Interview by Mike Wilson
(First Released May 2009)
Leimert Park is a relatively quiet neighborhood in South Central LA cordoned off by Crenshaw Boulevard and down the street from Baldwin Hills. It has long been the home of some of the west coast’s musical greats and a hub for black culture and music. In fact, it has been described as “the black Greenwich Village” by one of its residents, acclaimed filmmaker John Singleton. Although Singleton’s description refers more to the jazz and blues scenes deeply rooted in the neighborhood, lifelong resident Dom Kennedy is leading a revival in its hip-hop scene that could give new meaning to Singleton’s account of his hometown.
Kennedy’s self-produced, self-distributed and self-promoted 2008 mixtape The 25th Hour already solidified his reputation as one of the dominant voices of the “New West,” thanks to standout tracks like “Still Lookin’” and his hit single “Watermelon Sundae.” But his latest release, FutureStreet/DrugSounds, which dropped on April 28th, is a huge step forward from his already-impressive debut and has the potential to launch him to the forefront of this new class of Angelino emcees.
Between stops on his recent FutureStreet Cool Tour, Dom Kennedy took some time out to talk with JENESIS’ Mike Wilson about his new album, his hometown, and his future.
JENESIS: You made a name for yourself performing live on the Sneaker Pimps Tour and at the House of Blues, what was that experience like for you?
DK: Anytime you get to perform and connect with people is good. Performing at Sneaker Pimps gave me a chance to do it in front of a lot of people. I was a very, very new artist at the time and just the exposure meant a lot.
JENESIS: You successfully self-produced, self-distributed and self-promoted your debut project The 25th Hour. How were you able to do that so well and what advice would you give aspiring artists trying to accomplish that same goal?
DK: I was able to promote 25th Hour because I was focused on getting my material heard. Making good music is only half the job. You have to get people to stop and listen. Fortunate for me I was able to do a couple videos that helped me get my music across visually. All artist especially young artist need to take initiative and believe in the product they put out. Don’t rely on somebody else to spread the word for you.
JENESIS: You’ve come a long way from that on your latest release, FutureStreet/DrugSounds, by enlisting the Cool Kids’ Chuck Inglish, LAUSD and more to help out with production. Having done it both ways, what do you enjoy more: the creative control of working on your own or the opportunity to bounce ideas off of producers and benefit from their input?
DK: I enjoy just making quality music. Is always good to find like minded people and see what they might have that fits you. Producers have their own opinion of what they think you should sound like and that’s what I look for. I like producers that come with a feeling. Having a bigger sound was important to me on FS/DS and I think I accomplished that.
JENESIS: I liked this message you posted for the record labels on your myspace:
“Since I know you’re watching let me get to the point. Either you’re going to pay me now or wait till I’m going to ask for more and have to give it to me then. Everything you could do for me at this point I already did it or am doing it myself. So when you got the money together nicely stacked in that Supreme duffle bag like I asked… have somebody come to Leimert to find me!”
Have you been in talks with any labels about signing a deal?
DK: I have been in mostly management meetings. No labels as of yet. I’m just trying to gain the trust and respect of the people. The rest will take care of itself.
JENESIS: Who are some of your biggest influences?
DK: My friends. Family. Los Angeles.
JENESIS: You’ve drawn a lot of comparisons to Ice Cube, would you say he was a bigger influence than others on you and, if so, what set him apart from the rest for you?
DK: Ice Cube was definitely an influence but I would have to say DJ Quik and Biggie Smalls might be 1 and 2. I think Ice Cube is the only LA rapper to be considered at one time the best rapper out (’91-’92) and that’s something I hope to achieve one day… soon.
JENESIS: You once said, “When I would listen to Outkast, it would take me right to the streets of Savannah, GA where I could almost feel myself riding in a Cadillac with Big Boi and Andre 3000,” and, “LL Cool J, made me feel like I was on a stoop in Queens.” What songs of yours do you feel take your fans right into Leimert Park?
DK: I feel like 25th Hour as a whole takes listeners to Leimert. That was main goal and for the most part always will be. I would like to be known as a guy whose music sounds like where it comes from.
JENESIS: You said ’Leimert Park, what’s cool?’ is a common theme used in your music to show the significance of the neighborhood that birthed you. What was it like growing up in Leimert Park?
DK: Leimert Park is a great area on the westside of LA. It has a lot of culture and is a close knit community but at the same time is in South Central LA so you can’t be too relaxed. Just the way I like it.
JENESIS: How did you hook up with Pac Div and Carter?
DK: I hooked up with Carter just randomly one day talking about music. I didn’t know he rapped at the time. We became friends and been supporting each other since. Pac Div I met through a friend and its kind of the same story. We all have a common interest and that’s the love of making quality music.
JENESIS: I heard you’re working on a collaborative project with them. What can you tell us about that?
DK: It’s not coming out.
JENESIS: What other projects are you working on?
DK: I’m working on getting as many people to hear FutureStreet/DrugSounds as possible. Download it, play it for a friend.
JENESIS: I heard you have a tattoo that says “In loving memory of hip hop.” What’s the significance of that to you?
DK: The tattoo has a lot of meanings. Mainly it’s a day to day reminder of my commitment to myself and hip hop music to be a leader and give my all.
JENESIS: Everyone has their own opinion on what the standout tracks are on your latest album. But, as the artists behind the album, what do you feel are the standout tracks and why?
DK: Standout tracks to me would be “Where I Belong” and “Hard Work.” “Hard Work” because it’s a big record and has a single type feel. “Where I Belong” because it’s a great beat and I didn’t mess it up
JENESIS: Are there any tracks on FutureStreet/DrugSounds that have more personal significance to you than the rest?
DK: The outro is called “Free Joey” because my cousin is locked up in the state of Georgia right now. I start the song “what up JO” which was a shout out to him and I wrote it before he got arrested. I didn’t have a title and it just seemed meant to be. Unfortunately.
JENESIS: You’ve said that the problem with some rappers is that they never said anything that their fans could learn from in their lyrics. What do you want people to learn from your music?
DK: From my music I want people to learn the importance of dedication and doing things the right way. Working hard and staying committed. Believe in yourself.
JENESIS: Where do you see yourself in five years?
DK: In five years I hope be releasing my second or third solo album. Making money doing what I love and traveling the world.
In the last of our videos covering SXSW in Austin, TX, check out the trip through the eyes of Brice and Ryan who spent the week experiencing all that SXSW has to offer. Featured is The Cool Kids, LEP Bogus Boys, Dom Kennedy, Casey Veggies, cARTer, Skewby, El Prez, Odd Future, Big KRIT, Dgoodz, Killa Kyleon, Pill, Jasmine Solano, Tenille, Skotch Davis, Young Scolla, Smoke DZA, Stalley and more.
Shot & Edited by A.T.H.