Keith Fleming has been watching the Charleston arts scene unfold for almost his entire life. Now at the start of a new decade, he feels that he has everything he needs to get off the bench and become an all-star. He's the rare newcomer who plays things like a veteran and carries his experience like a badge. After releasing three singles in 2019, his debut LP, titled God, will drop on Feb. 1. "Life just takes its course; I've been holding onto this energy until now and I feel that now everything is ready to release itself," he says. "Times have changed, Charleston has changed, now feels right."
Fleming operates as a rapper under the name God KOz — and yes, that is pronounced K-O-Z. "Every time I got on the mic and got on the end of the track I knew I was going to kill it, I was going to knock it out. That was what ended up sticking. People knew if I got on it I was going to kill it." Anytime he says "knock out" or "kill it" he lightly smacks his fist into his opposite hand. If anyone knows that God KOz is legitimate, it's the man himself.
Musically, the songs that have been released by God KOz are very well unified by dark, mechanized, futuristic beats, and Fleming's expressive, ever-changing flow. On "Astral God" he goes from a slouched whisper to spewing high energy to rolling down into a deep, warped register. "Musically and sonically, just crafting a sound, I go back to people like Charlie Wilson, the Gap Band, Barry White. EDM too. Like if you've been to an EDM show, you know the kind of energy that's in there. I want that. Rappers made me want to rap but I want to create things that appeal to everyone," he says.
Apart from a brief move to Atlanta, Fleming's always lived in South Carolina. From a young age, creating and entertaining has been a focal point for him. "I was ambidextrous at one point so I would draw and write at the same time. I got more into the drawing and put the storytelling aside, but as I got older I was more interested in things that did a little bit of both." He got his feet wet in hip-hop when he was taking part in dance and rap battles during his time in Orangeburg. "Around that time I was fascinated with universes, cinematic universes like what Marvel has been doing."
Like Marvel, there are two things that really drive Fleming's art; commercialism and the concept of "the universal."
The word "commercialism" often takes on a negative connotation but Fleming sees it as something with great potential, as well as what ultimately shaped his musical sensibilities.
"After getting off the bus from school I would go and sing other people's songs, the big commercial songs. That was what drew me in were commercial sounds, particularly Lil Wayne. He was the pinnacle of who I saw myself being. When I heard Wayne, DMX, Method Man, just hearing different rappers was what made me interested in finding myself and my own identity. But I've always been focused on the idea of selling myself and putting myself out there. I had a clothing line for about 15 years and I've still got some of those shirts."
The three singles that precede God are titled "Astral God," "One Percent God," and "Illuminati God." Needless to say, the word "god" carries a lot of weight for Fleming.
"I grew up Christian. You're taught these notions of God according to the systematic Christian version, and I started to really dive into that and I looked into where the word came from. I realized that it meant nature, it meant everything that was of the universe," he says. "Being a god can be little or big. It's not to see myself as a supreme being, it's about how I think you should see yourself and how you should respect yourself."
To call Keith Fleming driven would be an understatement. He understands that Charleston is now a world city, that people of all ages, and all backgrounds want to come here to see what it has to offer. "People come to eat the food and see all of the slave stuff but Charleston has big commercial potential; that's why all of these companies come here. It's an international area now. Musically I want to bring Charleston to the world even moreso." There's no telling what he has planned to make those big dreams a reality, but in the meantime he has God to set his journey off. He'll be the first to tell you that no matter the size of his long term goals, he's more than ready for everything between here and there.