Introducing The Original Dom Kennedy

Quiet as it’s kept, Dom Kennedy is on the forefront of hip-hop as far as up-and-coming rappers in L.A. are concerned. Although the Leimert Park native has no big industry co-signs or a label deal, there’s one thing that’s almost impossible to overlook—his overwhelming fan base.

It’s been almost a year since From The Westside, With Love dropped and took Dom zig-zagging across the country and abroad doing shows (traveling as far as Djibouti, Africa). The mixtape ultimately put him in a position to start seeing things a little differently.

Dom’s new mixtape, The Original Dom Kennedy, which dropped yesterday, intends to be more of a reflection of the way the Cali rapper wants to express himself as an artist from here on out. It features ten all-new tracks, all original production, and is a throwback to Dom’s beginnings in music as well as a nod to authenticity and ingenuity.

We caught up with Kennedy in his Melrose Avenue studio to talk about what Original Dom Kennedy should mean to fans, how he feels about not being included in XXL’s freshman class this year, and why he decided to open his mixtape with Funkmaster Flex’s unsavory comments about 2Pac. Here’s your first look at the new Dom Kennedy.

Interview by Brooklyne Gipson (@brooklyne)

Complex: How would you say that Original Dom differs from past projects?
Dom: It differs because I never really cared too much. In terms of me as a person, as a figure in rap, as a brand, I always wanted to stand for something. Musically, I never really stood for anything until this moment. I had songs before. I always wanted to have good projects, a good image, and dress nice. But until now, I never really had a sound or wanted to take a stand in terms of how my music was sounding.

Complex: So what do you want people to walk away feeling and thinking after hearing Original Dom for the first time?
Dom: I want them to walk away thinking, "Damn, that nigga did it again." It’s like I’m coming back to school. A lot of these niggas leave the last day in June and come back in September with the same outfit on, the same hair cut. Me, I’m coming back in the fall with everything different. It would have been easy for me to just recreate From the Westside, With Love. But then it’s like my shit would have been watered down. If somebody takes your shit and then add water to it, by the time it comes back to you it’s not even the same thing no more. I can’t even do my own shit. So with the Original Dom Kennedy it’s kind of like it’s a different cup, a different drink.

My plan was to make this shit so distinctive that after Original Dom Kennedy comes out, if anybody trying to do anything close to what these songs sound like, niggas is gonna be like, ‘You can’t do that, that sound like the Dom Kennedy song.’ With [Original Dom] you can’t say that. There’s no way that a Big Sean or J. Cole could have made these songs. That’s what I’m most proud of. It’s a way that we do things, the way we live, and the way we grew up that nobody should be able to touch. Like, we’re not friends. It’s no similarities between Leimart Park and where Wale's from. It’s nothing. And I don’t want anybody to hear us or hear our music and think that we could have rode bikes together because we couldn’t have. That’s what I’m trying to do with my music.

Complex: Did 2Pac inspire the song “Niggas for Life” or were you doing the song and decided to drop a 2Pac line in?
Dom: One day I was in a real ‘Fuck everything’ mood and I was listening to 2pac quotes. I was mad because I was thinking about how kids don’t even really know nothing about 2Pac. I was gonna take his quotes and probably just put them all over the whole project. [But] I just felt like that was the perfect spot, so I just cut it up and made it fit. [It wasn’t] for my own reasons but just so the kids that download my shit had to hear him, just so he would be on they mind. He don’t have to be all over a grip of songs saying a lot of shit. I feel like that song will make a good enough impact. Just that little quote from him is enough for people to understand where I was coming from.

Complex: On "The Homies" you address Flex's comments regarding 2Pac by saying, "I heard that nigga Funk Flex say that Pac aint shit/And I hope when you see him that he slap yo mouth."
Dom: I realized over this last year, just seeing how this shit works, that the reality of it is they gonna get me anyways. So if that’s the case, you might as well say what you want to say, period. I would hate to put out some shit and it wasn’t really all the way what I wanted to say. Like, what I said about Funk Flex saying that shit about 2pac, [I said], "I hope that nigga [2Pac] slap you." If I never got the chance to say that, I’d feel wack because then I would have to be like, ‘Damn I didn’t really get that off.’ And the thing is, why? Why would I not say that? What do I have to lose? Is he not gonna play my song? He don’t play my song anyways, so really, what the fuck do it matter?

Complex: How do you feel about the way people responded to what Flex said?
Dom: It came and went. When I saw it I was like, Damn, this nigga is crazy. But that just goes to show you what niggas think about you. It’s like when you coming up and you think everybody in the world just wanna see you eat ice cream all day and then you realize it ain’t really like that. Like, these niggas really used to pat me on the head when I was a kid and now they grab their purse when I walk by. At the end of the day, niggas' true feelings gonna always show. Shit like that, that’s just really inexcusable. [But] that’s cool. I’m happy, I would rather niggas tell the truth anyways.

Complex: What do you think hinders a lot of artists from saying what they want to say?
Dom: [They] don’t have somebody going all in for [them]. Most of these niggas got a nigga in NY in their back pocket that’s telling them to change their shit, you know what I’m saying? Or they’re trying to influence them, "It’s too much of this" or "This is cool and this is cool, but it needs to be like this and this." That’s weak to me. I look for niggas like Chip Tha Ripper cause he’s a Cleveland nigga. At the end of the day, if we all die, niggas could not say that Chip Tha Ripper did nobody else, but Chip Tha Ripper. You can’t say that for 99 out of 100 of these niggas. My thing is when people say Dom Kennedy's music reminds them of L.A., I wanna do that 100 percent because at the end of the day that’s all I am.

Complex: Where are you with Westside 2?
Dom: I got a couple of things written and I got a lot of ideas. But when I have a lot of ideas and everything, it all just falls into place. That’s how I work. So in my mind I’m almost done. Recording wise, I’m like 10-15 percent. But it will be out like soon—late April.

Complex: Do you feel like you were slighted for XXL’s 2011 freshman cover?
Dom: If it would have been last year, I probably would’ve been mad. But, I’m in a different space in life. The day that the new cover came out, every time I refreshed my [Twitter] page it was 300 mentions about that shit. I was at the Fox Hills Mall taking pictures with kids and signing autographs. You can’t really take something away from somebody that they deserve or that people feel like they deserve. It wasn’t a slap in my face. It’s [really] a slap in the face to kids that come up to me like, "I can’t believe that I’m actually talking to you. Can you take a picture with me?" 

What niggas fail to realize is that what Dom Kennedy represents is that "Inner-city, do it yourself, I can make it happen" shit. So when they see things like that—[someone] they know who deserves something but didn’t get it—it discourages them. It’s like one of them feelings where the world ain’t fair type of shit. It’s hard for me to feel bad for myself because I’m doing what I love to do. I’m in a good position. I feel like I’m making the best music I ever wanted to make and I can’t be mad.

Complex: And if they come calling next year?
Dom: I don’t know. Nobody owes nobody shit. I don’t owe them nothing. I can be like, ‘Fuck y’all’ and they could be like, ‘Fuck me.’ But either way, their shit doesn’t have nothing to do with my shit and my shit don’t have nothing to do with they shit. I feel good about the fact that it’s not gonna stop nothing regardless. If anything, it might have worked in my favor. I’m sure I got more people saying, "That’s fucked up that Dom’s not on there" than a lot of niggas probably got, "Congratulations, you on there."

Complex: But would you accept an offer to be on the cover next year?
Dom: That would be pointless. I would be spitting on my own face. It’s cool to fuck up, if niggas say they didn’t feel like I was the nigga I could live with that. I know a lot of people probably feel that way. That’s cool. I'm gonna just try my best to make niggas just admit they were wrong.