KennyHoopla says sorry a lot. In fact, he even makes sure to warn me of such before we begin speaking. He has released one song each year for the past three years, with February, 2019’s “Lost Cause//” marking somewhat of a turning point. The song recently crossed one and a half million streams on Spotify, and the video introduced us to an artist with a defined vision.
As Hoopla explains, though, things aren’t quite so easy behind the scenes. Without the proper recording equipment at home and without access to many studios in Oshkosh, Wisconsin—where he currently lives—Hoopla’s scarce output is purely a product of limitation.
With previous releases appearing years apart, the pressure has always been on to leave listeners with something that lasts. “That was always the thing in every song I’ve made—for people to see potential,” he tells us. “That way, people would fuck with me, even if it takes a year to get something else out.”
Despite the constraints, Hoopla’s faith in a brighter future remains unscathed—not without some charming self-deprecation, though. “That sounds so fuckin lame, dude,” he concludes after a profound statement. “I sound like a douchebag,” he says just moments prior. These bouts of idiosyncratic humility are what best characterizes Hoopla. He’s constantly flipping between heartfelt comments on his art and lighthearted jabs toward current struggles.
Things are changing, though. KennyHoopla’s second single of 2019, “Sore Loser//,” was released yesterday, premiered by Zane Lowe on Beats 1 Radio. Hoopla’s art speaks volumes toward potential in the face of patience—even if he won’t admit it. From fluid displays of versatility to the new wave nostalgia that he seeks to evoke, Hoopla has transcended the demand for immediacy in today’s age of frenzied consumption.
With momentum on his side, things seem to be looking up for Wisconsin’s own. As he says himself, “It’s just meeting faith halfway.” Ahead of his performance at our sold out No Ceilings show in New York on September 26 with beabadoobee, Gabriel Black, and Jelani Aryeh, read our full conversation with KennyHoopla below.
Where did the name KennyHoopla come from?
My real name is Kenneth La’Ron. I’m going to expose myself there! The Hoopla came from Spongebob. [Laughs] There’s this episode where he’s just like “hoopla!” and I always understood the internet branding thing early on. I knew I had to have some name. So I just stuck with it, started songwriting, and now we’re here.
So you’re from Cleveland originally?
I’m from Cleveland but my mom moved me [to Wisconsin] almost immediately because it was really bad there. She almost got shot in the head, it was crazy. A bullet went past her ear while she was holding my brother. After that, she was done, so she moved here [to Wisconsin] have a better future.
From 2 years old until I was like 15, I was back and forth between Cleveland and Oshkosh [Wisconsin], though. I eventually stopped going. There was a dark reason every time or just some fucked up things were happening.
Is it hard being a musician Wisconsin as opposed to a New York or LA?
It’s weird because I never even felt like I was from here. Honestly, I’ve always been an outcast. I was just always on my own shit. It’s just... I’m not like other people. I don’t get sunk into trends. I don’t like to follow. I’m just super about my own world.
I’m not like other people. I don’t get sunk into trends. I don’t like to follow. I’m just super about my own world.
Do you ever struggle with wanting to be better understood by listeners and other people?
Yes and no. Half of me is like fuck it, who really gives a fuck? At the end of the day, we all die alone so that shit really doesn’t matter. It’s just you at the end of the day. But the other half of me wants to be understood so that the people that I’m talking to can relate. I need to be understood, to an extent, just to get my point across. I’m just trying to solidify my own mission first.
Before the release of "Sore Loser//," a year had gone by between each one of your three songs. Why wait so long?
So when I first dropped a song, no would fuck with me except my homie TaxPurposes. He was the only one who actually understood the shit I was trying to do and was patient with me, because I was talking insane!
When the first song started getting heard, I really just got lucky. I still couldn’t record, though, because no one would fuck with me and I had no money. So I had to get in where I could. If I didn’t have money, I just had to fucking wait. Because of that, I made sure every song I made was better than the last one.
So all of your music just had to be good enough for other people to let you record at their studios?
Yes. I knew I couldn’t record myself but I still had to get my point across and make sure that people saw potential. That was always the thing in every song I’ve made—for people to see potential for me to get further in the music world. That way, people would fuck with me, even if it takes a year to get something else out.
So I just pushed every song as hard as I could. I didn’t have a lot of fans, but the people that fucked with me, fucked with me stupid hard. And that’s what’s gotten me this far. It’s just been off the strength, people who genuinely care and believe in me. I hate interviews, I feel like I sound like a douchebag...
Has the studio situation improved recently?
No, sadly. Right now, it’s literally just me. I’m really doing this on my own. I’ve been learning production, though. I’m going to have a big hand in the production of my next project, and I’m also trying to learn to play guitar now.
Was it tough at first, realizing that you couldn’t make as much music as you would have hoped?
[Laughs] Well that was the thing, I had no choice. I just had to make music and hopefully someone would reach out. I always had to try and find someone that would mix my music or had a beat. Then, I would release it—thank God—and push it hard as possible until I got an opportunity to do it again.
Does it get annoying to hear people obsess over the older stuff when you know that’s not even the half of it?
All the time, yeah. I know it’s my fault and it sucks, but I’m also super grateful at the end of the day. I’m just grateful that I’m in the position because I’ve been trying to do this forever—my whole life. And it’s literally just been me having to prove myself and show people that I can do this. Even getting to this point... I’ve been trying to get on Pigeons & Planes forever and now, you know, we’re here!
How does it feel now you’re starting to get praise and attention? Do you see the same thing in yourself?
It makes me want to strive to be what others see in me, even if I can’t see it. That’s the thing—I really think I suck. I’m super grateful for the praise, but it also kinda makes me panic because it puts a lot of pressure on me.
That’s the thing—I really think I suck. I’m super grateful for the praise, but it also kinda makes me panic because it puts a lot of pressure on me.
What’s the reasoning behind changing up your sound with every new song as opposed to locking down one “signature sound” as your own?
I never had the time I wanted to work on certain songs, so I knew I needed to make something that people would like. Not even something amazing, but just something that’s enough— just enough for the moment.
I can’t really make what I’m trying to make yet, so I guess I’m trying to show myself that I can make all different kinds of genres. That way, I have an understanding of how to make something that’s really my own sound—something that’s for real me. I want to make something new to the game and even more than that, I want to add to it.
So it’s just a matter of finding you as opposed to any one sound?
Exactly, yeah. I want to make me.
Tell me about “new wave nostalgia.”
That’s what I try to make. I can’t feel certain nostalgia because I’m young so this might not even be valid, but you know the feeling of listening to old music and you’re like, “Damn, that was music?” I feel like I don’t get the feeling from much music now—it’s like that nostalgia is completely gone. I want to make a new feeling of nostalgia, and I guess that comes with timeless music.
Sometimes you don’t even know you’re in an era until it ends.
Facts! That’s what I’m saying. I’m trying not to think about it so much. The internet is just too relevant—you can’t ignore other artists and the way that they came up, so watching them, I’m just like damn, so this is that part of my career. And it’s so hard to ignore that.
I’m trying to chill and just let shit come naturally. Right now, I just want to make something progressive that I can look back on, because this is my career right now. You know those deep YouTube cuts from Lil Wayne that wasn’t on the album? That kind of feeling.
Was it in your head while making “Lost Cause” that the song could potentially be the only thing you release for a while?
Yeah. This is what happened. My homie Yoshi Flower—I met him in Minneapolis, just off a music tip—he was watching me from afar on some big bro shit. The music stuff started happening around “Waves//,” and I told him that I was super deadass about music and that I wanted to come to LA, because he was out there doing it. So I saved up, bought a ticket, went out there and had a studio session. We kinda rushed it all, and within like two days, we pushed out enough for an EP. I honestly didn’t even like “Lost Cause.” It was just some hook that I had that I knew people would fuck with.
The thing is, though, I wasn’t even supposed to be in that studio—I was just some kid who got lucky and had the chance to use it because someone was fucking with me. So after that, I had nothing left and I didn’t even want to drop “Lost Cause.” At some point, though, I was just like “fuck it,” shot the video in one day, and dropped it. That’s when all this shit started happening for real.
The song you didn’t even want to release ended up becoming the biggest one.
I knew that song was a step forward from the other shit, though. Even if I didn’t like it, it was about the progression. And it was refreshing, that was the other thing. That was where I was just like fuck it. I quit my job and didn’t know what was about to happen.
So you had just quit your job and that was a big moment.
Right! And I didn’t even want a job in the first place. I’ve felt this shit in my heart since the beginning and there’s never been a doubt in my head that it would happen somehow. I’ve always felt like there’s some angels or something protecting me. I can just do whatever I want and I’ll always come out okay on the other side.
And how does your family react to the progress that you’ve made so far?
My mom honestly thinks it’s way more than it is. [Laughs] Most people do if they’re not really in the shit so they don’t get the levels of it, but she’s happy. She knows I’ve been super headstrong about doing what I want whenever I want. Not even being rebellious, but more being free. That’s it. Being free. I’ve always just wanted to be free, so she’s just happy because I was always the oddball. She’s just happy that I made it happen.
I’d rather sound dumb as myself than sound good while having other people talk for me.
You also pride yourself on writing your own music.
It just comes down to me having shit to say. It wouldn’t feel right doing something that’s not me, and it comes back to that cliché that you’re the only one who can be you, and that’s what makes you special.
If someone else is talking, that’s not me being me. And to be you, it comes with self-discipline and honesty, and that’s not the easiest thing to do. You’re kind of trash at being you until you get good at it. But I’d rather sound dumb as myself than sound good while having other people talk for me.
How do you respond when people tell you that the music helped them through something, especially when things are still tough for you?
It’s fire. To affect people when I got it out the mud is so beautiful because it’s all from nothing. I did this shit on my own and it’s beautiful to see that. It’s all manifestation and progression. It’s like damn dude, that’s what I want to do I guess. But honestly, I feel very empty. I don’t know. I just feel alone inside. I am. We all are. That never leaves me.
Do you ever think about how listeners will react to your music?
Yeah, but then I don’t worry about it because what I’m saying is honest and that’s what truly matters. Any energy you put out, it’s going to come back to you. If it comes from the heart, it’s going to get recognized.