One minute, you’re driving for DoorDash, and the next, your rap song is going viral after years of working on your craft. Such is the story of the versatile artist born Kentavia Miller. The independent Houston native, known professionally by her stage name, KenTheMan, quickly put together the 2019 hit “He Be Like” while in her car between food deliveries. Since then, Ken has dropped the thumping 4 Da 304s, declined multiple “unfair” record deals, and became a shining light of independent success.
“It took a year to create the ideas of what I wanted, but like, I made the tape in two months,” KenTheMan told HipHopDx earlier this year. “I started in May, and I finished like early July. Usually, I come up with my tape name and ideas before I even have songs, but this time I was coming up with the songs, and I had no idea what I was going to name that tape!”
4 Da 304s is the best time you’ll have all 2020. KenTheMan puts words together with incredible precision and attention to rhythm. This, of course, makes sense when you consider she began her written career as a poet, winning a prize for her work in the third grade. In the years since her third-grade success, Ken has gone on to use her knack for language to secure a rabid fanbase and produce song of the summer after song of the summer, even in the year when summer had been eradicated.
Ever creative, confident, and with a penchant for explosive and wonderfully rowdy music, KenTheMan’s indie success can, in part, be credited to the artist-first distribution platform, TuneCore. Mere days before Halloween, KenTheMan calls me up to discuss how music and TuneCore have effectively changed her life for the better. And thank goodness, because KenTheMan sounds next, now, and always.
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: Your career really popped off with the release of 2019’s “He Be Like,” but you’ve been grinding for some time. How did it feel to see your work finally be recognized on a large scale?
KenTheMan: It felt good! I’m an impatient person, but in my career, I have been so patient because I knew what I believed in my mind. I knew one day, the day would come, where something would happen. I had no idea it was gonna be like that! I wrote the song so quickly. How could 30 minutes of my time change my life? I’m not a millionaire, but it gave me the option not to work anymore. I can pay my bills with my rap career, literally, from my one song.
I was DoorDashing! At the end of my night, I heard that beat, and it started flowing. The hook was completely different at first. Then I was like, “Oh! I got a good idea. Never heard nobody moan on a hook, so let me.” It just came! I recorded it, wasn’t satisfied. Told my engineer, “I hate this, I hate that.” I’m picky. I’m the type of artist; I’ll restate sentences until I get the right confidence in the way I deliver the bar.
It paid off, because 4 Da 304s is really strong, too. The sequencing is great.
Me and Melissa [Keklak, Ken’s manager], we think about details! The little stuff makes it flow better. My favorite is “IDGAF,” and “Try Me” sounded like an intro song. After that, I was like, “Where could ‘Gimme That’ go?” I had that ratchet feel to it, that confidence. I didn’t want “IDGAF” to go too far down because I wanted people to hear it!
I read you were fired from Uber right as “He Be Like” was soaring. Looking back, was that a blessing in disguise?
It was a blessing, yes. I am glad [I don’t have to drive Uber]. But… I was hurt when they fired me! I never heard nobody get fired from Uber, bro! What’s going on? I was so broke—I’ve never been that broke in my life, ever. Somehow, though, something comes through every time. [“He Be Like”] was my come-through.
At what moment did you realize music was going to change your life?
I’mma backtrack all the way to 2014, 2015. That’s when I dropped out of college. I hate to be the one, but I can’t sit here and pretend school was for me. Not saying school isn’t good; I commend anybody who gets through school. But school was always so boring to me—I’m a super wild-card. No routines, I’m so unexpected. When I first figured out I could rap well, I knew, because I impressed my own self! Even when I don’t have the strongest bars, I can hear it in myself!
[My first freestyle video] got 500 views one day. People be getting 20 views. I was like, “Damn! I can really rap!” I had to call my dad—I never let him hear my music because it’s a little vulgar. I called my dad and said, “Gimme two years, and if nothing happens with rap, I swear I’ll go back to college.” In them two years, I started making major noise.
All I had was the belief in what I could accomplish and the strength in my mind. I have never been a weak-minded woman. He raised me to be independent and dominant. I just kept going, and it kept growing. I always watched my progress. That’s what kept me knowing.
How was TuneCore instrumental in music changing your life?
I remember when I first put “Deserve,” my very first single, on TuneCore. “How do you get your music on everything?” Somebody recommended TuneCore. It was so simple! When it uploaded after two days, I was like, “This is quick!” It helped me as an independent artist because they’re not taking a crazy percentage. It’s an easy platform to use as an artist. Everything is so quick to get your money, and you get to see all your stats. You see your streams, and it’s detailed. I f*ck with TuneCore to this day.
Why is being indie important to you? I read you turned down plenty of deals before releasing 4 Da 304s independently.
Going back to how my mind is, a lot of people believe in something. “I can do this.” It takes a lot to turn down an advance! But my whole goal is long-term [success]. I expect to feed my family for the rest of my life. When I look at the deals, I don’t have the type of freedom I thought I would have and the comfort in knowing I can be creative in this way. I can drop when I feel like it, not when a group of people at a table, who probably don’t even know my real name, is discussing my music. These people don’t care about me; they care about money. I care about me!
I write; I don’t want writers. My process is different than what they’re used to. I had a fear of them putting someone else’s blueprint on me. I wanted to test me out first. I didn’t want to sell myself before I tested it. My independent mindset came from me being sure in myself.
What’s the best advice for an upcoming indie act?
Don’t get one hit song and feel like, “This is my time! I need to sign; I have to sign.” When a label wants you, they’re going to want you as a whole, not your single that’s hot on TikTok. You are not a single; you are a person. Keep thuggin’; don’t give up.