The buzz about Dom Kennedy is that as one of the main West Coast rappers, he’s about to blow up. But some are privately concerned that fame and the courtship of big labels could change Kennedy’s focus and move him away from the issues and fans that got him where he is.
Well, yes and no.
Yes to blowing up; no to changing.
In fact, Kennedy has already spoken with some of the big labels, but he talks like a man who prefers to keep his distance.
“I’m kinda getting away from trying to work with different people because it doesn’t really work too well for me,” said Kennedy. “I’m one of those people who utilizes what I have, and that’s usually one of my friends and somebody close that’s willing to work. Those are the people that I bind with.
“I don’t need to work with like a high-priced producer, spending up all my budget, you know, just to make some record. I can make a better song with my friends, if people just leave us alone and put us in the studio.
“I’m an independent artist. OPM company. That’s my company. That’s what I’m pursuing. Independence. I’ll get a distribution deal, I’m sure, soon, but my company will forever be the OPM company–Other People’s Money.”
As to being among the most popular West Coast rappers:
“Yeah, I’ve heard that a lot,” says Kennedy, without a hint of braggadocio. “I mean I would like to think that I am. I would like to be No. 1 after my next album. Others [the group of top West Coast rappers], I would say, are Nipsey Hussle, Kendrick Lamar and YG from Compton. Everybody out there does his own thing, some of them you’ll get different things out of their music, but these I like the most. These are the more popular artists. They, including myself, would be like the ones who would come up the most people’s arguments or conversations.”
Kennedy’s followers have had a heckuva ride, downloading his music hundreds of thousands of times off his five other mixtape projects. He’s piled up fans on both coasts and now his travel schedule keeps him on the road. But the days of free Dom Kennedy downloads will soon come to an end, at least for his new music. When his next project, “From the Westside With Love 2,” drops in five days it will be on iTunes, not datpiff.com or some other mixtape site.
He’ll be in Kansas on Friday, San Francisco on the following Thursday and at the Key Club on Sunset on July 1 [sold out], Philly on the 3rd, New York on the 5th, and so on. There’s just enough time between dates to travel, rest and grab a bite to eat.
If there’s a change in his work it’s that, unlike the early mixtape “25th Hour,” his first project, his music today is “a lot more thought out.”
“I’m approaching it like from a Grammy Award-winning standpoint,” he says. “You know, like creating a real piece of music that will be here long after I’m gone. The latest project will not be a mixtape.”
“I’m a lot more confident since ’25th Hour,’ first and foremost,” says Kennedy. “I made that tape moreso to have fun and prove to myself that we could put something together and see what happens. I didn’t really know too much about the Internet and the way things work. I didn’t really have any aspirations outside of my friends, but today it’s more of a responsibility. It’s not a job because its fun. I wouldn’t rather do anything else, but I take it more as a responsibility in terms of trying to be the best and pushing myself and being accurate in what I say, being accountable for what I say.
“Back then it was a lot different than now. Now I have my own studio. Back then my cousin made a lot of those beats so he’d give them to me. I’d just sit in my room and practice the songs over and over until I knew them by memory, or pretty much close to memory, and even knew what parts I wanted to double, ad-lib, things like that, so when I got to the place to record I wasn’t wasting any time. That was how that process worked back then. It was a lot different.
“The thing I mastered on this project the most is first instinct. That’s when you become a real artist; it’s when you trust your first instinct, and get out of your own way. It’s easy to sit there and second-guess and question and redo this and redo that, but then what is the point of your natural thought, you know, the thing that jumped into your heart first? A lot of times, you know, you neglect that. You don’t trust it and you don’t believe that, but that’s what you have to learn to tap into, you know, your free spirit.
Ultimately, that’s why it’s soul music. Soul is not just somebody singing. Soul was just meant to say that’s what was in their true spirit. Ultimately, people can tell when that’s true and when it’s not true.
“[You miss it] when you try to conceive what you think people would like, not what was in your true heart and what came out of your experience and out of your gut. In other words, you thought about what we wanted to hear and tried to market it to us.”
Brandon Williams, 22, of Carson has enjoyed such Kennedy songs as “Showtime!,” “Menace Beach” and “It Was Beautiful” (from “Future Street/Drug Sounds” mixtape), “1997” and “Locals Only” (from “From the Westside With Love” mixtape), “Bet You Want Me Now (from “The Original Dom Kennedy” mixtape). But his favorite is “It Was Beautiful.” [The other mixtape was “The Best After Bobby.”] With each recording his fan base has continued to increase.
“‘It Was Beautiful’ connects with me,” said Williams, who also likes the sound and the melody.
“The title fits the song. I can relate to a lot of things he talks about–daily life things.”
“I’m a huge Dom Kennedy fan since day one,” says Jason Mears, 21. “The song I can most relate to is ‘Still Me,’ because he talks about how rap is his dream and livelihood and how he wants to just help his family’s situation and his son, which is what every average inner-city kid wants to achieve–to give back to people who helped you and to help others along the way.”
Kennedy explains why his recordings connect with people:
“First of all I feel like Rap music is a story, I feel like it’s a documentation of mainly inner city Black kids growing up in America, trading stories, no different from, you know, probably back in Africa or something. You tell your version to somebody and then you go and they go tell to somebody else, but it’s a lot quicker now because you’ve got the Internet, CDs, things of that nature. But the essence of it I feel like that’s what it is. I just like to tell stories, really. The thing that I found out about why people understand my music and like it so much is because I tell stories that are like universal to everyday living, and I just try to be as detailed and true to the way that I grew up …
“Some songs people might think are great and very intellectual. Other songs other people might say, ‘Oh, that’s stupid! Why would he say that?’ But at the end of that day, it’s truth, you know. I can’t tell one side of the story and not tell the other, you know. I got to document the whole thing.”
Kennedy, 26, raps about his neighborhood. He grew up in the Leimert Park area of Los Angeles, a kind of Black cultural hub. It’s a common theme in his music. Other themes are family, loyalty, the impact of drugs and gangs in the inner city, and his own personal experiences and reflections. He has the kind of wisdom and grounding that is not often seen in Rap artists. For example, Kennedy is very close to both his parents, who are long since divorced. They’ve been behind him “pretty much in everything,” he says, especially his dad, Dennis Hunn. He speaks of his dad’s influence on his music:
“If someone–outside people–had said, ‘Oh, that’s wack,’ it would never have mattered, because my dad always supported me. But it could have been the opposite. If I had started and he had said, “Naw, don’t do that, or that’s stupid,” no matter how many friends or regular people said, ‘Oh, that’s tight,’ I probably would have quit. Just because that’s how I would love to be in my dad’s favor or do something that he would like.”
He also raps about hardships:
“I don’t talk about hardship like I didn’t have nothing to eat, but I might talk about hardships of being a young kid and not knowing what you’re going to do or growing up in L.A. in the ’90s. Everything, every movie and a lot of media would have you believe that you wouldn’t be alive at 21, you know, or 25. That was my hardship. Those were the things that I thought about every night when I was by myself, you know, and heard helicopters and saw friends come and go, and people go to jail, and things like that. Those were my hardships. It wasn’t that I didn’t have … I had nice clothes, you know, I had food. I had video games. That’s not to say that we didn’t have our own demons and problems and things that we thought about, you know.”
The name Dom Kennedy:
Around the time I decided I was going to be a musician I didn’t want to go with my last name. I wanted to go with something that said more, like my name being Dominic. It was funny because when I was little the only ones that called me Dom was my mom and my dad, really my whole life, and my grandparents sometimes, but nobody else. No peers or anything called me Dom, until I turned about 21 and then people just started calling me that. And then around that time, you know, I’m thinking like, when you’re young, names are important–names have always been important to me–but, you know, being a rapper I look at names that I like, like LL Cool J, and Biggie Smalls, and things like that and you just want something that at least puts you on a level playing field that sounds as cool and says things, even as people just hear the name. So I felt like when I decided to use Dom I wanted to pick [another] name … I thought Kennedy sounded good, but and foremost it had its own connotations in a way. For me there was charisma, and coming from a position of power so that’s why I picked it.”
Dom Kennedy will appear locally at the West Coast Expo on Aug. 13 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. For further information, call (323) 905-1330, or www.westcoastexpo.biz.