West Atlanta rapper Kenny Mason has a song called “AIR:DESIRE,” which I play at least once a week. It’s five minutes long with no hook; just a long run-on sentence of earnest declarations I never get tired of hearing.
“I told the best version of me, I’m turning into you,” Mason raps at the 36-second mark. He follows up the self-referential line with another:
“Wasn’t born with more talent, I was born with more love, you taking it for granted, still got the hardest flow, even if your granite and it’s all organic, no steroids added, feeling like Jordan, a scoreboard addict.” –Kenny Mason, “AIR:DESIRE”
Listening to “AIR:DESIRE,” which Kenny released in December 2016, reminds me of hearing Drake’s “Say What’s Real” or Kendrick Lamar’s “The Heart pt.2” for the first time. What all three songs do well is document the artist’s life before their lives changed. “AIR:DESIRE” tells us Kenny Mason is a newcomer ready to transition from fitting in to standing out.
You can’t judge an artist’s potential on one song, though. That’s why I’m excited to press play on Kenny’s first official project, Angelic Hoodrat. The 14-track album will be his true introduction—the music that will reveal to us if he’s ready for the world. And if the world is ready for Kenny Mason.
In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding, and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish.
I love these keys. “Sorry momma, I cannot show weakness.” That’s how you start an album. Kenny’s voice is so young, so untouched by time, but you can feel the weight of life. He’s seen some things. Man, that bassline just cut through the song with the ease of a katana cutting cherry blossoms. I feel like I’m walking through a house on fire. “I’m going to guard my heart until I gain light.” The glitchy stutters are a beautiful texture. I love the production, it’s so shifty, but Kenny’s rapping is unbothered. He raps with clear enunciations, but it’s still southern. Kenny sounds like a kid from Atlanta. These verses are strong, real strong. I imagine Kanye would like this. He was born in Atlanta, right? [Editor’s note: Yes, Kanye West was born in Atlanta.]
2. “Angelic Hoodrat”
These drums! I feel like crip walking in hell. The production is so chaotic. Kenny Mason sounds like he’ll come through your phone and finesse you. I know Drake wishes he wrote that five Jacksons line. Kenny’s flow is so steady, and his voice is so light, he’s a leaf floating on top of the water. “Fuck your ego, let’s get some c-notes.” Felt that. “If I ain’t got shit, I finesse.” With the economy crashing, “Angelic Hoodrat” is going to be an anthem for scammers worldwide. This last-minute switch up. Kenny doesn’t waste a second. “Nigga don’t wake up my momma.” Man, this sounds like a nightmare. How does he write this song?
OH!!! This bounce! “PTSD” is like being back in Kendrick Lamar’s maad city. Mechanicsville shoutout!!! Man! This flow! Kenny is a roadrunner blasting off. This beat is like a computer self-destructing. Everything is melting. He’s a fire starter. “I was raised in the jungle.” Yeah, Kenny Mason is making his Atlanta into a nightmarish place. Okay, his words are playing in reverse. It sounds like he’s speaking in tongues. Man, this is something else.
Kenny’s singing. What a change. His voice is gentle. I wasn’t ready for that shift. “PTSD” had me ready to buy a gun; now I just want to sway. Whew! That electric guitar. I want someone to recreate Scott Pilgrim vs. the World starring Kenny Mason. His influences are much broader than rap. He’s tapping into rock influences in a way that Lil Wayne could never. I love how effortless it sounds for him to wear these hats. Rappers channeling their rock influences aren’t always a seamless transition, but for Kenny Mason, it’s as seamless as a gear shift.
Boy. This beat for “Chevron” is glorious. His flow is swift as Quicksilver. He’s a spellbinding lyricist. Who produced this loop? Who played the drums? “I’m an EBT baby.” He’s so proud to be who he is. The music bleeds confidence. This hook is going to be fun to recite when he can finally perform. “RIP BANK.” This song feels like Atlanta. “I been the one since I rapped at the Chevron.” He killed it.
Another shift in sound. Guitar strums? They’re gentle. I feel like Angelic Hoodrat has two modes: calm and chaotic. “Handles” is calm. Kenny’s singing comes from the heart. Oh man, this kid is singing with rockstar vocals.
7. “Metal Wings”
Whew! The dog bark! The tempo! “I WANT EVERYTHANG.” These drums are hitting harder than hammers being swung by Thor. I want to thrash around the room. I want to punch the walls. The hook shifts the energy; it becomes so much brighter. The second verse is good. His songwriting is very tight. If the line, “It’s all organic, no steroids added,” means Kenny has no writers, I can’t wait to see what his pen can do for others. “Metal Wings” is a full-blown rock record. Rock radio better play this record like country stations did Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road.”
People are talking, but I can’t make out what they’re saying. I love the textures of this album. It has good movement too. The songs are just long enough to leave an impression. The production is building into something. Kenny is here. “I don’t need fake love.” He never forgets where he’s from. Kenny embeds the environment that raised him in his lyricism. “30” is interesting. I’m not sure about the hook, but I’m intrigued. He’s so honest. “I choose loving you over being in love with you.” So much conflict on the subject of love and affection. I like his writing. No skips yet. Angelic Hoodrat keeps you guessing. I feel like he could do any type of song next.
9. “Pretty Thoughts”
The bassline. I feel like I just put on a Nirvana album. Don’t ask me which one. He’s got the vocals to front a rock band. Was he in a band before he became a solo artist like Vic Mensa? “Pretty Thoughts” might be one of my favorites. It’s striking. Rick Rubin is going to lose his shit when he finds out about Kenny Mason. Atlanta is such a talented city. “I’m a rottweiler with twist.” Oh yeah, a keeper. Olympic music. “Life can’t kill me.” I bet Kendrick’s next album will end up sounding like Angelic Hoodrat. I can see Kendrick leaning more into a rock sound, but the new Kenny beat him to it.
10. “Anti Gravity”
I really can’t praise the production enough. Kenny Mason put this one together tightly. “Anti Gravity” is another track that puts his vocals on full display. His shows are going to be insane when artists are allowed to put on shows once again. Reminds me a bit of Kanye here. “I want to be, anti gravity.” Oh yeah, his shows are going to be for the thrashers. Real mosh pits. An elegant, calming outro.
11. “Angels Calling // My Dad”
“It’s me trying to tell you how I feel.” I like his voice a great deal. The way he uses it. Man, these kids have been through it. Kenny Mason and Rod Wave need to hit the road together. I’ll bring the tissue. Kenny loves his homies. He also loves his mom. Every song feels like little vignettes into his life. I can’t figure out if this album has a linear storyline, but it does a great job of painting his picture. The beat is changing. A phone call. It’s someone’s dad. “Angels Calling” is taking a turn. The vocal pitch change. The flow. It’s all so light yet heavy. Whew. I’m enthralled. Is this about his dad? “My dad did a whole lot of shit that was bad.”
12. “Once Again”
Nice build-up. Angelic Hoodrat is taking a lot of turns. His flow is loose here. He’s underneath the beat. Damn, his homie Greg died. “We ain’t never had shit, so we all gonna tag in.” Community is a big part of Kenny’s story. “Big dog, I ain’t worked a job in a minute.” How can you not root for this young man?
13. “U in a Gang // Exxon ”
Just when you feel the album is getting soft, he turns the fire back on. Oh yeah, this is fye. He’s a shapeshifter. “U N A Gang” feels like a neighborhood gang initiation except they sing at you instead of jumping you in. “Tell me your side with no capping.” I need production credits. The band they put together for the album has been strong. Beat change. These keys and drums. He’s bleeding it out. Oh yeah, this is great. “There’s only so many things that a nigga can do with the pain.” Rap is one of them. Kenny sounds like someone who loves his people and his home.
The song structure for “HIT” is absurd. How the skit is woven into the song is such a fresh storytelling tactic. Kenny raps so well. I always, always smirk at the Mike Vick line. This is one of the lighter songs on the album. It might be the brightest next to “Chevron.” It’s the end of the nightmare; the beginning of summer. “Anything a nigga ate had to steal.” I hope he eats forever off “HIT.”
Final (First Listen) Thoughts on Kenny Mason’s Angelic Hoodrat
Every song on Kenny Mason’s debut album, Angelic Hoodrat, sounds like it was constructed from memories of an Atlanta native who can articulate the city’s influence on his upbringing. The people, the places, the language, everything that life and Atlanta taught Kenny Mason can be found in his coming-of-age songwriting.
If gang violence was the law of Kendrick Lamar’s maad Compton, finessing is the law of Kenny Mason’s nightmarish Atlanta. Atlanta hasn’t produced music this haunting and infectious since Goodie Mob’s “Cell Therapy.” Kenny’s a rapper’s rapper cut from the cloth of southern wordsmiths.
That’s only one aspect of Kenny’s music, though. He taps into singing and songwriting heavily influenced by thunderous rock bands I could never cite by name, but I’m sure if you ask Kenny, he’d list the names of the thrashing rockers who, alongside Lil Wayne and JAY-Z, left a lasting, creative impression on him.
Kenny Mason’s debut is a deep duality. It’s calm and chaotic, inspiring and disheartening, a rush of rap and rock music. It’s hard to view Kenny as one kind of artist. You can’t box him in as just another rapper. He’s more than that, but he never lets you forget who he is and where he’s from. An angelic hoodrat from West Atlanta. One listen, and you won’t forget him.