DC rap hero Kokayi never did things by the book. Then he wrote one.

The central ingredient in “You Are Ketchup,” the terrific new memoir-slash-career-guide by DC rap mainstay Kokayi, is tough love, which he’s more than happy to dish up in person, too. “One hundred thousand new songs go up on Spotify every day,” he says. “You’re not special!” At least not to the grinding gears of a capricious music industry that treats musicians, in Kokayi’s words, like ketchup, an interchangeable sauce.

So he’s written a book about accepting one’s fate as a condiment while ultimately nurturing all of the artistic ineffables that exist beyond the edicts of the marketplace. Written in a tone so conversational you can practically hear it in your ear, “You Are Ketchup” feels like a megadose of straight advice from a muso-mentor who’s been there. And, of course, Kokayi has been all over the place.

As the book tells it, he was rapping as a member of DC’s legendary Freestyle Union collective back in the ’90s from which producer Ezra Greer whisked him and a few friends up to New York for a recording session with jazz saxophonist Steve Coleman. Before long, he was touring with Coleman in Europe, and when Kokayi and his fellow rappers decided to break off into their own group, Opus Akoben, they began their journey with a record deal and a built-in European audience. When the group eventually got dropped and dissolved, Kokayi continued: making music, snaring Grammy nominations, acting as an unofficial consultant to local rap stars (you remember his cameo on GoldLink’s 2017 album “At What Cost,” right?), as well as volunteering as a mentor in the community — all while holding down various day jobs, including one early gig as Lynne Cheney’s personal driver. As rap careers go, his remains highly indescribable to this day.

Which means “You Are Ketchup” isn’t a guide to making it in the music biz so much as a manual on making it through. Instead of advice on how to get signed, Kokayi focuses on how to survive getting dropped. His business lessons aren’t about getting rich quick; they’re about making decisions that protect the creative impulse. And instead of framing a career as a climb, he talks about shifts. “My friend was telling me the other day that there are levels in music,” Kokayi says. “I said, ‘No, there are paradigms.’ Each person has a paradigm that they exist in. We’re not lower or higher. A millionaire isn’t on another level of consciousness.”

Kokayi says he hopes to write another book about artistry and mental health soon — and, in a way, he’s taking his own advice. He wants to help readers surface the art that’s inside of them and, most importantly, to continue. “Nobody told you that you had to quit. You told you. You based it on this idea of ​​being practical. Or you let society tell you that it’s time,” he says. “Don’t quit.”

Kokayi discusses “You Are Ketchup” on Nov. 3 at 7 pm at Byrdland Records, 1264 Fifth St. NO. byrdlandrecords.com. Free.

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