Paul Nyakatura is building three careers at once as a rapper, NPR host and stand-up comic

Photography by Joshua Haines.

On a road trip with his cousin across Kansas, Paul Nyakatura recalls being pulled over by a state trooper on a lonely road in the center of the state. Nyakatura knew what he needed to do. “The cop comes up to the car, and I talk to the police officer how you’re supposed to talk to a police officer—basically my on-air NPR voice.”

His switch of personas shocked Paul’s cousin. “Yo, you turned that shit on well,” he said. “You were a totally different person.”

Nyakatura is, indeed, a man of many voices and talents. The Kansas City, Kansas, native and current Strawberry Hill resident has been building his career in KC since graduating from F.L. Schlagle High School in 2005. Until recently, when his careers all hit new levels, his three worlds didn’t collide. He’s a producer and announcer on local NPR affiliate KCUR, a stand-up comic and half of the musical duo FACEFACE. “The public radio fans are slowly finding out I’m a rapper,” Nyakatura says. “The rap people are like, ‘You’re on the radio?’ And the stand-up people are like, ‘Why are you even doing stand-up? You’re a good rapper.’”

At this point, Nyakatura, whose language is more colorful when he’s off-air, doesn’t want to commit to just one lane. And as he grows bigger in each, the worlds are starting to bleed together.

What do you think you’re most famous for? 

It’s between FACEFACE and KCUR. My album came out when I wasn’t on air anywhere, but now we’re performing. I’m hitting up open mics again, and being on the radio is just good PR. But becoming famous isn’t happening fast enough for my taste. I’m full of myself if that’s not wildly apparent.

Let’s talk about comedy first. How do you feel the comedy scene in KC has evolved? 

The comedy scene is way different than it used to be. It’s supportive, and the comics are just better. Mockingbird is my favorite open mic. I hate to say it’s my favorite because people will start coming. It’s a funny-ass show each time, and it’s progressive. When I first got involved in the KC comedy scene, the material was pretty “Me Too,” just idiot sexist punchlines. It’s like, “Wow, you started with a shitty premise, and then it stayed shitty.” It wasn’t good—it was dark. It’s brightened up quite a bit.

Tell me about your upcoming album. 

It should be out this fall, and it will be available on all of the streaming services. This album is darker than the first one. I went through a breakup at the end of 2018, and I was not in a great space for a while, and then the pandemic hit. One of the singles is called “Essential.” I was just angry that you can call someone an essential worker and not pay them a living wage. I watched as “burger flippers” were told they’re essential workers, but they still can’t afford a one-bedroom apartment.

Do you have a fourth persona? Is there another Paul the world hasn’t met yet?

I’m a barfly. Once I settle down, I’m kinda boring. When I’m at home by myself, it’s just whiskey and Hulu. 

KC Favorites

Breakfast (Optional): “If I’m up in time for breakfast, I stop at GG’s Barbacoa. I get the Barbacoa egg and cheese sandwich, side of hash browns. The owner, Gabriel, is super cool—he let my friend shoot a music video there.”

Counter Menu at Caribe Blue: “Caribe Blue is a short walk from my place. I love getting their stewed chicken, stewed beef, and they have a pulled pork that’s really good. It comes with rice and plantains. No one’s eating that in one sitting. It’s impossible.”

Mimosas on the Patio: “Mimosas at Mockingbird in the afternoon. The patio has the best view of KCMO. It’s the best-looking bar in KCK by a long shot.” 

Neighborhood Gems: “For dinner, I’m gonna shout out Sparker Kitchen. They have a salmon Philly on their menu that you can’t find anywhere else. I like the salmon bites with a side of Sparker Fries. I have no idea what’s on the fries, and they won’t tell me.”

Late Night: “I love a good dive bar. My neighborhood dive bar is The Easy Inn. They do ‘Taco Wednesdays,’ just to be different. For five dollars they give you three tacos, a twelve-ounce beer and a shot of whiskey.” 

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