Throwback Thursday: Kenna

I’m in the middle of reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink,” which is a badass physcho-improvement book about the advantages of making snap judgments, and on a morning when I’m wondering who to write about for Throwback Thursday I’m introduced to an artist named Kenna.

kenna2In Gladwell’s book he spends an entire chapter talking about Kenna’s struggle to reach a mass audience—how being an African-born, American-raised musician balancing between hip-hop, electronica, new wave, and even a little bit of throwback synthesized ‘80s delightfulness makes him almost impossible to categorize and therefore impossible to play on the radio. The kick, however, is that people who know about great music love everything about the guy, even if the Top-40 focus groups didn’t immediately dig his sound. That’s what got Fresh Scouts interested because, let’s face it, a lot of the musicians we feature on this site have had many of the same problems.

So I dug right into Kenna the minute I was in front of a computer and was impressed with the three or four songs that first popped up onto YouTube. It was pretty clear why he wasn’t plastered all over pop radio, but the two songs I listened to—“Freetime” and “Hell Bent,” both from 2001—were fantastic compositions. Wildly different from each other, these two tracks were also wildly different from everything else I’d ever heard, and it got me looking for more.

That led me to the remix of his more recent single, “Say Goodbye to Love,” featuring Lupe Fiasco and nominated for a Grammy last year, which I heard and immediately thought, “How is this any different from anything The Neptunes have ever put out?” I thought, “If Pharrell wrote this song it’d at least be on a radio promo somewhere. At best, it’d be a hit.” Then I dug a little deeper and found out that Chad Hugo of—who else?—The Neptunes had been producing Kenna’s stuff since the first album and said to myself, “Oh.” I was right, dammit. Which confused me even more. Everything Pharrell touches seems to turn to gold, so why not this cat, who everybody with a musical brain seems to love?

It’s not commercial, that’s why. Plain and simple. But those of us with the musical brains I speak of know that there’s plenty of great music out there that would make Casey Kasem roll over in his grave (note—Casey Kasem isn’t technically dead, but if he were…). Kenna is hip-hop and techno and new wave and tons of other stuff, but most off all he’s really talented. And clearly Malcolm Gladwell, whose opinion I trust greatly, thinks he’s worthwhile, too. Do like Gladwell suggests in “Blink”—don’t think about it, just buy the album. Some of our best decisions are made on our instincts, and right now, our instincts are telling us, “Check out Kenna.” We better do what they say.

Here’s that hot remix to “Say Goodbye to Love”:

About the Author

Joel Brigham writes about stuff. It’s pretty much all he cares about. Stuff like music and more music. But he mostly cares about music. And also music.

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