I have to admit that I had not heard of Dom Kennedy before I learned that he would be performing at BroncoFusion this year, and that’s probably because I’m a little out of touch with the hip-hop world. Regardless, I got the chance to sit down and learn a little bit about the hip-hop world and Dom Kennedy, who attributes a lot of his success as an independent artist to his fans and the pervasiveness of the Internet.After five mixtapes and one commercial album, Dom Kennedy launched his second commercial album “The Yellow Album” in June.
1) You released “The Yellow Album” exactly two months ago. How does it fit into your repertoire; do you consider it the epitome of your work so far?
I don’t consider it the epitome of my work. The Yellow Album was like a new beginning for the future of my career. If the rest of my career is like a book, the Yellow Album is like an introduction chapter – that’s how I plan my music. I feel like at the end, the Yellow Album will be looked at as something else and people will remember it and love it for what it was, but will also understand that it was just a stepping stone to get somewhere else. I was just trying to make something I was proud of.
The Yellow Album revolves around three basic things: Girls, hanging out and nice things that I buy. Those are the things I’m an expert in and coming from where I come from, those are the things I’m qualified to talk about. If you’re a teacher, you talk about things that you know; you only talk about history because you know a lot of it. The only thing I know a lot of is being a kid from South Central Los Angeles, so I try to only speak about that.
The Yellow Album isn’t for everyone; I know that and I made it that way on purpose so some people wouldn’t like it.
2) Do your tracks revolve around a broad, central theme in your life or who you are?
I try to go by basic principles, which the Yellow Album was kind of like the foundation for – the things I know, who I am, where I’m at, who I hang out with, things I don’t like. I try to hold on to those things now that I’m getting older and not just in music, but also life. I kind of understand what sticks around and what a real trend is like; what’s a beat that will last forever as opposed to a beat that will get me on the radio next week, but two weeks after that people won’t like me anymore – and understanding the difference between those beats.
3) When you released your first mixtape “25th Hour” in 2008, where did you think you would be now in 2012? Is reality any different from what you had imagined?
The reality is different from what I had imagined in terms of the story. In terms of where I’m at, it’s pretty close to what I would think I would be at or hope I would be at.
Music has been on the decline in terms of its quality and sales, and my time period of being a music artist is not the best time.
Now I think about when I was a kid and a fan of rap, for that one album that came out, there were probably 30 other guys whose careers never did nothin’ or they were never heard because when your album came out, the industry had to be behind it. Today, you have a chance to be heard up against that guy even if he’s on the biggest label with $1 million behind it. If you can get your message out to your fans, they’ll carry it for you. But back then, I probably wouldn’t be existing because I don’t have a record deal. If I wasn’t on Def Jam or working with those kinds of people, you probably wouldn’t be hearing of Dom Kennedy today.
4) What do you want people to feel or experience through your music?
Hopefully sincerity. I want people to know my stories are sincere and what I say is factual. Hopefully along the way it [my music] might inspire people or help them learn something about themselves.
5) When you begin writing the lyrics to a new track, what motivates you most to do so?
It all starts with the music for me. I’m a hip-hop artist and I like to ultimately make good-sounding music, and it all starts with the music. If it sounds good, I try to figure out what it’s saying to me and what emotion does the music instill in me; is it a party? Is it thinking about a friend that I lost? Is it thinking about a girl I would like to date? Is it about a girl I used to date? Music does all of those things, so I kind of just go off of the emotions of the music.
6) Is there a specific source of inspiration you consistently tap into, or are you inspired by whatever strikes you in the moment?
Girls. Sometimes it’s not even about dating or anything sexual, I work with a lot of women and women are doing a lot of jobs that guys are scared to do. If a woman picks clothes or designs clothes for me, she’s going to pick something she thinks a guy would look good in. Not like a guy – he’s going to pick clothes he would like to wear.
7) I understand you are heavily inspired by Tupac and the latter part of his career, what is it about Tupac and his legacy that moves you?
His fearlessness, his understanding of his historical importance at a young age, knowing the odds were against him and looking at that in the face, and still delivering what he had to say. [He was not] being pushed aside or lost his focus, but stood there knowing he was going to eventually meet his demise doing what he was doing – and he was willing to still keep going. That’s deep. That’s like a kid going to war for his country – it’s the same thing.
He said what he felt and meant what he said, right or wrong. I feel like you’re born with that or you learn it at a very young age. It’s not just something you can get or fake. It’s like what I was saying about sincerity: He [Shakur] wasn’t always right, but he was sincere. He was always doing it because he felt like it would help somebody else. It’s one thing to help yourself, but when you’re doing it to help someone else, that’s bigger.
8) Two years ago you described your style in IMF Magazine as “simple and casual” characterized by a pair of sneakers, a fitted and a t-shirt. Have you changed your style in any way since then?
Not much. Last year I was shying away from fashion because everyone was fashion-oriented or everyone had a style icon or had good taste. Everything was so like, “Let me take a picture with my outfit on before I even put the song out.” It’s good to have a tight song and dress well, but when people take advantage of it and think it’s just because you dress well, then everyone wants to dress like you. I kind of just move away from things like that. I’m just trying to stay true to myself.
9) Tell me more about your place in the hip-hop fashion world.
I don’t really look at myself as a fashion, hip-hop rapper. I just like to do music and dress nice, because that’s how I always wanted to be and I’ve always dressed how I’m dressed now. I don’t try to change anything because I feel like when I change something, that’s when it goes wrong. If I’m wearing shorts at home, I’m going to wear them in a picture. Why would a change and buy a different outfit when it works? I try to keep everything regular and it works.
10) How do you prepare for a performance like tonight’s performance?
Whenever I have a show, I’m pretty much thinking about it all day, even if it’s a big show or small show.
11) What advice would you have for an up-and-coming hip-hop artist or someone who desires to be a hip-hop artist?
Figure out what’s unique about you that makes you want to do whatever it is you want to do. Whatever that thing is, that’s the story you’re going to tell. Every story has been told — my story has been told, but not how I’m telling it, the details or people. Those are all different. You’re going to be inspired by people in the past, that’s going to make your style, but what’s going to make you an artist or whatever you want to be is what you add after you’ve learned all of that.
To see photos of Dom Kennedy and the other performers at the BroncoFusion concert visit our Flickr.