Every so often, you stumble across an artist who knocks the air out of your lungs and makes you do a double-take. You root for them immediately. You go hunting for every track they’ve ever graced; search for all their performance footage on the fringes of YouTube. That’s my Kenny Mason experience.
Without question, the Atlanta upstart has unlimited power and prowess. Kenny Mason is more than what you imagine when you muse on the ATL scene. The 25-year-old artist makes guttural music ranging from the quickfire raps of his big single, “HIT,” to the more post-hardcore inspired “Lean,” “Pretty Thoughts,” and “Anti Gravity,” all of which appear on Kenny’s debut album, Angelic Hoodrat, out today. From his early collaborative mixtapes—2014’s TvDinner with Clark Scott and 2016’s The SUPER Tape with DvDx—Kenny Mason has had a clear vision of himself, even if it wasn’t the vision we all know today.
“Bruh!” Kenny laughs over the phone. “I was a whole ‘nother artist. TvDinner was me, like, ‘Okay, I ain’t got no resources. I ain’t got no platform. Let me try and do this shit DIY style.’ You feel me? That was me trying to teach myself how to make beats for [me and] my homeboys, and figure out how to work Auto-Tune, how to record and make art at the same time. It’s the definition of experimental. That’s what TvDinner is.”
Kenny Mason’s love of music came, first, from his father playing Tupac and ‘80s and ‘90s R&B. It also came from his forever-curious spirit. Whenever Kenny would see a song on TV—he cites VH1 and MTV as discovery sources—or hear a song in a video game, he would go heavy on the research, finding the album the song lived on, and dive in. “If I like something, I try to get the most out of it,” Kenny explains. Some years later, outside of the MTV and Tupac eras of Kenny’s musical discovery, the artist found his village, his culture: House 9. A collection of Kenny’s homies, all dedicated to personal betterment, these were the people from Zone 3 in Atlanta who shaped Kenny’s budding creative ambitions.
“I didn’t have a job, I didn’t have no money,” Kenny says of the House 9 era mixtapes. “I just had the studio. We was living life so different back then. It’s really like a not-giving-a-fuck thing. Over time, I cared more about what I wanna say to the world, and the conversations I wanna have with myself through music as I got older and got better at recording myself.”
That was 2014-2016. That was the past. Now, a quick “Kenny Mason” Google search finds his name next to terms like “making it” and “rising star.” When you listen to his music, the seamless blend of hip-hop foundations, as on “Chevron,” with the emo and hardcore edge of a song like “Metal Wings,” you get the sense Kenny Mason could very well be a rockstar. The difference, of course, is Kenny has no taste for the vanity of rockstar life. He’s a rocker in sound, but not in appearance:
“I don’t focus on people saying the ‘up next’ thing. I can’t internalize that; I’ve been myself for 25 years, and I’ve been making music for 10, 15 years. It’s never gon’ feel like that to me. Even if I’m the biggest star in the world, it’s always gon’ feel new to somebody. I just try to attack everything like somebody could be listening for the first time. I gotta execute everything [as] if I only got 10 seconds. Whatever I’m doing right there in 10 seconds, it’s gotta capture you. As far as living like a rockstar? Man, I’m trying to get my mama out the projects. My patnas, they the rockstars. They live on the edge like that. Me? I make music.” –Kenny Mason
The music Kenny Mason makes, too, is designed to be showstopping for its ingenuity. Pressing play on Kenny Mason, it’s impossible to place him, and that’s on purpose. He’s not the standard Atlanta rapper; he’s not the standard emo singer. He’s not anything but Kenny Mason. He tells me his big single, “HIT” is but a single slice of who he is. It’s a showcase, a “beacon” of his talent, but he promises me there are bigger songs on the horizon. As proud as Kenny is of “HIT,” he doesn’t want to go down as an artist with one colossal single. “I wanna be known for me,” he urges.
“I was born outside the lines,” Kenny tells me. “Me and all my friends come from a place of not ever having rules and making our own rules. It’s more so about having comfort in a challenge, or comfort in being uncomfortable. If I’m doing something I know how to do, I’m not gon’ get the same rush as if I’m taking a risk. I can go out here and do this rock shit, and n****s can hate that shit. For them to not think this shit is weird, I gotta give it my all and still have me in it. Make it connect. I gotta do whatever I gotta do. That challenge gives me an extra rush.”
All of this brings us back to Kenny’s debut album, Angelic Hoodrat. The title comes from a bar off an unreleased song, and the title track is a slowed down almost meditative series of finesses and notes on family, life, and death. Kenny’s secret weapon is his range. He can deliver flitting flows in the same breath as he can soothe us with his jagged melodies and nicely untrained voice. There’s a rawness and texture to Kenny Mason. You will bob and thrash your head along to this album. Though Angelic Hoodrat does not feel cobbled together, it avoids polish. For a majority of the album, Kenny sounds submerged and distant, like he’s screaming through a screen. These filtered vocals are the real treat of Angelic Hoodrat. Whether Kenny is rapping, singing, or speaking to us—never at us—we find ourselves entranced by him.
“I wanna try to shock people as much as I can, while still being genuine,” Kenny explains of his process. The music leaves people speechless, and that’s one of his goals. “I watched a lot of Bruce Lee interviews when I was learning how to record myself—I would like to be the Bruce Lee of music. One of his things he would always say is to demonstrate your greatness. Not in a flashy way, but you have to demonstrate why people should respect you. It’s as simple as that. I know my fans love me, but I have to demonstrate why they should, or what I could mean to them. It’s gon’ always be they choice. I’m blessed to be there. I’m gon’ always try to showcase the greatness I was born with, as I feel everyone should. Everybody got they own genius.”
When it comes to shock, most people will be stunned to hear Kenny’s influences range from Pac to The Foo Fighters, The Smashing Pumpkins, and Pixies—until they hear the music: “The alternative, rock influence, it’s not really about the aesthetic. It’s the textures of the sound. The way electric guitars sound when they stacked on top of each other, and how they harmonize with somebody’s voice, it’s kind of like a painful beauty to me. ‘Anti Gravity,’ the way the guitars hit, I heard Foo Fighters and Smashing Pumpkins, I heard that in they songs. That type of sonic space gave me chills. I just wanted to try that shit. ‘Anti Gravity,’ ‘Pretty Thoughts,’ and ‘Metal Wings,’ was three songs where it worked out. I was really happy about that. It gave me that same feeling when I listen to [the Foo Fighters] and some new shit, too.”
And then there’s Kenny Mason’s incisive writing, a product of him focusing and reliving his past on the page. He doesn’t succumb to the pain of his past, and explains to me he can only truly process his traumas after the fact. In that sense, the writing is as much a necessity for Kenny as it is for his audience. For all his wisdom and self-understanding, I end our talk by asking Kenny if he’s happy with himself, knowing all he knows now about music, the industry, and his current success.
“That’s a hard question,” Kenny tells me, honestly. “It’s hard because I’m not unhappy. I love myself, and I love who I am. I’m grateful for everything that’s happened to me. I don’t know if being ‘happy’ is necessarily my goal. I feel like being honest is my goal. If I’m basing my satisfaction on how honest I am with myself and with people around me, then I say, ‘Yeah!’ I fuck with me, and I fuck with how the past year went.”
I fucked with Kenny’s 2019—and his 2020—too. I fuck with Kenny Mason. Every so often, you stumble upon a special artist, one who makes good on the potential of their hits and the depth of their album cuts. One who steals your breath and wins your heart. One who you can bet on every day of the week. That’s Kenny Mason, angelic hoodrat.