“A lot of people have told me that I was the first person that made them feel at home and made them feel accepted. I want to make people feel the most authentic and show the world the best version of themselves that they can be.”
Photo Credit: Jackson x Joshua
As much as it may seem like common sense, being your true self and owning your own personality is something that seems like it’s beyond normal now. With so many people trying to emulate whatever the next trend is, it’s rare that we find those artists that are just true to themselves inside and out. Once we stumble across an artist like that, we hold them near and dear to us–as they could go on to be a trendsetter, a leader, and an innovator for those who follow after them. One artist in particular who stands on their beliefs high and proud would be the next R&B sensation, MK XYZ.
There are plenty of things that make MK far more unique than the average R&B singer. First and foremost, she was raised by Filipino and Black parents, experienced two different cities coming up, and is someone who is proud to flaunt her sexuality and own it. In the current climate of defining who we are, MK makes it very clear that she does not want to be labeled or put in a box. She owns who she is and she stands tall on it, without a care in the world for who may disagree. While still very early on in her career, she managed to put in the groundwork that would lead her to ink a deal with Epic records, work very closely with the legendary producer Tricky Stewart, and collaborating with Hitmaka–who would go on to produce her biggest hit to date, “Pass It”.
Fresh off the release of her debut EP Sweet Spot, MK chopped it up with me about the journey to where she is now, and where she plans to be in the future, which is looking immensely bright right now. Read our conversation in full below!
Where did the inspiration behind your name come from?
MK: “MK” is short for Makaila, which is my real name, but everybody just calls me MK. The “XYZ” is the unknown variable. It’s the thing that I can’t define, but it’s also a home for a lot of people who also are very much in the space of not wanting to be labeled, not wanting to be boxed in and I am who I am. I believe that we all are who we are and we have the right to be whatever we want, unapologetically.
You were born in Jacksonville, FL but moved to Charlotte, NC later on in life. Could you tell me a bit of what your early life was like as a kid?
MK: Yes—I was born in Jacksonville, and I had been dancing and singing for as long as I can remember. My mom and dad were both dancers, so really a lot of my influence came from both of them. I ended up moving to Charlotte I want to say around the 5th grade. I would always participate in as many talent shows, plays, and open mic’s as I could growing up. My mom was the one who really did a lot of the development for me. The MK that you see now is really from my mom because we would always sing and dance together and make YouTube videos to get me used to being on camera.
At what point did you realize that being an artist is what you really want to pursue?
MK: When I was in college, I was more active on social media and that’s when I would share a lot of me singing and dancing. It got to a point where a lot of people started reaching out to me and everything would start going well for me. My videos would go viral and people would be posting them like crazy. I originally never got on social media to promote, I was just there to socialize and post what I wanted to post. I ended up getting approached by Tricky Stewart and he was basically saying “You’re showing some true talent and I want to work with you. Come to Atlanta and let’s create a vibe”.
That was when I decided to quit school because I was focused on becoming a doctor. I was studying Biochemistry. I remember talking to one of my professors in school and was kind of skeptical about it and they basically told me that this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance and that I should go for it. I ended up leaving school and never looked back once. At first, my mom was kind of hesitant and she would question me about why would I leave something that I worked so hard for. On the other side of that though, she knew in the back of her head that I was born to do this.
How has the pandemic been treating you?
MK: It’s gotten so much better for me honestly. I’ve just been trying to have a positive outlook on it. I’ve been doing virtual shows and connecting with fans as much as I can, and that kept me afloat really. Now, as we’re kind of getting towards the end of it and things are starting to open up again, it’s kind of picked up the pace. Even with me releasing my EP Sweet Spot and the video I just dropped, it’s all just coming so fast and now it’s really time to work.
Seeing as your career really took off during the pandemic, do you think it had any effect on you at all?
MK: Emotionally, for sure. It was something that started out in the unknown. Those weeks turned into months, and then a year, and things seemed like it wouldn’t get better. I ended up losing my great aunt who I would see every single day. It was one of those things that you constantly had to fight to keep yourself sane and motivated and look forward to what’s to come. I think we all felt like we were being beat up, but as I said, there were things that I was doing to keep myself motivate and keep me going and keep me as happy as I possibly could through the whole thing.
Who are some of your earliest musical influences?
MK: Definitely have to give it to Aaliyah. TLC. Beyonce. Ciara. I grew up listening to them so much. Chris Brown and Michael Jackson for sure as performers because those were the ones that I studied the most. I gravitated towards a lot of artists who sang and danced at the same time because that was my thing.
What was your experience coming up in Filipino and Black households?
MK: When my parents separated, I was able to spend almost equal time on both sides, maybe a little more on my mom’s side. My mom is Black, and my dad is Filipino. It didn’t really feel too different for me honestly and I always felt that love from both sides. Of course, there may be a few traits that are different, or you may sound different. It’s crazy because my dad is actually the one who put me onto dancing and rap music because he used to breakdance as well. My mom was more into ballet and R&B, so all of that combined really shaped my influence. You really get the best of both worlds though, especially with the food. That Lumpia be hittin’ different [laughs].
One thing that you express openly on your socials is your sexuality. Has that had any impact either positive or negative on your career so far?
MK: It hasn’t been any negativity at all so far. I’ve come to realize that everybody is gonna have something to say at some point, and everybody may not understand where you come from and what that looks like to you. It also may not always be my job to explain that to people either. For me, I do it for myself because I understand that I live this life for me because I only have one life to live. As far as being in the industry and being an artist that openly expresses my sexuality, it’s very liberating. People get to see that and live through it. A lot of my friends were disowned, or never came out because they were scared, but now they get to see the XYZ in me and I’m not afraid to show that. There aren’t too many artists in the industry that show that, so I’m happy to be one of the few that are living it and being myself, and that’s all that I can do.
You were linked up with Tricky Stewart really early on. What was that experience like?
MK: Tricky is so amazing. He’s so talented and he dropped so many gems on me. I’m blessed to have not only him but my entire team. Everything that I do and everything I step foot in, I feel prepared to do it. I feel equipped to tackle anything that it is. Mentally, physically, emotionally—I’m ready. That’s one of the key parts of being in this industry is having those moving parts that all work together so that you can focus on what you need to focus on and feel nurtured. Mentorship is so important. Even things like what you and I are doing now—there are so many people that I’ve done virtual interviews with and they’re surprised when I actually talk because apparently, there are tons of artists who may not know how to speak in interviews. Shout out to Tricky & shout out to the rest of my team.
Your biggest hit so far of your career so far would be “Pass It”. How does it feel to see that song go up like it did?
MK: To see it blow up during the pandemic? Wow, it was amazing! Because I honestly didn’t know at first. I had the faith of course because I always knew that I wanted to make a single that made people feel good and that they can vibe out too. We put it out, and it actually went up. This journey of mine is not one that I’m rushing at all though. Of course, I’ll go in with the intent to make a hit but it’s not something that I’m forcing on people—it’s all been organic and how I felt at the time. So to see it come out and it actually takes off was amazing and it felt great. Everybody did their part to put things in place and make it all come together and it made me happy. It was an amazing start to my journey and everybody around me trusted it. I’m in this for the long haul because I feel like the faster you come up, the faster you will come down too.
MK XYZ recruits G-Eazy and Hitmaka on the beat for her smash hit, “Pass It”.
Your next biggest hit I would say, would be “One Time” tell me about the direction of that record?
MK: Interestingly enough, that same week I recorded “Pass It”, I recorded “One Time” too when in Vegas with Hitmaka. We did a handful of records together, and those were part of that collection. “One Time” is basically about the chase. It’s about the thrill. It’s about that sneaky link. It’s about just living on the edge and being risky. You get to see all that energy in the video too—just being wet and wild and giving off that energy. I made it a goal of mine to have many people of color in the video and I wanted it to be XYZ as fuck. I think we executed that perfectly and just that last moment of me dancing in the rain was my favorite part. It originally was gonna be me and all of the other dancers, but I was just saying that I wanted it to be my moment and I wanted my shine. I wanted to create that moment that was timeless and that was sexy and gorgeous and giving you all that MK can give you right now. Shoutout to Madeline Kann for directing the video and bringing this to life!
MK XYZ gives the fans an extra layer of her in her Madeline Kann-directed visual, “One Time”.
Hitmaka has been super active in your career so far, and he’s been killing the game with all the production he’s been doing. What’s been your experience like working with him?
MK: Hitmaka be supplying that heat! I would consider him a mentor of mine as well outside of him being like a big brother in the industry. He’s been giving me a lot of insight because he’s had his ups and downs & his wins and losses. My first impression of him was that he was super sweet and super nice and confident. He knows what he’s doing and he’s probably one of the most determined people that I’ve encountered. His hunger is literally unmatched. And the fact that he wants to see the underdogs win. Working with him, he’s gonna give you the best because he wants the best for himself, and he isn’t gonna give you anything less than that. Every record that we’ve done, he knows the vision and he knows exactly what you want.
How has the transition into the music industry been for you so far?
MK: It’s been up and down for sure. I feel like it isn’t talked about enough either about those down moments. People love to hop on the artist when they’re at their peak and when they’re on fire and they wanna ask “So, how is everything?”. Those beginning stages of an artist though, I feel like people don’t get to see those moments. When you come from a small town with no exposure or having nothing—I’m talking about like never-seen-a-BMW-before nothing, and now you’re on the same playing field as the artists you were idolizing, it’s a big transition.
It engulfs you, and you have to be emotionally ready to tackle that. It comes in waves too. You could be feeling yourself and feel like everything is going right, and then randomly get that thought of discouragement or feeling like you aren’t doing enough. You have moments where you question yourself like “Am I doing enough? Am I working hard enough? Am I connecting as much as I should be?”. You have to learn about those balances and checking on yourself. The ups for me though have been amazing because I feel like I have such an amazing team that protects my energy and my mental and doesn’t let anybody pop that bubble.
You just released your debut EP Sweet Spot—what was the inspiration behind this project?
MK: After we dropped “Pass It”, I knew that I wanted to drop a project but, of course, with COVID, we didn’t really push that as hard. But now that it’s getting better, I knew it was time for me to hit that go button and give the fans a project that gives a multi-angled view of MK XYZ. I’m talking every angle like who the fuck is she? “Lil Big Daddy”, coming with the sweetness, the sexy, and all that. I can tell you what the XYZ is all day and what it looks like, but what does it sound like? With Sweet Spot, I’m meeting the fans right there in the middle and giving them not too much and not too little of it. It’s hitting them right there in that sweet spot, and you get a great balance of everything.
Who are some artists that you’re still excited to work with?
MK: Right now, I would say Billie Ellish because I love her music so much. Chika. Megan Thee Stallion. Coi Leray. I would really love a feature from my idol, Queen Latifah. Honestly, I can’t just pick one because I would want to collab with anyone that I can as long as the end product is dope music. Coming out of the pandemic, I just love to see people reconnecting and reuniting—it’s beautiful.
What can we expect from you now that your EP is out?
MK: Man, I’m tryna get out here in these streets! I want to do some shows and connect with the fans in person. Collaborating with people. Creating dope content with people. Just getting out there and evolving. I got goals, man. I got some Grammy’s to win in the future and it’s time for that.
What do you want the world to remember MK XYZ for?
MK: I want the world to remember MK XYZ as the thing that made them feel the freest. Every artist or person that comes, they’re gonna make you feel a certain way. When you see me, felt me, experienced me, you felt a second home. A lot of people have told me that I was the first person that made them feel at home and made them feel accepted. I want to make people feel the most authentic and show the world the best version of themselves that they can be.