Exclusive: Dom Kennedy breaks down his writing process for "Get Home Safely" and explains his admiration for Rap-A-Lot Records.
Years before Kendrick Lamar and ScHoolboy Q took Hip Hop by storm, Dom Kennedy was leading the charge for an LA scene that attracted heads and hipsters alike. With contagious charisma, a penchant for storytelling and one of the best work ethics in the game, Kennedy remains an independent success story. The hustle certainly doesn’t stop here though.
“I feel like people will be proud to say that this is their favorite Rap album of the moment,” Kennedy tells HipHopDX about Get Home Safely—his upcoming sophomore LP due before the end of the summer. “It represents something bigger than just $10 or just one person.” Kennedy still reps California to the fullest, but after completing his first world tour and being exposed to bigger stages, Get Home Safely won’t just be a West Coast record.
Dom details his expectations for the project, plus breaks down his opinions on Kendrick, the goals for his label OpM, and his support for the hometown LA Dodgers.
Dom Kennedy On His Independence & Rap-A-Lot Aspirations
HipHopDX: Tell me about this line, “The very first time I heard Black Superman / I knew it was okay to be exactly who I am,” from “Locals Only.”
Dom Kennedy: That’s just like me saying that a lot of times, the songs that you like the most or the songs that are the coolest to you might not be the coolest to everybody, or might not be the most popular. They don’t always go hand in hand. But it’s kind of like me giving a nod to that, just saying that you can really make songs for whoever you want to make songs for, you know? It’ll be okay as long as you’re saying what you truly want to say. The right people will hear it and get the message, and it’ll help them. The people that you really, truly hope are fans of your music and respect what you’re doing, and want to make you a part of their lives, they’re going to get it. That’s what I was really saying with that.
DX: You kicked off the Yellow Album by saying “I’m just explorin’.” You’ve already got five mixtapes and projects out, what are you still exploring these days?
Dom Kennedy: Life! My music is a great reflection of life, you know? At that moment in my life, it was perfect. When I was making that body of work, there were a lot of questions that I had and still continue to have. At that moment, it was more so, like, “What are you doing here?” You try something, you start to be successful at it, and then you think, “What does this mean to you?” Figure it out. You travel, you’ve done this, you make money—you’re not doing it to make money—you do shows. How big do you want to be? What’s really important to you? What do you want to say? That whole album; that’s basically how it was. It’s about exploring, trying to figure that out.
DX: That whole album was done independently. Where are you at independently now in 2013, and where do you think the whole independent movement is at?
Dom Kennedy: Man, I think it’s lovely! I think it’s stronger than ever, in terms of what your capabilities are. What’s going up against you is the same damn thing that’s always up against you, and that’s just money. And to be independent and successful, you have to be overwhelmingly talented, because you’re not going to get as much exposure, so you have to be at least better than the average person that has a record deal. You’re competing against four or five of them at the same time. If you can put a little money into it and just get a little percentage of that market, you can be successful. I think the avenues are wide open, with corporate sponsorships. You can look at it from the bottom, with new artists putting out mixtapes on sites and getting paid off the advertising, to the top, with Jay Z’s [Magna Carta Holy Grail] with Samsung getting $20 million. It’s as big as you can make it, but the avenues are there. You don’t have a lot of red tape, and if you can show [record labels] that you have a large fan base, people are interested in what you have to say, are coming to your shows and being a part of whatever it is that you’re doing—if you have proof of those numbers—you can win. For sure, you can definitely win.
DX: Besides yourself, who else do you think is winning independently?
Dom Kennedy: People like Mac Miller—and I don’t know how independent these people are or what their situations are—but people like Mac Miller. Nipsey Hussle was independent for a couple years and he was successful. Curren$y now has the albums on Warner Bros., but he’s obviously a person that had independent success. And Wiz Khalifa to a certain point—I’ve been with him and done shows with him. But in terms of what I’m trying to do, I think it’s past what all of those guys did. The next step for me would have to be like Rap-A-Lot. That’s what I would compare Dom Kennedy, OpM and all that to. We’re going for that kind of stature now, since we’ve done everything else.
DX: Absolutely. Who do you admire most on Rap-A-Lot? Any contact there?
Dom Kennedy: I don’t have contact with anyone there, but I respect the owner, J Prince. You know, Scarface if you want to talk about some of the artists there. Scarface for sure, someone that did it with integrity, had artistic Rap music, and was respected and different beyond just regionally. He had respect amongst his peers.
Dom Kennedy On Expectations For “Get Home Safely”
DX: On “My Type Of Party,” you said that you’re “hangin’ with Dodgers.” How much have you been following this crazy season that they’re having? Any Dodgers you’re particularly cool with?
Dom Kennedy: Yeah, I’m a little bit cool with Matt Kemp. We don’t hang out, but I’m cool with Matt Kemp. Hell yeah I’ve been following, my man. It was crazy because I was about to buy season tickets for the first time, but then realized that I won’t have time to go to that shit! I’ll be making the album. They were pretty bad at the beginning of the season, but now they’re doing crazy. But I’ve been watching and keeping up with them for sure…crazy year for the Dodgers for sure.
DX: You’ve been crazy busy with that album, I bet. Tell me what fans can expect from Get Home Safely.
Dom Kennedy: Man, they can expect the highest quality music they’ve definitely heard from me, and they’ve probably heard from a lot of genres—not just Hip Hop. I’m introducing the album to encourage and reach a lot of people that probably never knew who Dom Kennedy was. But it’s in a great way. Without changing what I do or without compromising the integrity of Rap music or anything, I feel like people will be proud to say that this is their favorite Rap album of the moment. I feel like it’s been few and far between that people are able to say that in our generation. For people interested in Hip Hop and Rap music, I feel like they’ll be proud to say that, “You need to listen to this; this is a great body of work.” It represents something bigger than just $10 or just one person.
DX: Well tell me what song you’re particularly proud of on this project.
Dom Kennedy: Man...to keep it real, without sounding wack, all of them. But you know, each for different reasons. There’s a song on there called “Black Bentley,” that I can say I’m proud of for writing. I’m proud that I stayed up until 6:30 in the morning to do it to get it all out. It’s probably my favorite song I’ve ever written. It might not be my favorite Dom Kennedy song ever, but it’s definitely the best song I’ve ever written. A lot of it is more like poetry to melodic and hard Rap beats. And I feel like, in the context of that, the writing on there is great. It’s great quality writing. I would compare it more to a book, an audio book, than an album, you know? It’s more traditional. I’m talking more about my life than the Rap you’re hearing nowadays.
DX: What inspired “Black Bentley?” What inspired all that poetic writing in general?
Dom Kennedy: Man, just life! Different phases. Last year, I lost someone important to me, and that makes you ask yourself a lot of questions. I’ve been growing up. I went overseas for the first time in my life last year, off the Yellow Album. That’ll change your whole perspective, on a world tour. The more you travel, the more people you meet, the more stories you hear, it’s like the little things become big, and the things you think are big become little. You know what I’m saying? Material things like that become smaller; relationships, dedication, sacrifices and leaving a real legacy become more important. This is the album that I always wanted to make. If I were a kid and I was looking at me, I would say that this is the album I’d want to make. It tells more so about me as a person.
DX: With all these new topics, do you think that the album sounds like anything else you’ve done…any of the mixtapes? Or is this a completely new thing?
Dom Kennedy: It’s both in a weird way. It’s a completely new thing, but the quality is going to be there because it’s not my first album. If the first time you heard of Dom Kennedy was Get Home Safely, and then I never did another CD after that, you’d probably think I was the greatest person that ever happened [laughs]. That’s how it would really go down. But that’s not what I wanted. That’s not real. It’s a process. So knowing that, people are obviously going to know that it’s me. People are going to know that it’s good because I’ve made good songs before, but the level of this, they’ve probably never heard. We worked really hard. I had a lot of top-level people around me producing…people that really know instruments. We took a lot of chances, but they were calculated. There weren’t any accidents.
DX: Has it been frustrating working to get this album out? Walk me through the process.
Dom Kennedy: There haven’t been no push-backs really. We’re in the process of mixing it right now. My original intent was to put out the Yellow Album—and I never wanted to sell that—and then charge people now, when I’d really need it. That was my plan, to put this out right at the end of summer. Really, I’m sticking to my plan. We’re looking to sell it independently to iTunes and Best Buy. That’s where it’s going to be. We’re looking at an official date, and when we have to turn it in and all that, we just got that info we’ve been waiting on.
DX: Still aiming for the end of summer?
Dom Kennedy: Yeah, some time in the next 45 days for sure.
DX: We’re looking forward to it. Everyone’s buzzing about “Control,” and you’ve obviously done some stuff with Kendrick before. Tell me, as a West Coast dude, what did you think of that song? What about the “King of New York” line?
Dom Kennedy: To be honest with you, at first I didn’t really understand it. Someone first told me about it, and I didn’t really get it. But then a day later, I saw people were still talking about it. I was like, “Damn, that’s crazy.” People were really mad. I listened to it again and saw some of the people that responded to it, and it was a big moment, man. It was a big moment for Rap—especially this year. The energy, or whatever people were mad at, it gave people something to talk about. In today’s time, especially, it’s all about the headlines. But it was pretty interesting for sure. What you ended up seeing was just how people felt anyway. That’s the funny part—the responses. That’s really how people feel [laughs].