Growing up in Michigan, Maria Kohler, aka Kitty Crimes, created her first hip-hop album at age thirteen and continued playing music through high school. When she moved to Denver about a decade ago, she became fast friends with people in the music scene.
“I was lucky enough to pretty quickly get oriented with people who were doing really amazing things in the music scene who were better than me,” Kohler recalls. “I think there’s some sort of Tim Ferriss quote about how you need to orient yourself with people who are twice as good as you in order to really leap out of that comfort zone. I feel like I was given that opportunity.”
She made music with her friends in bands like Science Partner and Houses; she even formed her own indie, psych-pop band M and the Gems. Eventually, she got her hands on a copy of Ableton, which reminded her that she loved making hip-hop beats and rapping. This led to the formation of Kitty Crimes, her solo hip-hop act, in 2011.
“There was a real path of least resistance with Kitty Crimes,” Kohler says. “I just felt like it was really easy to be received and to have an identity within it that was compatible with what I wanted to do.”
She has found that creating as Kitty Crimes is an avenue to boundless self-expression.
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“I realize that I’ve built Kitty Crimes to be shameless, self-promoting, bordering on slightly ridiculous [and] super-extra queer,” she says. “It’s just a really fun vehicle. It’s just the best, most cathartic vehicle I’ve ever had, because I’ve magnified every part about it times ten, and it gives me an opportunity to step into it. ... Kitty Crimes gives me an opportunity to do all the shit I don’t get to do every day.”
Her latest album, Crimes of the Kitty: Volume 2, will be released the first weekend of April. Every aspect of the project, from the artwork on the album to music videos for songs like “Two Tens,” was created by Kohler herself. Creative control is something she prizes, “because at the risk of sounding arrogant, I want to make a point that no one else made me who I am except me, all the way.”
Her vision for the “Two Tens” video was to juxtapose something obviously beautiful – flowers – with the lyrics of the song, which she describes as "nasty."
According to Kohler, the album's tracks, including “Two Tens,” revolve around a theme of power. The album has been in the works for three years, but until now Kohler wasn't ready to release it.
“I had personal reflecting that I needed to do, and I just needed to grow up before I really felt like I could just stand publicly,” she explains.
For Kohler, experiencing uncomfortable growing pains is not unfamiliar.
“I feel like everyone has a coming of age,” Kohler says. “Some people have their coming of age really early, and others don’t have it until they're 45. But I really felt like that was the theme of last year — coming of age. Kitty Crimes has always been about putting myself in uncomfortable situations and then making them comfortable. So even just releasing this [album] is that.”
Even the quick, rapid delivery required for her rap style is a challenge that Kohler embraces.
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“I like being uncomfortable by the fact that I might not have enough lung space to actually do this, or I may need to do some cardio before I do this,” she says. “It actually is physically challenging for me, and I like that feeling.”
Within the music itself and her live performances, she wants to create a space for others to also dive into what is uncomfortable.
“I got really bored with the motif of, ‘Come see me! Me, me, me! Come see me, my show!’ I fucking hate that," Kohler says. "Deejaying made me realize you’re making an event for other people because they want to be there. There’s a reason they want to be there. The reason I try to give [them] is to feel really good about themselves and encouraged to do something uncomfortable.”