Unsung Artists: Kenna

By: Nick

There’s a lot more room than you think in the music industry. So much room that many artists go through their careers without ever truly getting the shine they deserved, despite being every bit as talented as their more famous contemporaries. There are plenty of reasons why this occurs whether it is marketability, charisma, or simply who pleases the execs the most. Whatever the reason, every generation has its unsung artists. The difference is for our generation is that the effort it takes to discover these artists has minimized to only a couple mouse clicks.

Now as you already know, I’m a music hoarder, and when you’re constantly discovering new music, you’re bound to find some hidden gems that few have heard of. So the TYF Godmothers and I thought it would be a great idea for us to give these unsung artists the spotlight they deserve.

Now to properly introduce this particular unsung artist, we need to go all the way back to the magical year of 2007, I was in the middle of my era of dead end jobs and misguided education. In a nutshell, I had yet to discover anything close to a purpose for myself, and was pretty much walking in circles. This was an increasingly boring time for me, and because of that I really don’t remember much except that it sucked… but the music was damn good.

We’ve all had the songs we’d hear in a store or at a party that we really liked but would forget about once other more important things came up… like boobs. Well due to the fact I had nothing better to do when I came across this commercial:

I said, “Why not?” I looked the song up, and what I found was Kenna.

The story with Kenna is that he’s the oldest sibling of an Ethiopian immigrant family that came to America and ended up settling down in Virginia Beach. Inspired by U2’s The Joshua Tree, Kenna began learning and performing with his friends at high school, which doesn’t seem so special until you figured out that his high school musical buddies grew up to be Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams. Through the years, Kenna kept his music aspirations high until he finally inked a deal with Fred Durst? (I still don’t get that one.)

Anyways, after years of delays, label politics, and eventually parting ways with Durst, Kenna signed with Columbia records. Finally in 2003, Kenna’s debut album New Sacred Cow was released. Unfortunately, the album leaked online almost a year before… Not to mention, it had almost no promotion for it at all.

As a person who almost never likes an entire album, I was pleasantly surprised to find I was one track short of having the entire album.  Now the single for this album was “Freetime,” and it is infectious pop at its best, but I have to give my favorite song of the album to “Love Hate Sensation.” To me, this song drives home the emotional hard pop feel that I think Kenna does better than anybody else.  But please don’t believe me. Listen for yourself.

Note: I have no idea what this video is about.

The year is now 2006, and Kenna drops the first single, “Out Of Control,” to his next album, Make Sure They See My Face, which you will recognize as the song from the PSP ad. I honestly feel like this album is a “How To” for making stadium music. Damn near every song feels like it should be belted out among a sea of fans in Madison Square Garden. This is the album where I feel like he let out the Bono in him. There is actually a tie for favorite song of the album between the album-opener “Daylight” and “Sun Red Sky Blue,” but for the sake of the review, I’m going with the latter.

Note: This song will kick your ass.

Unfortunately, the biggest issue career-wise for Kenna has been getting people to hear his music. Sure, his songs have been featured in ads, but there is a clear difference between music in a commercial and a fully-marketed artist. It would be easy to just blame the label for lack of marketing, but the truth is that you can’t truly market a product if you don’t know what it is. The thing is Kenna has no real genre or target audience which is kind of the point. He does have a pretty bitchin’ symbol though…

Unfortunately, unless you’ve starred in Purple Rain, a symbol isn’t enough to sell an artist, and universal appeal doesn’t translate into a good ad campaign. This is not to say that Kenna hasn’t amassed a devoted fan base over the years, only that an artist of his caliber deserves more. Anyway you put it the guy makes great music, and as a fan, I’m glad I can give him some sort of spotlight because in a lot of ways his music gave me light when there really wasn’t any.

To hear more from Kenna including his new EP Land 2 Air Chronicles check out his website

Nick is 24 years old and lives in the suburbs of Chicago. He’s an aspiring screenwriter and avid seeker of useless knowledge. He is a full-on video game and pop culture geek but hides it fairly well. In his free time, he has been known to hoard indie music and rock his beanie in unnecessary weather conditions while swearing up and down he isn’t a hipster. We’re pretty sure he’s a hipster though… You can contact him at nick@theyoungfolks.com & Twitter: @JustNickFoster
  • Anonymous

    Great read!