Unboxed Vol. 44: Kanii Is Managing The Pressure Of Near Superstardom By Doing Him

The New York-based singer is set to release his new single “MIA” on May 31st.

D.C.-born singer Kanii (real name Kani Nkshon Shorter Jr.) is at that early point in an artist’s career where things are lining up perfectly. From a few viral hits that have earned over 500 million streams and serious social media following to a national tour with PinkPantheress, he sees himself at a junction of potential success and failure. 

“I tell all my homies this but I feel like I’m at the sink or swim position in my career right now,” explained the Warner Records artist. “I feel like this year, specifically in this moment right now, is a very defining time of where my career will go because I’m getting opportunities and stuff alongside notoriety. However, what do I do with it to make sure it’s sustained?” 

So far, Kanii has all the makings of a future pop star. The Duke Ellington School of the Arts alumni had his breakthrough moment last year with the release of “I Know,” which was featured on exiit. Before 2023 even wrapped, Kanii dropped a follow-up project, it was nice  knowing you, featuring new fan favorites, including “pretty photos” and “sins(let me in)” alongside its remix with Trippie Redd. 

All of those singles display a different angle to his musical prowess. Between the Jersey Club beats of “I Know,”  modern R&B stylings of “sins(let me in),” and 80’s vibe of “pretty photos, it’s difficult to keep Kanii in a box. For him, experimenting with sounds is part of his enjoyment in making music. It also helps that he listens to a wide variety of music stretching various generations, including Marvin Gaye, Beyoncé, Micheal Jackson, XXTentacion, and Juice Wrld, among others. 

“It is honestly just having fun with it,” said Kanii. “With the tracks, I usually just go into making songs with no real expectations. I just listen to a lot of older songs a lot and I feel like my music taste is very weird. It’s not what the average person would expect me to listen to. I just listen to stuff and it just inspires me to write a little more.”

Being a pop star is more than talent; it’s also in the look, and a look at Kanii’s Instagram page or even music videos proves he understands his aesthetic. His on-camera inspiration comes from 80s fashion and Michael Jackson, featuring elements like crop tops and bell bottoms. Kanii blends archive fashion with retro pieces for social media, embracing a retro vibe. It’s been one of many ways he’s been able to engage with his fanbase.

“I have a Discord server, which I’m active on,” said Kanii, currently based in New York. “Occasionally, I’ll be on Twitch sometimes or I’ll reply to DMs. I’m always trying to keep them engaged because they’re the ones that are the reason why I’m where I am. I could never disrespect or undermine them.” 

For Kanii’s next creative hat trick, he’s set to drop his latest single, “MIA,” on May 31st despite it going viral on TikTok through various snippets. The track's synthesized dance sounds have him crooning, “Tell me am I missing in action / calling me back / when I’m broken.” 

Kanii created the song during a stressful period of dealing with multiple “situations” simultaneously. This song encapsulates three different experiences, unlike his usual approach of focusing on his relationship with one woman in a single track. Though he feels like people are sleeping on the record, the snippets have collectively gotten hundreds of thousands of views through the music-based social media platform. Once it drops, he anticipates another viral hit.

“I feel like once it comes out, people are going to be like ‘wow,’” said Kanii. “It is so different from my usual stuff but in the same world. I don’t think I’ve made a solid pop song yet besides the “Heart Racing” collaboration with Riovaz and Nimstarr.”  

One thing is certain: Despite his rise through social media, Kanii hopes to break out of the “viral artist” box. He aims to earn the same respect and achievements as the artists he grew up admiring alongside his peers. 

“I feel like as a young, new artist, getting respected is a challenge,” said Kanii. “You don't have as many accolades as the bigger people. So they may treat other people as if they're not good at what they do and they're in similar places. I feel like that's the most challenging and kind of breaking out of that whole TikTok music thing. That's a thing that's hard.”

“MIA” will probably make its way on his upcoming project, which Kanii says will have him elevating the production quality because he considers it a significant project in that “sink or swim” moment he’s currently in.

“I have very high stakes for my first album because if we’re thinking back to the eighties, accolades like Grammys came from an album,” explained Kanii. “That’s where my brain is at or where it comes to putting out a project. I want to put out something great even if it’s slept on right now.”

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