I’ve written at length about haunting music. I’m talking about the music that consumes me without warning with its steaming presence. This music is often dour and wounded, and quietly unnerves me in the best ways. But what of the music that enchants me suddenly? What of the songs that dig into my consciousness not because they are wounded entries in my personal Best Music Canon, but because they are celebrations of life?
To this question, I have one superb answer, a song so brimming with life and sticky quotables, it feels like a classic taking shape in real-time: Kenny Mason’s “Pretty Thoughts.” The blaring standout from his debut album, Angelic Hoodrat, teems with positivity and triumph.
Produced by DvDx, Julian Cruz, and Kenny Mason himself, “Pretty Thoughts” is part ballad, part rock song, part growling rap song. It can be all things to all people, which is the pure magic of Kenny Mason. Kenny does not alienate, he invites.
There’s a slow rise to “Pretty Thoughts,” with Kenny’s voice sounding gentle and, as the title of his album would have us believing, angelic. Over time, the gravel of his tone evidences itself as the drums pick up, and the guitars blare until Kenny sings the cardinal line of the song: “Life can’t kill me, I’m alive.”
This declaration, repeated twice on “Pretty Thoughts,” is so simple yet groundbreaking. In six words, Kenny captures the essence of our era—truly, these words could ring true from uprisings across America to the personal trips we take to the grocery store, to state-supported walks in the park, to that weird trip I had to make to Urgent Care a month ago.
“Life can’t kill me, I’m alive” is very of-the-moment, and yet, based on the form of “Pretty Thoughts,” we also get the sense Kenny is speaking across time as well.
To this point, let’s consider how Kenny Mason interweaves genres so seamlessly. We cannot rely on dated terms like “genre-bending,” because they ignore, “the South, who engaged in Americana, country and folk music, but experienced racial discrimination from gatekeepers in their respective genres,” to quote culture writer Taylor Crumpton.
Instead of searching for the proper words to describe the existence and expression of “Pretty Thoughts,” we should read the song as an exemplification of Kenny’s connection to his musical roots. The record—and the whole of Angelic Hoodrat’s more experimental ouvertness (“Handles,” “Anti Gravity”)—spans a decades-old musical tradition rising from the South and amplified by our modern connectedness.
Kenny Mason himself cited alternative music as a source of inspiration during our first interview:
“The alternative, rock influence, it’s not really about the aesthetic. It’s the textures of the sound… It’s kind of like a painful beauty to me. 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.” –Kenny Mason
To embed himself in his traditions is to establish the vast breadth of Kenny Mason’s musical lineage and to amplify the “Life can’t kill me,” line. Kenny’s sprawling talent makes “Pretty Thoughts” literally timeless. Too, the textures he refers to give “Pretty Thoughts” its triumphant feel.
As DJBooth Senior Writer Yoh wrote in his review of Angelic Hoodrat, “Pretty Thoughts” is, broadly, “Olympic music.”
“Finessing is the law of Kenny Mason’s nightmarish Atlanta… 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.” –Yoh
Within Yoh’s praise, the word “nightmarish” is critical. Yoh notes the “nightmare” of Angelic Hoodrat no less than four times across several songs and the close of his review. Little did Yoh or Kenny Mason know that the “nightmarish Atlanta” would soon become the “nightmarish” American consciousness.
Without meaning to, then, Kenny’s “Pretty Thoughts” has come to be the sound of an era where at every turn—between COVID-19 and police brutality, and widespread lynchings—there are brutal and daily attacks on Black life.
When Kenny Mason sings, “Life can’t kill me, I’m alive,” he opens us up to replace “Life” with any number of things I’ve referenced above. When he declares he’s alive, we rejoice.
“‘Pretty Thoughts… ’” Kenny told Clash. “I couldn’t not put [the song] on the album, because while the sonics are my preference, I think what brings people who don’t listen to that type of music to it is the lyrics. Hopefully, people hearing those words can be a universal thing.”
In the above quote, Kenny Mason hits at the nugget carrying “Life can’t kill me, I’m alive”: Universality. Even if “Pretty Thoughts” is not the “type of music” people gravitating toward hip-hop are used to, the words themselves are as hip-hop as they come.
Living in the face of death, and claiming your life as your own over and over again, is the very fiber of hip-hop music. For as dualistic and “nightmarish” as it sounds, Kenny Mason’s work is brimming with life.
Kenny Mason is a wellspring of living. In an era where death tolls rise daily from myriad causes, and the news is just a swell of death tolls climbing and projections of loss of life—also climbing—Kenny Mason is a quiet revolutionary.
Life cannot—will not—kill Kenny. He’s a rap rottweiler hounding our ear and making our hearts burst. Life as we understand it is not enough of a word to contain Kenny Mason.