Miller tackles new genres with Yellow Shirt EP, then graduates TF South

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“Yellow Shirt” is the latest release from local artist and TF South graduate Makhi Miller, or KAI.

New release expresses college-bound feelings

by Jamilyn Hiskes

LANSING, Ill. (August 5, 2020) – Makhi Miller, or KAI, recently realized his dream of creating and releasing a full-length album with DEMO. The deeply personal rap album came out just a week before Miller’s graduation from TF South at the end of June.

His follow-up six-track EP, Yellow Shirt, dropped July 19, and Miller says it could be his “last musical release for awhile.”

“What inspired Yellow Shirt was honestly I just wanted to make something unique, quick, and indie,” Miller, now 18, said in an email. “I felt like DEMO was a bumpy, magical road. I just wanted Yellow Shirt to be a nice, smooth ride.”

Yellow Shirt definitely has a different sound and feel than most of the tracks on DEMO. The first two tracks, “College” and “8080,” and the closing track, “Since February,” are light and dreamlike, all just over one minute long. “Melatonin” reintroduces Miller’s beloved guitar, combined with a groovy bassline that evokes thoughts of coffee shops and summer drives.

“The inspiration was different, Yellow Shirt being more laid-back thoughts and more complex ways of coping with my anxiety and love,” Miller said.

That different inspiration resulted in the new sound, which Miller described as “bedroom pop.” The EP maintains that general indie sound throughout all six tracks, with “Melatonin” and “Don’t Hurt Yourself” being the most classic examples. The genre can be heard on a few tracks on DEMO, as well, most notably in the addictive guitar riffs of “SEVENTEEN,” but it’s clearly more celebrated in this release.

“I really love this genre with all my heart,” Miller said. “It makes me feel so happy and comfortable, singing, dancing, playing my guitar.”

Yellow Shirt also focuses a lot more on the feelings of a teenager getting ready to leave for college for the first time. “College” tackles the topic of summer love with a time limit, while ”Dormroom/I’m Scared Too” is about maintaining that high school relationship from a distance. “Don’t Hurt Yourself” is a little different, mostly a message to those left behind for the sake of college: “I leave for school in August / There’s so many things I ain’t tell you … Don’t hurt yourself when I’m gone.”

“I think the EP is better for me [than DEMO] because it’s just more simple and understandable,” Miller said. “I feel like DEMO was more personal, whereas with Yellow Shirt, I feel any college student or anyone 18 years old right now can kind of relate to my feelings.”

Miller is great at giving a voice to his generation—and the uniquely-challenged class of 2020—through his music. But you don’t have to be a rising college freshman to relate to the lyrics, “I’ve been up for days / Trying to figure out what I’m s’posed to do” and “Maybe I need therapy / Maybe it’s something I can’t see” from “Melatonin.” That track is the most personal song on Yellow Shirt, shining a light on Miller’s anxious inner monologue.

But love is the other side of this coin, and Miller still explores and celebrates it on this EP. “Since February” is the track that sounds the most similar to DEMO, and the lighthearted lyrics, “Girl you was made for me / I think I was made for you” could’ve been lifted right from that album.

“I wanted listeners to still understand how versatile I am,” Miller said of his decision to switch up the sound and feel of his music for Yellow Shirt. “I just wanted to open another avenue of music I love to do.”

At the very least, this EP accomplishes both of those things. Hopefully it isn’t too long until Miller’s next release.

Yellow Shirt is available to stream or download on Spotify, Apple Music, and other platforms. The recently-released “YELLOW” music video is available to watch on YouTube. KAI can be found on Instagram at @kaicrewsade.