Kai's story begins with a poem I read about October in May of 2020. There was a line that referred to falling leaves as "dancing flames." From the moment my eyes met those words, I knew that I wanted to create a character based on the metaphor. That night, I searched my room for inspiration, as my bedroom is my most sacred space. It channels all of my ideas from thoughts to reality because it holds all of my past artwork. There's just something special about being surrounded by my own creations that fuel my mind.
I have multiple drawings and paintings inspired by Keith Haring, my favorite visual artist of all time, in my bedroom, so I modeled Kai after them. When I created my first draft of Kai, who at the time did not have his name yet, and posted him on the 1025 Instagram page, he immediately garnered attention... but not the kind I was looking for. Many people instantly accused me of plagiarizing Cole Bennett's famous character, Lenny. People tagged Lyrical Lemonade and Lenny, telling me that I should just quit since I decided to "copy" Cole's original character. Thankfully, some people were kind enough to give me feedback, telling me why Kai reminded them of Lenny.
Based on the feedback I was given, I learned that I needed to emphasize the second source of inspiration for Kai, the 1930s cartoon aesthetic. I immediately thought of the eyes of Pac-Man, one of my favorite video games, and used them as Kai's eyes. From there, all hate comments came to a halt, and I was back on my toes, carrying valuable lessons on my shoulders, such as to never post my character design process until I'm sure of its completion.
Although it was my first time experiencing hate on social media, I was incredibly grateful for the experience because it pushed me to create the Kai that everyone knows today. Strangely enough, I also thought of the experience as a sign that I would collaborate with Lenny one day, which is actually in the works! Turns out Cole has no issues with Kai and even owns the "Into The Unknown" knit sweater that features Kai. Kai had even caught Jordan Brand, The Hundreds, artist Kaash Paige, and rapper Waka Flocka's attention before I even named him, which didn't happen until October 6, 2020.
After gaining recognition from these larger brands and celebrities, I knew that the list would continue to grow soon, leaving me pressed to name my flame guy. I did not want him to just be a "flame character." I wanted him to have personality and purpose, so I looked up all the names that meant flames, and Kai was the one that really stuck with me.
Kai plays a massive role in 1025. For one, he symbolizes the fall season, which I feel is the core source of inspiration for 1025 because I initially intended every design to be fall-based, no matter what season it was. On the other hand, he also symbolizes change because leaves themselves symbolize change. Kai allows me to stay true to my initial connection to 1025 without limiting my creative direction to the fall season.
Essentially, Kai embodies everything I love about 1025, and I couldn't think of a better character than him to help take the brand to the next level. Ever since I released "Into The Unknown Part 1" in December of 2020, Kai's presence has taken social media by storm and has opened many doors and opportunities for the brand's growth. This is only the beginning, and it's all thanks to Kai!