Kina Artist Bio by
Stephen K. Peeples
“I’m a ball of emotion.
And very sensitive. I come off guarded to most people.
But most people just don’t realize how sensitive I am.
My songs are raw emotion, just different aspects of it.”
Kina, emotionally on fire, extremely sensitive, exceptionally wary, and fiercely independent, is also blessed with a rare gift as a writer and singer, and now as a recording artist whose eponymous debut album was released in July 2000 by DreamWorks Records.
In her songs, Kina knows how to zero in on her innermost thoughts and deepest feelings, and to express them with a rare directness, using vivid, often cinematic imagery.
Painting each revealing portrait on the album using shades of rock, pop, and R&B, Kina and her collaborator, artist/producer London Jones, have created a sound that simply transcends the genre issue altogether.
Against these dramatic musical backgrounds, Kina’s vocals flow with uncommon honesty, power, and grace. As she performs her songs of betrayal, pain, healing, redemption, and love, you sense that she’s lived every word of them at some time in her life. After hearing her sing these songs, few breathing souls remain unmoved.
This was certainly the reaction of DreamWorks head of A&R Lenny Waronker and the other top-level label execs who were moved to offer the Los Angeles-based artist a deal in mid-1998. Her music connected with them immediately.
“Kina has her own musical vocabulary,” says Waronker, a Grammy-nominated record producer whose ear for talent and record industry track record are legend. “It was one of those rare times when the whole company got involved in the signing of an artist. I think we all felt the same about her. There was something special about what she was doing.
“And she was working with an incredibly talented producer in London Jones – they have a collaboration that really, really works.”
And so the label provided Kina the financial security and the creative freedom that allowed Kina to work with Jones for the better part of a year to develop and realize her musical dream.
“It’s great to be able to express everything exactly the way that I feel it,” she says after the final mixes were completed. “That’s what you’ll get from Kina.”
All but two of the tracks were produced by Jones (who has also produced sessions for Shanice Wilson, Jesse Powell, Monica Payne and Jessica Simpson, and as an artist, cut a solo album, For You, for MCA in 1994). “Me” was produced by Tim Feehan (who also cowrote the music). And Kina produced “Hurt So Bad” herself – the last track recorded, and a hint of what’s to come.
“Every once in a while you run into an artist who seems to get better and better – and I’m not talking about from album to album, but from song to song,” Waronker notes.
From the opening “Girl From The Gutter” (the leadoff single) to the triumphant closer “Me,” also the second single, the songs on Kina represent milestones on an arduous journey during the last few years, as she pulled herself up from the emotional gutter and back onto the sunny side of the street. Or, as she puts it with characteristic economy, “It’s about coming out of the darkness, and into the light.”
It’s a journey Kina Cosper began preparing for as a youngster growing up in Detroit, though it would be years before she understood it quite that way.
But let’s hear Kina tell her story – you’d figure she knows it best. At the Backroom Studio complex in Glendale, California, relaxing on a comfortable sofa just outside the studio where she and Jones recorded her album, Kina gave us a revealing glimpse into her past, present and future.
“I had a really normal childhood…with my mother. I’m from a single-parent household. She had all kinds of music in the house. I grew up listening to everything from Jean-Luc Ponty to Chaka Khan to Led Zeppelin.
“And my mother was really silly. She would sing songs from musicals and act silly around the house. So that’s where my interest in music of all kinds got started.
“During my high school years, I don’t know what it was, but I didn’t really feel all that great about myself. You might call it a self-esteem problem.
“My idol then was Whitney Houston. I would sing in the house, but was too shy to sing in front of anybody. And if I heard my mother pulling up, I’d run to the stereo and cut the music off before she came in. But I’d be in front of the mirror for hours, using a pencil or whatever for the mike, doing the moves and everything. If I was down, that cheered me up. ‘Honestly’ was a pick-me-up. And I think my singing really started there. But I never thought it would go past playing to the mirror.
“I didn’t get serious about music until years later, and really only because there was nothing else to do. I moved to L.A. in 1991. I’d actually been academically dismissed from school, twice, from Eastern Michigan University. Just didn’t want to be there. To be a student, you gotta wanna be a student. My mother wanted me to be a student. I didn’t.
“A friend of mine, Nicole Gilbert, had left [EMU] a year earlier and moved to L.A. She had wanted me to go with her. She’d heard me sing in a talent show at school, which was also pretty much the extent of my singing in public. But I was still scared to leave college at that point.
“But a year later, when she called me and asked me to come to L.A. to join a group, I was ready. So I came to sing. I don’t even remember the name of my first group. I’ve been in numerous female groups since then.
“Years later, in 1995, I was in a band called Bald Head Dread, and Nicole was in a vocal trio called Brownstone. They had done an album, been nominated for a Grammy and everything. When Brownstone needed to replace a member who left, Nicole called me.
“I got a lot of experience with Brownstone. I learned everything about performing. What to do, what not to do. We toured here and outside the country – France, Holland, England. Spent a lot of time in Germany. But after almost three years, I left the group, in November 1997.
“For a long time, I had been involved in a situation that didn’t allow me to be me. I felt betrayed by people who were my friends, and felt like I had lost time [professionally]. So I was very frustrated by the time I left.
“It’s like I said in my thank-yous [see the Kina liner notes booklet]. When I started this album [in early 1998], I was nothing short of mad as hell. And that’s where ‘Girl From The Gutter’ came from.
“I met London Jones through a woman named Cheryl Dickerson. I was having a hard time trying to find somebody to help me get this sound I wanted. And she said, ‘I know somebody.’ The first time I met London [at the Backroom studio complex in Glendale, California], we stayed in a small room for all of half an hour, and came up with these basic little ideas. One was ‘Gotta Go” and one was ‘I Love You.’
“I went home and wrote ‘Gotta Go’ that night and called London the next day and sang it and we came in and recorded it. ‘I Love You’ we didn’t finish just then. Then we did ‘Girl From The Gutter.’
“After that we recorded ‘Have A Cry.’ It was just supposed to be one voice, but when we got into the studio, the song’s key was too high, and I was frustrated. Again. And London said, “Well, let’s just make it a chorus for now, just for now…” So we did it as a chorus…just for then. But it stuck, of course. London’s a smart guy. Later, when Lenny [Waronker] heard ‘Have A Cry,’ it was the song that clinched my [Dreamworks] deal.”
As Kina put it in her debut single, things are lookin’ up for her. Karma’s comin’ around, and it’s her turn now. Not bad for a so-called “girl from the gutter,” indeed.
Check out this video about the making of Kina’s debut album.