EXCLUSIVE: Kanwal Talks “Tuggin’ Me Back” and New Rage Funk Genre

Kanwal is flipping pop on its head with his first studio single, “Tuggin’ Me Back.” 

Kanwal grew up on the fringes of society. As a shy New Yorker raised by an Indian/Sikh father and a Russian/Jewish mother, he never felt like he fit in.

“I didn’t look like the other kids, and it felt like everyone in my life had a vision for me that was different from my own,” he says. 

However, there was one place he felt like he did belong: music. Inspired by Sufi songs, Bhangra, classic rock, funk, and Hip Hop he banged out beats on make-shift drums and turned classroom scribbles into at home raps.

He soon found that he wasn’t alone in his feelings. One summer, he spent two months working with refugees in Athens Greece. While there, he started making music with a group of Syrians, Afghans, and Ethiopians who had been forced to leave their respective countries 

“I had the privilege of hearing and seeing how music can make people feel free, even when their circumstances are limited,” he shared. 

These sounds and emotions eventually inspired a new genre, Rage Funk, a convergence of anger, joy, power, and passion. This new sonic category is “about expressing the sides of myself that other people think are outlandish, or don’t fit together. Rage Funk is also about giving a voice to aggression that, for a long time, I didn’t feel comfortable acknowledging,” Kanwal says.

That time has finally arrived with the release of his new single “Tuggin’ Me Back,” a duel between expressing intense emotions and conforming to social expectations

We sat down with Kanwal to chat about “Tuggin’ Me Back,” Rage Funk, and what’s to come from this musical pioneer!

What inspired your new single “Tuggin’ Me Back”?

I wrote Tuggin’ Me Back while I was getting out of the relationship. To me, the relationship represented a scared part of myself I needed to transcend. As I distanced myself from the relationship, that part of myself kept tugging me back in.

What was the production like for this track? 

I co-produced this track with Jackson Hoffman. We work so well together. At the time, I had been hearing a lot of spongy, oddball sounds in my head. I wrote this during the pandemic, when I had been going through a lot of life events that kind of flipped my world upside down. The oddness of the track definitely reflects that time period.

You were born and raised in New York by an Indian/Sikh father and a Russian/Jewish mother, and have traveled all over the world. How have all those places, people, and experiences influenced your music and the making of this single in particular? 

Absolutely. I constantly teeter the line between feeling like I’m part of a bunch of different cultures, and feeling like I’m a part of none. The song contains both western and eastern elements, but it’s hard to classify it into any particular genre. All of my music reflects that internal tension.

“Tuggin’ Me Back” is an example of Rage Funk. As a pioneer of the genre, can you tell us more about what it encompasses and what draws you to that style? 

Rage Funk is about expressing unconventional and unsavory emotions and desires. It puts the ugliness, weirdness, and conflict that has a part in everyone’s life out on the table. I was pretty quiet and shy when I was little, but I internalized a lot of the  tension, anger, aggression, and conflict from around me. I found comfort in Kendrick Lamar, James Brown, and Led Zeppelin because they all embraced emotions I felt uncomfortable expressing. This genre is my own way of expressing those same emotions.

You’ve shared that Rage Funk is “about giving a voice to aggression that, for a long time, I didn’t feel comfortable acknowledging.” What was the thing that changed your mind? 

I take my relationships with people really seriously. A few years ago, I went through a breakup, and a few other life events that forced me to confront how my own lack of self-expression was leading to barriers in my own relationships. I started to embrace conflict and actually saw positive results in my own relationships. Going through that made me feel like it is better to express even the darkest, loudest emotions than to pretend to be someone I’m not. I’d rather us all scream at each other until we grow then just shut up and stay stagnant.

If you could set up fans in the perfect environment to listen to the single, what do you imagine it looking like? 

This song is meant to bump in your beat-down car outside on a sunny day. (:

What can fans look forward to next? 

I’m really excited to get deeper into Rage Funk. Some of the stuff I have coming up leans more rock, and some of it leans more Hip Hop. My goal is to make people feel more free through my music, and I hope every track brings people a bit closer to that feeling.

Each of your upcoming releases is going to be accompanied by a visual. As you write, does the knowledge that the song will have a visual influence your writing and production? Do you add certain elements that might pair really well with certain visuals?

Absolutely, but not in a traditional sense – it is much more about energy. I like to look up videos of different places I’ve been, or visuals from artists I really like, and have those playing in the background while I write. Sometimes the energy of different visuals evokes emotions that push entire songs out of me. I once wrote an entire song after seeking a muddy cow walking on the street in India. That cow had some rage funk energy to it, and it triggered a feeling that I turned into a song. As I’ve gone back to make the visuals, I’ve tried to collect and expand upon those images.

What is one quote that you have heard or that you go by that you want to ECHO out to the world? 

Embrace the gray area. You don’t have to fit into a category. A lot of the substance – the tension that makes you who you are, lies in the gray. Take that, and put it out into the world – that is your contribution.