Raised by Indian immigrants in the intensely academic culture of San Jose, California, Aditya Kamath, aka ego n friends (or just ego, on his rare solo tracks), saw music as a way to distinguish himself from his peers. "My best friend's older brother played guitar, and he was like the iconic cool older brother. Everyone else I knew was pretty nerdy. I was like, 'That's the cool guy, so I'm going to learn guitar,'" he recalls. "I really identified with music by early high school. That was a whole thing with my parents. A lot of my brown friends will ask me, 'How did you get that pass from your parents?' Because they're very supportive now. But during middle school, I'd get in fights with my dad."
Now 25 and living in Denver, Kamath released his first EP as ego n friends earlier this year, and has a spooky new music video out and a Halloween-themed show coming up at Enigma Bazaar on Saturday, October 30.
By the time Kamath was in high school, his parents had accepted the inevitable: Their son was a musician. Kamath studied music at Columbia College Chicago, and though he ended up finishing his degree in Oakland, he says the Chicago music scene was integral to his artistic development. The success of independent artists in Chicago, such as Chance the Rapper, inspired Kamath to build up his own network of industry professionals.
Chicago also introduced Kamath to gospel music, which still influences his sound today. "As someone who is not from that background and never really heard much of it, I was like, 'These chords resonate with me so much deeper than a pop ballad.' Gospel blew my mind with how much they can do with a basic chord structure," says Kamath. He was fascinated with how musicians seamlessly incorporated gospel elements into other genres, especially hip-hop. He again cites Chance as an example: "He would have a trappy song, but have these gospel vocals, and I love doing that, especially in the newer stuff I've been making."
Originally, Kamath was releasing music as Aditya, then transitioned to ego around 2018 before switching to ego n friends earlier this year. "I still vibe with the ego stuff, but it doesn't feel as much like my sound anymore. I noticed there was a clear sonic shift, so I decided I needed to rebrand. I was like, 'What's different?' Every song has a collaborator," he explains of adding "n friends" to his moniker. "I think for the long term, I'm going to be ego n friends. I realized that's my form of collaboration. I can help people feel comfortable, I can record and mix really well, and produce around these artists so that they can be the star of the song."
When picking artists to work with, he looks for a strong personality over technical skills: "I'm not impressed by chops anymore, because I went to music school, and I've seen it. I'm so much more impressed by character and personality. Can they bring that vulnerable side to their music? Otherwise, this is just cool background music."
But his latest release, a video for his song "Rose Petals" that includes Bay Area artists SPACEDOUTMARS and Cejei, is proof that putting total faith in your collaborators can pay off big time. Kamath gave full creative control to director Jerome Oliviano, who pitched a love story with a sinister twist. "I sent Jerome the EP, and he was like 'Let's do "Rose Petals,"' and I was like, 'Okay, cool, we're going to make a lovey-dovey music video.' Then he explains the concept of the video, and we were all freaking out. Just the idea of a little twist like that, was so fun," Kamath says of the video's surprise ending. "A lot of hip-hop music videos are just car, girls, cool set, lighting. But the concept stuff is lesser known, so that's why I think it's important to push that side of things."
Keep pushing, Kamath.
"Rose Petals" is out now. See ego n friends live at Enigma Bazaar, 4923 West 38th Avenue, on Sunday, October 30, at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door.