entertain, then we need to take a look at ourselves and figure out a better system.
"Art and entertainment have taken a major hit this past year. But I'm optimistic that we’ll be back smarter and stronger," said your friendly neighborhood comic book artist and rapper, Kool Ade Kam.
Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.