Yes, he performed at Frost. Yes, he’s the guy that made “Indica.” And yes, he will absolutely destroy you in a game of Smash Bros.

Meet Barron Montgomery: an open, genuine artist who raps about his heartbreak, depression and vices in a way that everyone can relate to, and in a way that encourages them to push through it. Known to friends and fans (and his 61,611 monthly listeners on Spotify) as Son Kuma, the Inglewood, LA native and long-time lover of Dragon Ball Z has sealed his legacy as one of the most successful musicians to come out of The Farm, and he hasn’t even graduated yet.

The CS major credits his success to the Stanford equipment, spaces, advisors and peers that helped break into the music industry. In this “warmup round” to his induction into the major leagues, Barron must prove his dedication and skill to the Dark Side of the Industry—because unfortunately, unrivaled talent and songs that do seven-digit numbers are sometimes just not enough for the string-pullers that choose which artist “makes it big” next.

Yet to fans and collaborators, it helps knowing that although he’s not yet drafted, Son Kuma is already playing the game like a veteran. A wizard when it comes to production and songwriting, Barron has already gone Super Saiyan on his fundamentals—wisely, he’s now focused on reaching the same prestige in jumping through the hoops of the music industry.

A key part of such hoop-jumping? Timely, polished releases.

Accordingly, Son Kuma’s latest single and counterpart to 2017’s hit “Indica,” is out now. Listen and stream “Sativa” on Spotify or Apple Music here.

As the lovechild of a world-class education and a long-time immersion in music, Son Kuma can bar out with wisdom on how to create meaningful projects, how to remain authentic through fame and failure, and how self-coaching and vulnerability have played key roles in his path to success. PULSE sat down with him to capture it on tape.

Starting to make music

PULSE: When did you first start making music?

BM: Probably like four or five. On long drives, I would just stick my head out the window so I could only hear the wind and my voice and I would just sing melodies. Then, when I was 13, I got a guitar for Christmas and taught myself how to play it. There was this band at my high school and they needed songs and so I would write a song, a hook and the guitar part and I would give it to them, and they would redo it. I guess I was kind of writing rock songs for rock bands.

Making music at Stanford

PULSE: How did your music progress alongside your musical tastes?

BM: When I got to Stanford, I started listening to…underground rap..a lot of Soundcloud rap. As a freshman I was kind of a loner and stayed in my room. But when I went out to smoke one night, I ran into some people that were also smoking so I chilled with them and we started freestyling. One thing led to another, I was decent at freestyling because of my songwriting background, and I started going back to my room after freestyling, to start writing my own raps. They were really short, just like 8 bars. could bring it back to the table where we smoked and I could rap what I wrote and they’d be like “oh s***, you should make a song out of that.”

PULSE: When was the first time you really thought you made a good song?

BM: The first time was probably the first hip hop song I wrote. I was listening to “Oui” by Jeremih, it’s one of my favorite beats of all time. I wrote the song over that beat, and then I found a different beat and it made the song have a whole new feeling. I went deeper about some politics and some stuff I went through in my life and it made me realize I actually have a lot of sh** to talk about.


PULSE: Tell me about releasing Indica and how confident you felt in your music.

BM: Spotify was a huge supporter in that they put my music on some playlists and just got my initial audience to find me and then started to promote me through their curated Discover Weekly playlists. Now Indica is at a million plays. It’s been saved by like 60,000 people.

It’s crazy because listening to me talk about my life I’m like wow, I didn’t know people would care. But the reason why they care is because maybe they find similarities in their own lives. They’re going through the same kinds of things. Maybe going through heartbreak, maybe you’re addicted to some kind of drug you don’t want to be, maybe you find yourself disliking yourself. And I’m trying to teach you how to self love. Maybe you can learn something through my tale.

Dealing with labels

PULSE: That’s a great way to build an authentic audience too. They’re trying to connect with you and they want to know what happens next. So my next question is: What does happen next?

BM: I think most independent musicians and artists can agree, in the beginning you don’t really see any results at all. But after Indica I was getting feedback from people … it was just a different feeling to have people critiquing it. I felt like I got lost in it and it started to make me not want to make music.

Label representatives were also reaching out. It’s interesting, I feel like everything’s just a gamble, everyone just wants to see if you’re not a one-hit wonder. If you can actually produce multiple good songs people will like.

PULSE: And that’s what you’re trying to do.

BM: I got people expecting me to put out something good, something that’s better than the last thing. And Indica was doing so well, I didn’t know how I would top it. To be honest, I’m still struggling with that, even now.

I spent a lot of time deleting songs and making songs, and I finally got Trippin’, which was my first collab with Griffin Stoller, who has been popping off a lot in the music industry. We make completely different music, but we both come from Stanford, and he liked my music, I liked his music. He kind of started mentoring me.

PULSE: How do you feel your musical vocabulary changed after Trippin, like in terms of your voice, with producing, and with resources from Stanford like Griffin Stoller?

BM: Yeah. Griffin was the first time I was using a new resource that Stanford provided. I needed a place to record because recording in my room just wasn’t a possibility anymore. There’s weird reverbs in these Stanford rooms that I didn’t have in my grandma’s house; Indica was recorded in my room at my grandma’s.

A class at Stanford gave me CCRMA access, and now I just go to the (CCRMA) studio, which is pretty close by to TDX and I can record all my s*** there.

That’s what I did with Chemistry, and my next song. Sativa, will be the song song. The song that I feel like the most eyes are on.


PULSE: Why’s that? Do you think it’s the best song you’ve made yet?

BM: I think it is. So when this tape comes out, I want everyone that heard Indica to be like, ‘woah he really stepped it up.’ I remember I showed it to one of my homies and he was like, ‘you should drop a mixtape in between to hold everyone off.’ I was like, ‘well Sativa is the mixtape’ and he was like ‘that joint sounds like an album.’ He was like, ‘what’s the album going to sound like?’ I was like, bingo. That’s exactly what I want my fans to think. Indica and Sativa are just the mixtapes. There’s even a lyric in the song Sativa, the very first lyric is like, ‘after this tape, the practice ends.’

This is all just practice. I feel like I’m still practicing, I feel like I’m still honing my craft, learning how to mix, getting the resources, making it better and better. I definitely think I can make something better than Sativa a year from now.

I came to Stanford thinking physics was my passion, and I do love physics but it just doesn’t hit me like music does. I can make a song when I’m happy, I can make a song when I’m sad. Recently I went through something and I went to the studio and I made a song called W/mywoes, and that song will end up going on Sativa as well. But it was letting out…way more emotion than I’ve ever let out in any song before,Both in terms of my voice and lyrics.

When I was younger and going through this stuff and even now when I’m going through this stuff, what [did] I do? Listen to music.. listen to other people talking about heartbreak. I listen to Ball Without You by 21 Savage. I want my song to be like that song for someone else. When they’re going through their breakup, they can listen to it and help them through it in whatever way possible, but it also helps me out.It’s therapeutic for me at this point. I really enjoy what I do.

The People’s Rapper

PULSE: Your sources of inspiration have been low points in your life. What keeps you going when you’re battling with yourself, things get hard, and you still have to make music as well as being a full time student here?

BM: How do I deal with it—not very well, to answer that question. I don’t deal with it very well. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed. I feel like I’m doing too much. I’ve wanted to quit music. I’ve wanted to quit Stanford. I’ve wanted to quit everything. I’m still really depressed. I’m still going through things. I’m still battling myself, definitely.

Self love is something I’ve been struggling with. I feel like a lot of people struggle with self love. If you don’t love yourself, you can’t really love anyone else. It’s a double thing there, it goes two ways.

I’m trying hard these days to make my music about self love, make my music more positive because maybe that will keep me in a positive mindset in general. I think a lot of music these days end on a bad note, but one thing I think that stands out differently is I’m ending it on good notes. Some people would say it’s cliche, maybe I’m the cliche rapper. I think I will be like the people’s rapper, if anything.

Lately I would say what’s been keeping me going is definitely fans and my friends…they reach out to me if I’m ever sad.

You’re showing me love, I’m gonna show you love. Let’s get the love together…It helps everyone make it through anything. If I’m helping you, you’re helping me then we’ll just be in a good place.

Why “Son Kuma?”

PULSE: How did you come up with Son Kuma?

BM: My first rap name was actually Kuma. Kuma means bear in Japanese, I have it tattooed on my arm. I also have ‘love’ and ‘fire.’ These are my three favorite Japanese characters. My grandpa’s wife was Japanese, her name was Eri. She taught me Japanese when I was younger, so I always gravitated towards Japanese things. I liked anime, I like that s***. It’s cool.

My name’s Barron, but all my close friends back in high school would call me Bear. It was just easier to say, it’s cute, I don’t know. So my nickname was Kuma in Japanese class.

So I started off as Kuma. But there were already some Kumas out there, it’s a common Japanese word. So, I was like, well, I can put something before the Kuma. Usually it’s like a Young or a Lil or a Kid—but what about a Son? There’s not really any Sons out there.

Another reason why I picked Son was because of Goku in Dragon Ball Z. His name is Son Goku, but no one knows about the Son part. It made me think like you’re the son of something bigger. It’s like humbling yourself by calling yourself Son. So I was like, I’ll be Son Kuma. I always wanted to be a Dragon Ball Z character.

In an industry where authenticity and realness is so hard to come by, Son Kuma’s vulnerability is all the more impressive a contribution to music. By applying the dedication that got him into Stanford to his music, Son Kuma will be an even greater force to be reckoned with in a short while.

Barron dropped his new single, Sativa, last Friday and is hoping to drop the mixtape soon. Find Son Kuma on all major streaming services and follow his Instagram @sonkuma.

By: Jack Petrison
Photography by: Caroline Moon