Q&A with 2016 SpringFest headliner Dom Kennedy

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Los Angeles-based rapper Dom Kennedy performed in a crowded Rush Gymnasium Saturday for this year’s SpringFest concert. Kennedy is an independent artist who has refused record deals in favor of his own label, The Other People’s Money Company (OpM). His latest album, “By Dom Kennedy,” was released June 2 to positive reception, debuting at No. 23 on the Billboard 200 Chart. His previous album “Get Home Safely” was ranked as the No. 12 best hip-hop album of 2013 by XXL Magazine, and his song “My Type of Party” made Complex Magazine’s “Best 50 Songs of 2012” list. The Occidental Weekly talked to Kennedy before the show to learn more about his advice for college students, his connections to the LA music scene and the future of his career.

Q: How do you prepare for more intimate concerts like this? What’s going through your head before you get on stage?

A: Prepare? I mean there’s not really any way to prepare, you know, everyone is kind of different, but just listening to the music I guess. On the road you kind of get in the rhythm, you’ve got to rely on your instincts. This is our first show since my tour in December, but I’ve been doing it for a while now so it’s not really our first show. It’s fun! Every performance is different, every audience is different, especially going to a school, so it’s always just a time to connect with the audience. That’s probably what I enjoy the most.

Q: What are you looking to give to Oxy students from your performance today?

A: Hopefully some inspiration! Mutual fun is what we do best, OpM I guess, you know. Hopefully they’ll have a good time and hear some new music. Hopefully there’s people that never even heard my music before, to people that have heard it, and everybody will just have a good time and just take something away. Like “you know, that was pretty cool,” that’s what I’m saying. That’s what I look for from the stage: energy from the crowd, see who’s out there. For sure.

Q: What’s your connection with the college fans? I know you spent some time at Santa Monica College, so how do you think your music or performance relates?

A: I never really lived in a real college environment, like that dorm room thing, but I know the atmosphere, you know it’s real. Like I said, it’s inspirational, and you share information, and I feel like that’s one of the good things about my music. When I was younger and just started out to now, it’s about information and people pass the information on. Somebody might be a good rapper, or somebody might not be a good rapper, right? But either way it goes, if you don’t learn nothing, or you don’t get anything from it that you didn’t know before, it’s not really going to matter. I feel like the information output in my music is like, why, maybe college kids gravitate towards it, cause they can share it, or they might learn something or find out something they didn’t know before, and that’s kind of what college is about.

Q: We have a lot of aspiring musicians and artists at Oxy — singers, rappers, etc. — what’s your message to those college students as someone who was once in their position?

A: I would say just enjoy not being a big superstar, if that sounds right. If you never put out anything, some people feel like that’s bad, but what’s the point of putting something out if it’s not great and you don’t love it? Everybody has their journey, and when you’re figuring it out, you should take the opportunity to get as much research in and as much practice in as you can so by the time you do decide to put something out, it’s that much better. I would just say learn as much as you can, you know, figure out the people, get your references, watch the trends change. Don’t be in a rush just because something’s out right now and you think that you could do that, or do that a little bit better to be a part of that. Watch some trends change, the times evolve, and you’ll understand what your place is and what you want to do so you make a real impact.

Q: I know you come from Leimert Park, so what do you hope to add or what do you think you add to the Los Angeles music scene?

A: I mean I started in the LA music scene a while ago, almost seven or eight years ago now, so things was different back then, but hopefully I added, I would like to say, a different level of honesty, a different vision for the LA artists doing music. Being a young kid from the inner city, I hope I added like a different vision. Before me, when I started putting out music, there wasn’t really nobody like me from LA that I could say “this person did what I was gonna do,” so I kind of used that to create what I wanted to see happen and did it myself instead of waiting for somebody else to do it. I was like “I’mma do it myself” and be the person that LA needed. And you know being from LA, I’m here! I go to these places, I hear these songs, but something’s missing that’s not being represented in the music. So instead of just complaining about it, it’s kinda like “well you do it,” you know? That’s what got me started and really taking it seriously.

Q: And how has the community influenced your music?

A: The stories I talk about really was happening when I was younger, you know. I’ve lived in all different places in LA. I spent a good amount of time living in Leimert Park, but many places influenced me when I was a young kid way before I was rapping just as a thing and I was hanging out with guys that was older that did rap. Hearing them inspire to be a rapper and me not really caring — I just liked watching videos, I liked the songs, I liked just hanging out — you know, just the atmosphere. I really never thought I could be a rapper or ever looked at myself as a rapper, I just thought I was a fan. But as I got older I realized, when I started writing songs, that’s where I was at. So it wasn’t really something I was consciously talking about, it was just kinda like I realized that this was my story, and the story has to take place somewhere. You know what I’m saying? You know when you read a Disney book and it’s like Robin Hood, then it’s like where’s it at though? They immediately tell you where you’re at. So it’s kinda like that: This is Dom Kennedy, Leimert Park. That gives you automatically a space to imagine where all the things I was gonna tell you happens at.

Q: As a community leader, how do you think your music or other local music helps to strengthen Los Angeles communities?

A: I think it’s good for the younger kids, the kids that are your age or younger, cause it gives them something to even just tell their parents, like “This guy making a living doing his thing, so it can’t be that hard or far away,” and that’s a good thing. So I hope if anything, it strengthens the mental side of the community, and young people apply it to whatever. Not just doing music, but just being able to go and say “You know, this guy represents and makes a style of music that’s true to who I am, the way I grew up.” So I feel to have some type of representation and something to be proud of, you know, show people even if they’re not trying to listen to music. They just might go to school way in the South, and otherwise people don’t know where they’re from, but they say “I live where Dom Kennedy talks about,” and they’ll be like “Oh! I heard that!” That’s kind of more so what’s good.

Q: What do you think makes you different than other rappers?

A: Makes me different? Same thing that makes me the same probably. Yeah, it’s really just detail, just like anything else that’s going to be in detail. Somebody could buy your same boots, or same colored jeans you picked or how you cuffed them, so what’s gonna separate you from the next person? It’s just in the detail. If you sized us up and put us all on FOX News we would all look the same, pretty much. Nobody be able to tell the difference between who’s who, except the people that’s into it cause they know the details. “That’s that person, he wears his hat like this,” or “That’s that person, he always got this jewelry on,” you know?

Q: What’s it like being independent, and why have you decided to stay independent? I know you’ve gotten record deal offers before.

A: Being independent, especially at this point, is not something I look at as being independent no more. Just having a small business, having a business in America. I’m just like everybody else. My ceiling is as high as I want it to be, and if I don’t do nothing for the rest of the year, I’m not gonna make no money. It’s all in my hands. But I enjoy it! Like we — as a business, as a company — started after I was a rapper, so we like five-years-old, OpM is a five-year-old company this year. So we kind of like turned a corner, not like any business that I’ve heard about or read about. Most businesses are not profitable for ten years! So I don’t really have nothing to complain about. I’m just trying to keep it going, and take every opportunity when I do something to make it that much more impactful.

Q: What do you think the biggest accomplishment of your career thus far is?

A: I would say just having OpM on Billboard with the “By Dom Kennedy” album. Musically, people might not feel like that had all of my best songs, but it’s an evolution, not a revolution. You evolve as a company, you know. So “By Dom Kennedy” could have never been in the top ten on Billboard if it wasn’t for “From the Westside with Love” or all the other things we’ve done. 20 years from now if somebody wanted to do research, they could go back and look at this week and be like “Damn, this guy Dom Kennedy was on top.” It’s a record of us in the charts. That was a dope accomplishment just to see that, for sure.

Q: I know in an interview a few years back on E=MC2, you said you planned on being “the best rapper alive.” Just out of genuine curiosity, what’s the status on that?

A: It’s an evolution, you know what I’m saying, not a revolution! I’m definitely my favorite rapper at this point, but if I was finished with it I would retire, so there’s obviously still things I want to do with music or that I wanna make. I feel that’s how anybody would go. If I had played football, I would want to be the best quarterback, and then even old people’s favorite might still be Joe Montana after I’m done. He’s a cool guy, but for us we’re trying to get some wins, you know? So definitely that’s what’s happening right now, but I’m excited for what’s still to come – what the world hasn’t heard. That still intrigues me more than what do know. What we don’t know is still worth fighting for.

Q: And what can we expect is next to come?

A: Man, more music, a different focus, creativity. We looking forward to creating something new and do what we’re here to do, not just for music but just in life. More inspiration, you know, like we talked about. More fun with the music so that people get more information and have more good times, and I feel that’s the answer to all of problems in terms of sales and everything. The better people feel about what you’re doing, even if you’re having a bad day, that’s one thing, but I look more at it like “let’s turn that around.” We know that it’s energy, we know that it’s music, so it’s like let’s be the best example of ourselves through the music as we possibly can, regardless. And sometimes it takes having nothing, or realizing that if you don’t try, you don’t have nothing. So I’m definitely looking forward to the forward to the future for sure.

Q: Just one last question: Have you heard YG’s new song with Nipsey Hussle?

A: Yeah, “F— Donald Trump?”

Q: Yeah! What are your thoughts on that?

A: I saw it on Rolling Stone! It was cool, it’s a cool song. I was happy that Rolling Stone promoted it, I feel like that’s the social significance of it, I would say. It’s about freedom of speech, you know. It’s one of the things America was founded on, so it should never get to the point where some people could say something and you know you can’t respond, and vice-versa. The fact that, at this point, YG let it off and took that position means they felt something about putting the song out. Eight years ago it was Young Jeezy and Jay Z with “My President is Black!” That was a big song. Eight years later it was “F— Donald Trump.” If he lose, if he win, what’s going to happen with the record, I don’t know, but I like the social significance of it for sure. Just being able to exercise your rights and speak how you feel and make a song about it! We’ve all made songs about girls, or this or that, and those are cool too, whether it be violence or anything. So something where we’re speaking on something politically is a great thing.