The Duality of Kenny Mason, Atlanta’s New Star
Kenny Mason, one of our favorite new rappers, introduced himself this week with his excellent debut album 'Angelic Hoodrat.'
Photo by Corey C Waters
The phrase “genre-bending” gets thrown around a lot these days, but it’s never been used more appropriately than to describe the music of 25-year-old rapper Kenny Mason.
Just look at his recent string of releases. After introducing fans to his technical rap skills on “HIT,” Kenny followed up with the rock-inspired “Metal Wings,” which was inspired by some of his favorite alternative bands, like the Pixies. Then showcased another element of his artistry with the ominous “Angelic Hoodrat,” which doubles as the title track of his debut album, out now.
Angelic Hoodrat shows just how versatile Kenny is. The project has been in the works for the last three years, and it has gone through several different versions, but Kenny explains the final product highlights his eclectic tastes and interests.
“I listen to different types of music, and I like a bunch different types of artists,” he says. “So I didn’t want to limit myself. I don’t ever want to take one form or one shape. I want to be formless or shapeless. I feel like a lot of the textures on the album are rock-influenced and maybe R&B-influenced. [There’s] some crazy shit on there. I was trying to figure it out, and these songs are the best versions of me figuring it out.”
Kenny admits that he isn’t concerned with album sales, but his future goals are just as multifaceted as the sounds on the project. As the album title hints at, Kenny has two sides. “The angelic side of me wants to make music for people who really need it,” he explains. “[For my hoodrat side], I want to be the biggest artist in the world—however that looks—while still being myself and still keeping it real.”
Expanding on that theme of duality, he says, “This whole album is about the conflict that sometimes comes about in living your life. There’s a time to be an angel, and there’s a time to be a hoodrat.”
Complex touched bases with Kenny Mason to discuss his debut album, musical influences, and Atlanta’s budding renaissance. The interview, edited for clarity, is below.
How have you been adjusting to the pandemic so far?
All my shows were basically canceled. I got on most major festivals, but before they were all canceled, my team and I decided to cancel them ourselves out of safety. But on the flip side, I get the time to work on a bunch of new songs. That’s always fire. I’m lucky enough to have a studio where I live at.
Some artists delayed their albums. Why did you decide to move forward?
We had early thoughts to delay the album. The way I was thinking was like, this is some serious shit going on. And just out of basic human dignity, I wasn’t trying to push an album during all of this shit. I got to make sure my home is alright. That was like the first week of this being called a pandemic. And then over time, people in my DMs and in my life were like, everybody is going to be in the house. People need music to get them through this. I feel like my music has a certain kind of self-reflective tone or an isolated tone in my music. Not in a weird way or creepy way, but it fits the sad situation that the world is in right now.
“This whole album is about the conflict that sometimes comes about in living your life. There’s a time to be an angel, and there’s a time to be a hoodrat.”
Pandemic aside, why did this year feel like the perfect time to drop your debut album?
Well, it was like a balance of trying to make it a perfect, well put together [album], and trying to finish it to the point where I felt like it was done. Also, when it was done, not hold too long. A lot of things that I’m talking about happened in my life, and those emotions, I can still feel and channel, especially if I’m performing them—and those concepts, I can still resonate with. But at the same time, I’m growing. I’m making new music, and I’m changing to a better version of myself.
Do you feel any pressure to deliver with this project?
It’s a certain kind of not knowing, because this will be introducing me for the first time. I’ve done mixtapes and had other projects that I released on my own SoundCloud, and in the underground, but I took them down. So for people that “HIT” is an introduction to me, this is the first project that they’re going to hear from me. That got me a little anxious, but I’m not worried. It’s a good place to start because I know, ultimately, I’m going always grow as an artist.
What’s the meaning behind the album title, Angelic Hoodrat?
It was a line in one of my songs. I thought it was something cool to say at first, I ain’t going to lie. I didn’t think too hard about it. It just fit my aesthetic as an artist. Then me and my homeboy were listening to songs that could potentially go on the album. That song came up in rotations, and he was like, that line would be cool for a title. But that’s not a good enough reason for me to make it a title, so I had to really internalize what I feel like it means. I think it’s the coolest possible way to explain the duality of myself and to relate that duality to everybody. Everybody got a yin and yang. I definitely feel like I’ve got an angelic side, and I’ve got a hoodrat side. This whole album is about the conflict that sometimes comes about in living your life. There's a time to be an angel, and there's a time to be a hoodrat.
Can you talk about your creative process for this album? What it was like recording and writing?
I approached every song differently. I didn’t sit down and say, “Okay, I’m going to make a project.” I just made a bunch of songs, and then songs started building up over time. Certain situations came into play where I was just like, “It'd be cool to have an album.” And when “HT” was bubbling, I said [to myself], “I definitely want an album if I ever get the opportunity to do one.” Just a collection of songs to go on the road with and perform it for the people. Through performing, a lot of the songs started to gel together and harmonize. But the album started making sense with the more songs that I made. It came about on its own.
“I don’t ever want to take one form or one shape. I want to be formless or shapeless.”
How long have you been working on this album?
The oldest song on the album is from 2017. Yeah, three years, more or less. I had a lot of different versions of [the album]. Then I would add songs and take away songs. Over time it became different things.
Were you experimenting with any new sounds or techniques on the album?
Back in 2018 and early 2019, it was more so about experimenting. But by the time we came to y’all, I figured it out as much as I was going to figure it out for this era. I listen to different types of music, and I like a bunch of different types of artists. So I didn’t want to limit myself. I don’t ever want to take one form or one shape. I want to be formless or shapeless. I feel like a lot of the textures on the album are rock-influenced and maybe R&B-influenced. [There’s] some crazy shit on there. I was trying to figure it out, and these songs are the best versions of me figuring it out.
You’re very versatile and draw inspiration from a lot of different genres. Do you categorize yourself as just a rapper?
I’m an artist. I think at the core of it is definitely rap. I love rap. So I’m always going to be that. That’s what I started doing. But I love music, too. So there’ll be some [songs] where I’m not rapping at all. Then there'll be songs where I’m only rapping. And they can be on the same album. I can make them fit harmoniously.
What was the biggest challenge for you while working on this album?
The biggest challenge was finishing it. One thing that I have to always overcome is finishing projects, because I can make songs all day, but making one body of work and completing it has always been difficult. I’m always ready to start on something new. One thing that helped me overcome that challenge was the team of people that I was blessed with. Julian Cruz, my main producer, helped me with the album. A lot of the songs were ideas and demos that I may not have had the patience to finish if he weren’t so excited about it. So I’m grateful for him.
You seem to have a solid group of friends and core team.
You can't really do anything that great on your own. I’ve always had a really big support system. I never had a problem with people not supporting me. These people, like my manager and producers, they’re all a bunch of arms to this big machine.
I’m a brand new a** artist. This is just strictly for people who come from places like me, and feel like how I feel
Did you have a specific goal in mind for this album?
I wanted people to know me, and how I feel. This is the first album. My story will open up more, but I wanted to express myself honestly so that people who feel the way I feel can relate to me. I don’t care about this album being huge right now. I didn’t have any expectations or goals as far as selling. I’m a brand new ass artist. This is just strictly for people who come from places like me, and feel like how I feel, or who’ve been through things I’ve been through.
What’s your favorite song on the album? And is there a story behind that?
This is hard. What I will say is that it changes from time to time. The other night, I was listening to “Anti Gravity,” and I was like, “This shit's hard.”
What about this song stood out to you this week?
It was nighttime, and I was listening to it on my back porch. It’s a really emotional song. It’s on the melodic side, and intense. It feels crazy. And that song pretty much only had two versions. I didn’t even work on it that much. We probably only touched it like, four times [overall]. So, it’s not that different from how the original demo sounds. As soon as I made it, I knew this was really some raw shit.
There are no features on the album. Was this intentional?
Yeah, that was intentional, and it was kind of a last-minute thing. The reason why I didn’t want features is because this album is just a way for me to meet the people, and for the people to meet me. It’s an introduction, so I didn’t want any distractions on it. I just wanted it to be an intimate conversation between me and the world.
Are you open to working with people in the future? Do you have any dream collaborations in mind?
I’m trying to work with everybody. I’m trying to turn up next go-around. I fuck with everybody. I would like to do some rap shit with everybody, but I listen to so much music, listening to so many people, there ain’t no cap or no limit. What would be really cool is if I work with people and the song don't go how fans expect. Like, it’d be fire to get Future on some punk rock sounding shit. I'm trying to fuck everything up and twist everything around. So whoever I work with, I just hope they’re ready to do that.
Atlanta’s music scene isn’t the same as it was a couple of years ago. What do you see happening in Atlanta’s underground community today?
To everybody on the outside looking in to Atlanta, it feels like a renaissance. And I agree with it being a renaissance, but a lot of these people I’ve been knowing for a long time. We been rapping and performing local shows for a long time. It’s like the world is catching up. But these people, they are artists, but they’re also my friends. I’m more than proud to watch everybody’s success who come from the same circles that I come from. It feels like watching my success, is watching their success, and I hope it’s vice versa for them.
“It’d be fire to get Future on some punk rock sounding sh*t. I’m trying to f*ck everything up and twist everything around.”
What makes you stand out among other incoming artists?
I think it’s a combination of specific things that I’ve been through, and specific things that spark my interest, and the way that they combine. I can work just as hard as anybody else. Whoever’s working hard, I want to work as hard as them, but what makes me different—what makes anybody different—is what they go through. Nobody’s in your shoes. I think the more people own that, and the more people wear that in music and art, everything will be more interesting. Everybody’s story is different.
Why do you think it’s important to be truthful and share those experiences in your music?
When you tell the truth about your life and who you are, it’ll surprise you how many people can relate. From the moment I started rapping, I was listening to Lil Wayne, and I was like, “Damn, I just want to be big and I want to rap as fire as him.” But I’m not Lil Wayne, I’m Ken. So, it took me all the way up into trying to out-rap everybody to make a song where I’m literally rapping about what’s going on in my life, explicitly today: the neighborhood I’m in, where I’m walking to, how I’m feeling about my family and shit. It’s explicit in that for me to get the recognition and attention that I want. That just let me know that telling your story the best way to go about feeling the love that you want to feel. And it’s two birds with one stone, because you figure out yourself more when you do that.
What are your goals for the future?
The angelic side of me wants to make music for people who really need it. I know that comes in different shapes and forms and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what that looks like, but I know that if I become the best version of myself every day, then that’ll translate to making the best music. And then it’ll translate to people receiving it the best way they can. Also, I just want to push the culture and music forward. I grew up listening to a lot of artists. I needed them artists when I was growing up. I just want to be that for people growing up who need me. [For my hoodrat side], I want to be the biggest artist in the world, however that looks, while still being myself and still keeping it real.
What’s the most important thing you want people to know about you right now?
The most important thing I want people to know about me right now is that I’m not perfect, but I’ll work hard to be the best version of myself that I can be. Also, there’s always good in somebody’s bad, and there’s always bad in somebody’s good. If people could learn not to judge me, then it will help people not judge themselves, which will lead to everybody being healthier.