There is nothing more refreshing and inspiring than seeing somebody as committed to their trade as Kristofer Madu, aka Travis Karter, a rising artist and college student. Being a fellow Hopkins student, he’s been on our radar since the moment he stepped on campus sporting a supreme jacket and his signature ski goggles. Karter has a larger-than-life personality that he’s not afraid put on full display, but his swagger is backed by true dedication to his music, education, and his personal cause. He started his own charity to which 100% of his musical and mercantile proceeds go. Despite being a full-time student with departmental recognition in International Studies, Karter still finds the time to consistently put out new tracks and put on shows, his most recent at SXSW. You really can’t hold anything against this kid. He is the exemplar of hustle. So we hit him up to get to know him a little better.
Nate Martinez: What got you started in music? (Life event, specific, artist, somebody in your life)
TK: I’ve always had a passion for music, ever since I was mad young. I’ve found that in this life, everyone needs an outlet. In a sense, all our minds are like pressure cookers; every single day we all go through different things that add to the pressure in there. We all seek outlets and avenues by which we can let some of that emotional pressure out, and for me, that’s what music is.
When I was younger I used to be really into literature and creative writing– I would write books, short stories, horror plots, comics, anything my mind could create. I’d say the main reason, however, that creative energy was put toward music was because of the influence of my older brother Craig. His stage name was “Kingstunna/Cooli Boi” and he was one of the most talented artists I’ve ever known. He died 3 years ago, when I was 15, but art is immortal, and through my music I also hope to continue his dream forever.
Matthew Ritchie: What influence does your home of Jamaica have on you as a person and an artist?
TK: Haha, I’d say my Jamaican roots have created a large part of who I am as a person. I always tell people when they ask me to compare my experiences in America and Jamaica that it’s not really a comparison game. To me, the two are like puzzle pieces– both coalesce to form the bigger picture, which is my identity. When one looks at a jigsaw puzzle, no one ever says “Man, this piece right here is the best piece,” but rather we just appreciate the beauty and message of the overarching picture.
Jamaica was huge for me. It gave me great food and expanded my horizons. We live in a reality in which people who look like me have historically been misrepresented, and the perpetuation of those associated negative stereotypes continues in popular culture to this very day. Living in a country like Jamaica at such a young age taught me to be comfortable in my own skin– a comfort I’ll keep with me even in places where, for many, that comfort is difficult to achieve.
NM: What are some of your biggest influences in music, art, and style?
TK: The life of Jay-Z has been one of my biggest inspirations. The other day I unearthed the archive of a television interview I did in 2012, and I said something to the effect of “When I grow up I want to be like Jay-Z– not only a rapper, but also a mogul.” It’s crazy to think that all those years ago, ‘til now, nothing’s changed.
Kanye west has always been a huge icon to me. He is the embodiment of being fiercely unapologetic for being yourself, and I think there’s something we can all take from that.
I’d say my most recent inspiration is Jaden Smith. Talent knows no age, and no matter how much people doubt you, if you just stay genuine and focused, you succeed. Then those same people who doubted, suddenly become fans. Jaden Smith and his success lately are prime examples of that
NM: What are some of your favorite artists going right now, besides yourself obviously?
TK: This is going to come as a surprise to a lot of people, but the rock band Tame Impala has had a huge impact on me. Whenever I study I listen to them– hours, back to back. Right now, I’m in the works of collaborating with an indie band soon. I believe music is a spectrum, and the lines between genres aren’t truly definite. I want to make a beautiful hybrid between my sound and theirs. It’ll be dope. I’ve also had Jaden Smith’s SYRE on repeat. That’s what comes to mind.
NM: What is the time management like between school and music?
TK: It’s wild, especially at a school like Johns Hopkins. I find that almost every second of every day I’m either doing or planning the next steps forward– whether it be in the books or in the booth. But I mean… I’m also human. I’m a lot like other people in a lot of ways. I find time to chill, I find time to rest, and sometimes my emotions get the best of me and I can’t do anything but stare at the ceiling and listen to emotional playlists (that’s a joke). Hard means hard. Never been done before means never been done before. But neither of those two things mean impossible.
I keep pushing because I have a legitimate reason to win. 100% of the proceeds from my music and clothing go toward giving children and their families all around the world, access to a clean drink of water. If I have to sacrifice some nights of sleep for that end goal– that’s a choice I don’t even have to think about. My brother, Craig, held his dream close to his heart. He gave his life to it. I know he still lives it through me, so I’ll continue to win. Lastly, there’s been a lot of people that have genuinely supported and believed in me on the way. In the same way that a startup that succeeds shares its dividends with investors and shareholders, I keep grinding, because I can’t wait to share the glory with everyone who believed in me from the jump– because all the victory in the world is nothing with no one to share it with.
MR: What’s next for you?
TK: The sky, but in the immediate future– I have another album in the works. It’ll be better than the last one, of course. I have some out of this world music videos on the way. Like legitimately out of this world. Look out for the music video I have coming, “ICE.”– it’ll blow your mind. I’d like to take this time to shoutout to my visuals team @ozonevision. I’m very very careful with name-dropping when I do interviews, because you never know who will still be with you one year from now– but Max and Liam (videographer and editor) are two of the most talented, hardworking guys I’ve met in my life. You’ll see a lot of crazy visuals coming from us in the future.
MR: What do you want to be known as by your peers and friends?
TK: It’s funny, because the answer is in the question– A friend. All my life that’s all I’ve really wanted. Like I said, all the victory in the world means nothing with no one to share it with. A lot of times the people that know you are the last to support you, and that’s just the curse of someone who tries to do something different. Pablo Picasso’s art was spurned by those around him, but others believed. He persevered to be one of the most impactful artists to ever grace this planet. I want to live the story of Pablo Picasso– and when I’m finished painting my masterpiece, I want to share it with those around me.