At only 17, Grade 12 Earl Marriott student Luka Roberts – also known as Klassikal – is very much on his way to building a career as a hip-hop artist.
He has taken the benefit of early piano studies and devoted time to learning how to take his melodic ideas – while honing production and engineering skills – to weave attention-grabbing backgrounds for his lyrics and vocals.
He’s not only releasing singles (the latest, Complicated, came out on various platforms on April 17), but has already gained recognition of his production by ‘placements’ of his music beds with other aspiring hip-hop artists in Portland, Ore. and Dallas, Texas, through online networking.
Immortal, released April 3, is among a spate of one-word-title Klassikal singles released early this year, including Bombastic (more than 12,000 streams) and Enigma (more than 7,000 streams); leading up to his first EP, Pandemic Care Package (release date still to be determined).
And while Roberts is completing his high school studies while isolating during the pandemic, he also has the satisfaction of knowing he has secured early admission to UBC where he will study commerce – not a bad asset for a budding musician to have, he acknowledges.
“It can really translate to anything,” he agreed.
Even more surprising is that music represented an abrupt left-turn in his life from his earlier path as an athlete.
“Tennis was my life – I’d been a competitive player for a very long time, since I was in Grade 6,” said the cheerful and chatty South Surrey resident.
Ranked in the top 10 in the province for his year, at the peak of his career at age 15, in 2018, he was looking forward to playing in university – and a host of tennis-related opportunities were presenting themselves.
It all came to a crashing halt when a shoulder injury that he had been working to come back from flared up again. That problem – compounded by a new back injury – effectively ended his tennis career.
It’s a testament to Roberts’ focus and determination that he took the bitter news in stride and returned to the piano his family had kept ever since he took lessons in Ocean Park in Grade 4.
“We’d almost sold it a few times, but I’d kept saying I’d like to go back to it one day when I had the time.”
Within six months he was able to get his piano abilities back to where they had been – and beyond – good enough to start composing his own music.
“I basically taught myself how to play piano again,” he said. “I took all that energy I had been putting into tennis and translated it into pursuing music. Instead of looking back, I turned toward a new and exciting opportunity.”
With the help of his supportive parents (“I think they were very happy to see me really passionate about something else, and putting all my passion into that”) and inspired by hip-hop artist Travis Scott, Roberts began to assemble recording and producing equipment, including a couple of USB keyboards, interface technology and a studio microphone.
Learning how to use them was a matter of trial and error while studying YouTube videos on engineering techniques, and how to mix sound to achieve a professional result, he said.
“There’s a lot of software out there now that can simulate what a professional studio does – you can work just about anywhere,” he added.
“I’d always been interested by the music production side of things and being able to do all the different parts of it is a big advantage for a musician.”
His musical handle ‘Klassikal’ came into being early on, he said.
“When I started writing instrumental music at the beginning I had only very simple software that only had ‘classical’ instrument sounds like strings and acoustic piano, so I made a thing of that – writing hip-hop tracks with classical instruments.”
Although his musical palette has broadened over the past two years, his process remains much the same, he said.
“Typically I try to come up with a catchy melody, and record that with a synthesized piano, adding in a bass line and simple percussion, and then write lyrics at that point,” he said. “The words are what I come up with in the moment, what will sound good with the melody. Then I add in variety, different sounds, build-ups, break-downs and drops to make it interesting.
“I’ll record the vocals, verses and chorus, then start the mixing process. Once I have the rough product I like, I start polishing it to make it sound bouncy and bright.”
Roberts – who said his other interests are largely focused on writing and reading – is not one of those particularly challenged by the current norm of social distancing, although he does miss the daily interaction with school friends.
But in many ways quarantining has streamlined both completing Grade 12 and pursuing musical development for him, he acknowledges.
“It’s obviously a terrible thing that’s happening, and I, like everyone else, am making sure to socially distance,” he said.
“But in another way, on a personal note, this has been a good opportunity for myself – to hone in on my craft, hone in on what I want to work on.”