My introduction to Kenna was auspicious, indeed. I saw him on the red carpet before the MTV Video Music Awards in 2002. The “artist”¹ accompanying him to the ceremony? Fred Durst. I didn’t think much of Kenna until the following summer, when I saw the “Freetime” video on MTV2.
He was far from a Limp Bizkit clone. He had absolutely zero to do with backwards cap-wearing rap-rock. Nope, Kenna was the black love child of David Gahan and Robert Smith. His music was heavily indebted to the combination of synth-pop and mope-rock that earned The Cure and Depeche Mode their stripes. And I was in love.
Kudos to Chad Hugo (the Oates to Pharrell Williams’ Daryl Hall) for taking over the “mentor” reins from Fred Durst. Kenna’s two full-length albums, New Sacred Cow (the album that “Freetime” appears on) and Make Sure They See My Face are the most continuously enjoyable albums that a Neptune has ever appeared on. It’s too bad they are also some of the least commercially successful albums a Neptune has ever appeared on. A black new waver in the Oughts was some hard shit to sell.
Nevertheless, trust me. “Freetime” was on some other shit. And if Kenna had come along a decade later, he’d be lumped in with all of the other “alternative R&B” weirdos (a term used when black folks don’t conform to commonly held stereotypes) alongside Khalid and Miguel…who are now pretty widely accepted and wildly successful. I think there’s a very strategic reason you don’t see his face in the video until the end. Fucking stereotypes.
¹-I’m trying not to be shady these days, but come on.