Western sophomore Kevin Miller jumps up from the floor enthusiastically and jostles through the crowd of students. He hands his iPhone to the sound technician behind a panel filled with gray switches and knobs.
Miller steps to the stage and peers through his glasses into the sea of faces gathered at the Underground Coffeehouse Tuesday night, Nov. 5. He introduces himself as Konscious, an advocate for anti-bullying as he unwinds the microphone cable from the stand.
As Miller’s self-produced, funk-influenced hip-hop song “Best Friend” starts to spill out of the speakers, the attendees snap their fingers to the beat.
This was his second performance this school year. The other was during the first week of the quarter, also at the Underground Coffeehouse.
Miller, 19, spent his freshman year at University of Washington Bothell, when he put out his first mixtape, called “White Redemption,” in May 2013.
He spent the summer recording songs and released a five-song EP, called “Music with a Konscious,” on Nov. 1. He is already working on songs for his next album, "Permission Granted," coming out in 2014, he said.
The next album includes a song, “Got It.”
“It is OK to be confident in your abilities and you can still be humble about it,” Miller said.
He currently has about eight tracks, which include friends and fellow hiphop artists Hi-Def and Ziggy, Miller said. The songs have been recorded and mixed, but need to be mastered for the best possible sound quality, he said.
Miller performed his first headliner show in Seattle on Friday, Nov. 8, for a packed crowd at Fusion Ultra Lounge, an 18-and-older club in Seattle. This was the first of his College Girl Tour, named after his most popular song, "College Girl Anthem," which has almost 10,000 plays on SoundCloud, and had its second stop at Studio Seven in Seattle Nov. 17.
Action speaks loudest with words
In early October 2013, Miller started the Konscious Movement through his music, which is a way for him to use his past experiences with being bullied to help others.
Miller came up with the Konscious Movement to support other people who are victimized by bullying, he said. He wants to let people know their voice can be heard, he said.
“The whole thing behind [the movement] is we advocate for anti-bullying and suicide prevention because I was at those points quite a few times in my life,” he said.
When people share personal stories of struggles and ways they have found support, it can be a powerful message of hope, Nancy Corbin, director of Western’s Counseling Center, said in an email.
Informal conversation between students can often be the most influential way to share information and give support, she said.
“Growing up, I was always the outcast,” Miller said. “I always had a hard time fitting in. I was shoved in lockers, called the N–word. You name it, it happened to me.”
Miller stood outside, waiting for the bus to take him to his first day of seventh grade a brand new school where he didn’t know anyone. As Miller made his way through the rows of seats to the back of the bus, a freshman loudly told him he couldn’t sit in the back because he was black.
Everyone started laughing, Miller said. Later that day, the same freshman followed Miller home, and pushed him in a ditch, he said.
“After that, everyone knew about [that day], so everyone stayed away from me,” Miller said.
The bullying continued through high school, he said.
The Konscious Movement is a way for him to give back and support those who suffer from bullying like he did, he said.
The solace of the rhythm
Miller picked up drumming at 10.
“Music has been my passion ever since I was a little kid,” Miller said.
Miller played the snare drum in his elementary school band and took drum lessons until junior high, he said. He pedaled the bass and clashed the cymbals of his red Pearl six-piece drum set for three years.
At the start of junior high, he started to make hip-hop beats with an electronic keyboard and a drum pad that plugged into his computer. He started to rap in high school, he said.
Miller’s interest turned to the producing side of music in junior high, when he became tired of the repetitiveness of drum patterns and playing other people’s music, he said.
His cousin, Jordan Swenson, was a producer and had a lot of friends in the music industry, and the two started to work together on various production projects.
“He was one of those kids who was naturally talented,” Miller said. “I would hear him talking about it all the time, and I was like ‘That sounds so cool.’”
Miller lost Swenson when he was killed in a drunk driving accident in 2011, but the tragic accident gave him a new motivation, he said.
“When he passed away I just made it my drive to finish what we started, and continue the legacy,” Miller said.
Miller continued to produce his own music and connected with the Bothell hip-hop scene through people his cousin introduced him to, as well as people he would later meet at UW Bothell.
Taking it on tour
Miller played on Sunday, Nov. 17, at Studio Seven in Seattle — part of Hip-Hop Mania — along with other local hip-hop artists. These were the only two shows of his tour, and nothing else is officially planned, he said.
Connor Jalbert and Caleb Albright, both freshmen, met Miller this year through one of Western’s admitted students Facebook pages. Miller contacted them after the two posted an offer for their photo and video skills on the page.
Jalbert has shot video of concerts for the past two years. Albright started shooting photos his freshman year of high school, and has worked with Jason Koenig, rapper Macklemore’s photographer.
“You don’t see a lot of people doing what [Miller is] doing — giving back,” Jalbert said. “Especially to communities.”
The two are working together to shoot a music video for “College Girl Anthem,” and they are collecting footage for a planned documentary about Miller’s daily life at Western, Miller said. The documentary does not yet have a release date.
“He is very passionate, and this is what he wants to do with his life,” Albright said. “That obviously comes through in his music.”
The way Miller uses his past difficulties to spread a positive message amazes junior Nicole Sheard, she said. Sheard has been friends with Miller since the beginning of fall quarter and attended both of Miller’s performances at the Underground Coffeehouse.
Miller acts like he is performing at a big concert every time, she said. It doesn’t matter how many people are there, she said.
“He’s like, ‘Everybody snap, everybody put your hands up,’” she said. “It really pulls you into [the music].”
Making Konscious decisions
Miller also hopes the Konscious Movement will gain enough momentum to start working with, and donateing to, nonprofit organizations, such as the Bothell YMCA.
Miller wants to expand the movement. He is reaching out to people on Twitter who share similar anti-bullying advocacy goals, and directly referencing the movement in his new songs to relay the message to his listeners, he said.
“I want to help somebody else and give back to the community," he said.