Dro Kenji is a master of the wail. On his debut album WITH OR WITHOUT YOU, released last month, he hits an eons-long note on “USED2KNOW,” singing from the heart and hitting listeners right in the gut. It’s the kind of bare moment that drives all of the South Carolina-raised artist’s work, lining up with his understanding of an artist as a healer. As he told Audiomack World in a 2021 interview, his music serves the fans by reminding them they’re not alone.
“Being an artist is being a healer,” Kenji explains. “It’s the way I express myself to let other people know it’s okay to express themselves. Making people feel more in touch [with their emotions]. Bringing people together. Seeing people coming to my shows and unifying over one thing, that’s a real powerful energy.
After a run of brisk, emotion-driven projects in 2021 and 2020, Kenji admits he felt no pressure approaching his debut album. If he likes the music and it’s fire—which it most certainly is—there’s no reason to keep it in the vault. This attitude has served him well, with his live shows featuring fervent fans who sing unreleased snippets back at a playfully shocked Kenji.
When asked how he manages to be so confident and so vulnerable at once, Dro Kenji lets out a hearty chuckle. For him, it’s natural to express himself and be as open as possible—these are the calling cards of a true artist. His attentiveness to his feelings translates over to his care for the final product. WITH OR WITHOUT YOU is Kenji’s most personal project to-date and a salve for anyone who’s ever been wronged by someone they trusted.
During a previous interview with Audiomack World, you said your music was about making sure fans know they’re not alone. How did you apply that to WITH OR WITHOUT YOU?
That applies to everything I drop. I know for a fact that if I make a song about something, somebody’s gon’ feel that shit. It’s gon’ resonate. These feelings be so common. People go through the same shit. They might not know how to cope, might not know what to do, might not know who to talk to. Music might help them. I’m the same way.
The music is the therapy?
Music is definitely therapy, and it can be whatever you like listening to.
Which song means the most to you personally?
I feel this way about the whole project—there’s not one song. I don’t even want to say “USED2KNOW,” because it might be the craziest out of all the songs and then the next day, “PUSH2START” is the craziest. It depends on the day.
I noticed the artwork for this album is totally different—using a headshot of you versus an illustration—what’s the message or intent there?
When it was time for the project and it was coming to fruition that I had a debut album… It’s my face on the cover with the most personal songs. Most genuine feelings. We had a photo shoot and ended with that cover art, and album art is art, you feel me? From this point forward, though, I want to do some crazy shit, make some real art shit. Motherfuckers that love real music [care about cover art].
How did you get so comfortable being vulnerable?
That’s some human shit, bro. There’s nothing wrong with being vulnerable. People act so hard all the time, but you’re human. You have to feel shit, and if you don’t feel your feelings, you’re gon’ be down bad. You’ll be an evil person and hurt other people. It’s important to express yourself.
What is the best advice you’ve gotten in your career thus far?
If you’re an artist, you’re always an artist. Tyler, The Creator will really go outside in that bellhop outfit. Kanye really [went] outside in a mask for months. That’s true artist shit—live your art. I am Dro Kenji at all times of the day.