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How Chicago Rapper Kidd Kenn Went From Unknown to Major Label Signee in One Year

Kidd Kenn
Meredith Truax

Kidd Kenn

Kidd Kenn always knew he was going to be famous -- he just didn’t know exactly how. “You know when you just have that feeling that you know something’s gonna pull through?” he tells Billboard. “I’ve just always had that.”

So when the now-16-year-old queer Chicago kid decided to take after his idol Nicki Minaj and start a rap career in early 2018, he knew he would find success, especially after seeing the reactions to his freestyle videos online. “I just saw these people seeing me for myself and loving that about me,” he says. “I just thought, ‘I can do this.’"

Over the course of just a few months, Kenn became known as one of the fastest-rising rappers in Chicago’s underground hip-hop scene, as he began touring around the country, booking bigger venues, and eventually even opening for R&B star Kehlani at San Francisco Pride in 2018.

Much of Kenn’s rapid success came from the significant buzz he was receiving on social media, which found its way to the desk of Island Records A&R representative Hill Coulson. “Someone retweeted one of his videos and I found myself in a YouTube rabbit hole of his music. I quickly became obsessed and reached out to learn more,” Coulson says. 

The two were at a showcase the young rapper was throwing in New York City, when they were introduced to one another by Kenn's manager Sharron Beverly; thorughout the rest of the year, Coulson continued to give Kenn career advice and helped him book studio time — in the meantime, Kenn dropped his debut EP Childish in September 2018 with the help of Beverly, which only garnered more critical love. 

So, Coulson acted accordingly -- last April, Coulson flew Kenn back to New York to meet the rest of the team at Island. But after getting to see what exactly Kenn was offering, Coulson and Island Records president Darcus Beese made him an offer he couldn’t refuse that day, and an official record deal was ratified in the New York State Court three months later in July.

“They ultimately saw the vision that we saw,” Kenn says. “They were more genuine than anybody else, and they actually cared about my future and my career.”

For Coulson, Kenn embodies the near-perfect ingredients necessary to make an excellent hip-hop signee. “Originality and authenticity are the first things I look for when scouting artists ... Kidd Kenn checks both of those boxes and then some!” he says. “He’s a groundbreaking artist in hip-hop who challenges preconceptions of the genre.”

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