With the recent release of his first full-length album “Until The Future”, up-and-coming hip hop artist Kenan Bell is literally (with an imposing stature of 6’5”) and figuratively poised as he deftly lyricizes “in the ‘dot of the “i” overlooking hip hop”. During the course of my hour plus interview he talked about everything from initially ignoring his calling to hip hop, navigating music industry highs and lows as an indie artist, to his faith. His freshman album boldly manhandles an eclectic range of topics including dating taboos, racial stereotypes, grammar rules, black history, sports and religion; and sometimes all in one song! But his fluid delivery seamlessly ties it all together. Sorry ladies we didn’t’ touch on dating. I suppose you’ll have to go to his show in a town near you. But until then, enjoy Kenan Bell unplugged.
Sonic Eclectic: First of all congratulations on the release of your new album.
Kenan Bell: Thank you. Yeah, it’s been a long time coming. I’m very proud of it.
SE: Tell me about the process of writing and recording this album. You were teaching full-time correct?
KB: Yes. Because I had an 8-5 [job] I would get to the studio by 7 [p.m.] and stay as long as I could before going home to get up the next day and teach. I was able to record a good part of the beats over Spring Break last year. I constructed the lyrics over the next year or so. It
’s good that I had time to grow throughout the process. Overall it was fun.
SE: I read that your friends, now band mates had a unique way of helping you stay on task with your musical pursuit and keeping your dream alive. How did your faith come into play in pursuing your MC aspirations?
KB: Yeah many times I would leave work and there would be a CD on my car of a beat that Jason Burkhart and Jon Siebels had made during the day. Recording this album was graduation for me. I was preventing this for so long by ignoring the instinct to pursue it. I didn’t want to be that kid that was pigeonholed by a stereotype because of my stature and ethnicity as someone who would become a professional athlete or pursue entertainment. However, I definitely feel God led me to this place. I’m not quite sure how it was revealed to me whether through prayer or meditation or reading scripture or just things revealed to me in my day in such a way that I couldn’t ignore it. It just became too obvious, almost like a calling.
SE: The range of topics you address in pretty much most of your songs is like a lyrical mashup if you will. I found myself wishing for the old days of cassette tapes so I could rewind! How would you categorize your album?
KB: Every one of the songs could be on a different style of album. They are an antithesis to what is labeled as mainstream hip hop. It’s hard for me to even get the categorization of hip hop on itunes. One reviewer even said he couldn’t sum up the album. That was almost my intention. Hopefully people will be touched by the music we made.
SE: How did you choose the first single for your album?
KB: I don’t even know what the first single off of my album was. “Good Day” and “Enjoy” were both on my Good Day the EP that came out in March ’08. “Fruit & Vegetables” was released in spring ’09 after my Good News the Mixtape and served as an introduction, especially given the song’s lyrics. I consider “Fruit & Vegetables” the lead single. On the other hand, “Like This” has generated the most buzz and exposure since it was licensed for the 2K Sports presents NBA2K10 soundtrack and we shot a video for it, so it also could be considered single. Technically, my album has already had 5 singles released.
SE: Explain the concept of your video.
KB: Big ups to Scott Davids and Alex Scott. The treatment was simple. We scoured the great city of Los Angeles and illustrated the song’s theme with imagery and illusion. Since LA is essentially a movie set in itself we were able to capture the essence of the city and shoot at landmark locations that may not be the typical spots seen in every cliché rap music video scene from the West Coast. The chorus on “Like This”: “You’ve never heard something like this before” was visually depicted by these iconic locales such that upon first glance one couldn’t decide if we shot on location or used a green screen.
SE: You’ve opened for an eclectic range of artists from De la Soul to RJD2. How have the responses from the respective audiences differed, if at all?
KB: I’m incredibly thankful for being represented by such an awesome booking agency. The De La tour was perfect because it prepared us for the big stage before we knew we were ready. Like when the moms pushes you in the pool forcing you to learn how to swim. I recall being on stage at the Fillmore in San Francisco as direct support and thinking, “Wow, I’m opening for Dela?” Being able to perform for a crowd that obviously appreciates what it means to be original and respects the preservation of hip hop was monumental. That affirmation gave me the encouragement I needed to press forward and continue to work at the art of performing and watching those guys night in and night out was the best crash course possible. Since I usually perform with a live band, as does RJ, the RJD2 Colossus Tour was like my final exam. I got the chance to see firsthand how a maestro conducts and coordinates his team so that they all can be successful. Observing his set from all angles, I was amazed at the attentiveness of his audience and became aware of how to captivate them with a diverse set, but also focusing on your bread and butter in order to bring it home. His crowd was so high I’m not sure if they were going crazy because they enjoyed my music or just because they were mentally going crazy.
SE: My recommendation for Kenan Bell’s future? Wear shades.