You might not have noticed, but Dom Kennedy had a breakthrough last year. The independent L.A. rapper has been kicking around the scene since 2008, and while his work has been consistent it wasn't enough to garner major-label interest. But last year, when he dropped the excellent The Yellow Album—prompted by his simple but undeniably catchy jam "My Type of Party"—he made a new wave of fans through word-of-mouth buzz.
If you haven't heard The Yellow Album, you should. It's one of the most cohesive projects of the past few years. The sound is distinctly L.A.: the perfect album to just ride around to. Dom raps with an everyman appeal that might be best summarized on the song "1:25" when he says, "Tryna get my chips and stay away from you simps/If you happy being you, I fuck with you on the strength."
This week, Dom dropped his newest project, Get Home Safely. We got on the horn with the OPM (Other People's Money) rapper to talk about moving independently, the one-of-a-kind deal he struck with Best Buy, and why there's so much talent on the West Coast right now.
Interview by Insanul Ahmed (@Incilin)
You’ve been on the scene for a few years. People knew you, but they didn’t know you all that well. I think The Yellow Album really opened you up to a whole new audience.
Yeah. I agree.
So let’s take it back to last year before The Yellow Album came out. How did you feel going into that album?
Going into it, my mantra is to be as stable an artist as I can be. Like you said, I was doing [music] for a while, I had to put out projects, I traveled, I did shows. I really wanted to find my love for why I do what I did. I felt like being independent worked in my favor because it allowed me to miss some of the pitfalls that a lot of other artists fall into. [Artists get forced into doing] things musically that they aren’t ready for and they didn’t really wanna be doing but they just got lost in their label situation.
I had the opportunity to sit back and watch. The only thing that I really saw is what people really cared about: It’s the music. People get lost in that talking about the music business. Knowing that, I wanted to create a body of music that I felt people would like. That’s all I was really trying to do, establish myself in music. I knew what I was doing, it was a calculated risk. The Yellow Album was different, especially at that time.
A lot of artists, they come in and try to do exactly what they liked as a kid or exactly what they like now. But you don’t become anybody until you add something.
It had a unified sound to it. It sounds very L.A. without sounding like G-Funk. How did you come to that sound?
It really started on previous things that I worked on, like From the Westside With Love and on Original Dom Kennedy. They weren’t as big as The Yellow Album as a whole, but there were songs on it that I started to play around with [that sound]. On The Yellow Album, I figured out that sound. You want people to think highly of you, you have to add something to the game.
Everybody has influences. Like you said, I came in with a G-Funk sound. A lot of artists, they come in and try to do exactly what they liked as a kid or exactly what they like now. But you don’t become anybody until you add something. That’s what I had to do on The Yellow Album. It started with previous projects. I started focusing in on that. Instead of having a little flash of it on the album, I made a whole album around that [sound]. I felt like this is something that I provide, this is something that nobody else can do.
That reminds me of a great Miles Davis quote in which he said, "Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself."
For sure. There’s so much in your head about what you like listening to. It’s all good because that’s what gets you to where you got. I heard over a million songs in my life, half of them were rap songs. So, my songs are like chopped-up versions of those songs in a way, like pieces that I heard and I like. After you do that for so long, you begin to say, you know what, I’m gonna need to do this. This is me.
Right now, you’re definitely known for the music, but it seems like you don’t care much for the celebrity aspect of it.
I mean, I don’t know. I never really dreamt of myself that way. That’s really what it comes down to, the business that we do. It’s not that I don’t like it. I don’t think no way about it. It’s not my job to be famous, it’s my job to make a good song. That’s what I try to focus on. If you don’t know me for the song, then I’m fine with you not knowing about this.
That’s a position a lot of people don’t have. People are like, it’s fame over everything. For them, even if the people don’t like your song or they don’t know you for a good reason, it’s still all good. But me, I don’t really care if people don’t know me. If you know me, I’m happy because you know me for my songs. I don’t want you to know me for something else. I sell songs, that’s really all I got to sell.
I don’t really care if people don’t know me. If you know me, I’m happy because you know me for my songs. I don’t want you to know me for something else. I sell songs, that’s really all I got to sell.
Right. That sentiment sort of highlights how I feel about your music. There’s a certain humility about how you rap.
A humility? Yeah. For sure. I look at what I do as just like documentation in audio form. The same way somebody would come and say, “Okay we’re gonna make a film about this age bracket of young people in L.A.” They would come film me. I just talk about it. I’m just documenting what we do. It don’t really affect me so much whether or not it’s on the cover of whatever because it’s our story. Five years from now, it’s still going to sound good because it’ll all be based on fact.
We were talking about what was going on in your life leading up to The Yellow Album. What happened after that record came out?
After it came out, it did really well. It kept growing, it took us overseas for the first time. It really got me into the power of going in with an idea and seeing it all the way through. Once I saw that it was possible—that we could sit down, see it all the way through, and for it to be successful—it was a big step for me.
You’ve talked about wanting to leave the industry behind at one point. What was going through your mind at that time?
I mean, I didn’t want to leave the industry behind because I wasn’t even in the industry. Even today, I’m not really part of it. But you know, like doing music, I did a lot of things and I went further than I ever thought I would. When I first started rapping people didn’t think someone could come out of L.A. that wasn’t gang-affiliated. I was the one that showed a lot of people that you could do that and be yourself. You could come out like, this is me, and people will support you. So that’s how I am with life.
If I wasn’t in it for the love of the music or to innovate or to add something to people’s minds, then I didn’t even want to do it anymore. I was thinking, why else would I do it? I’m not doing it for the money. That’s what’s kind of pushed me even more so in the The Yellow Album direction because I truly love making an album.