“I feel like I haven’t done 10 percent of what I could do,” Dom Kennedy says. The Los Angeles rapper has put out six mixtapes in just three years, built a strong fan base and performed everywhere from Philly to Africa. He is known for his colorful videos, such as “Watermelon Sundae,” that depict L.A.’s lifestyle. He is widely regarded as a promising talent on the hip-hop scene. Dom Kennedy chatted with Billboard.com’s The Juice about making his mark as a storyteller, upcoming projects and Tupac’s legacy.
A native of Leiment Park, Dom Kennedy grew up freestying and writing songs with no intention of becoming a professional rapper. Then, in 2005, he realized he was meant for the hip-hop game and dropped everything else.
“I was committed to doing it everyday. I knew that if I wasn’t doing anything else and I devoted all of my time to that, I would be straight,” Dom Kennedy says.
It wasn’t until his fourth mixtape, “From The West Side With Love” (2010), that Dom felt like a real MC, as he began to make a profit from rapping. Although the mixtape was successful, it didn’t quite live up to his vision.
“It wasn’t as ‘L.A.’ as it could have been,” Dom says of the sound. “So I definitely pressed the button and went harder with ‘The Original Dom Kennedy.’ I think that it might have been overwhelming for people.” Dom released that project this past March. His latest mixtape, which hit the market on June 28, is a sequel to “From The Westside With Love.”
“‘From The West Side With Love II’ is more of a storyline,” he says. “The last song on the first album [‘From The West Side With Love’], “Me Again,” ends with me talking and it has that spearkerphone effect. That’s why part II opens with that same thing with me talking. It’s like we’re picking up where we left off.”
Telling tales is an extremely important part of Dom Kennedy’s approach. “In the ultimate scope of music, I feel like we’re trading stories.” He sites storytelling as a significant part of being a kid in the inner city. “I definitely want my music to reflect how I grew up, things that were Dom-inspired and influenced by being from L.A. I don’t make any apologies about that.”
Dom plans to bring the tale on the new mixtape to life through a DVD mini-movie, which will include a series of videos tied together with “little stories in between them.” It will be released this fall. “The songs and everything are in order for a reason; it happens over a weekend. It starts on Friday morning and ends on Monday morning. I haven’t really told many people that, but I want the movie to show how everything is connected and why the songs are what they are.”
Dom’s preference for detailed, concept-recordings is a major reason why he avoids working with labels big-name producers. “If I was on the label and working with Swizz Beatz over here and I’m working with Pharrell, and I’m working with this person and we just all f*cking lost… we looking for a radio song, but what really does that mean in terms of the album?” he says. “We’re just throwing darts in the dark. That’s not really what I do.”
For now, Dom Kennedy releases his music independently through his own company, OpM (Other People’s Money). One of his proudest moments is seeing “From The Westside With Love II” high on the iTunes chart.
“I’ll be able to say at least if nothing else happens, I did that, we did that on our own,” Dom Kennedy says. “I came out on the same day as Big Sean who is on Def Jam and Curren$y who is on Warner Bros. and my project reached No. 2.” In fact, a lot of kids have told him that his album was the first that they’d ever bought on iTunes.
Dom is enjoying having control over his music. “I’m here to be a businessman and help others, too, if that’s my place. I would like to be Tupac and J Prince [CEO of Rap-A-Lot Records] in the same person.”
One could say Dom is chasing a legacy similar to the one Tupac left behind. “I just want to unanimously be recognized, or at least have a year where everybody says that I’m the best rapper, that the best guy in rap is from L.A. That’s my goal. I want kids in L.A. to be able to walk around and say, ‘Yeah, when I was growing up, Dom Kennedy was the best… and he represented us.'”
Dom hinted that his next mixtape, which could be released as early as the fall, might be a lot different. “It’s more so because I have a lot of female fans and it’s an element to my music that I feel like I can really excel at that I haven’t already tapped into,” Dom Kennedy says. “I like the fact that people think that you can’t make a dope song that guys and girls will like that’s respectable.”
“I’m definitely into challenges in music,” Dom Kennedy continues. “You definitely have to keep going, keep pushing. Because in those you find out who you are and what you do best.”