Dom Kennedy

Armed with a smooth-as-butter flow coupled with a song-writing ability well beyond his years, the 25 year-old Leimert Park native burst onto the scene in 2008 with his debut mixtape 25th Hour, which was an instant and unexpected success for the Left Coaster. Dom quickly followed up with two new projects in 2009, Future Street/Drug Sounds and Best After Bobby.

Dom wasted no time getting 2010 off to a good start, as he released his fourth and supposedly final free mixtape download, From the Westside with Love. A mix of love, nostalgia and gritty tales make From the Westside one of the top projects released so far in 2010. HipHopGame was able to catch up with the self-proclaimed second-best Kennedy to talk about his new mixtape, plans for the future and much more.

Dom, your first mixtape The 25th Hour was released in 2008. Were you surprised from your success that happened relatively early?

A little bit. I wouldn’t say I had much success from it. The people who listened to it really enjoyed it. They heard a project that was from the heart, which most of my projects are. I didn’t really know too much. What you got was just a raw artist who just had a couple things to say. I really made it for my friends and my homies and for the people I knew. I was surprised that so many people liked it and enjoyed it as much as they did.

People could identify a lot of the things I touched on. When you download my music you know what you’re going to get. You’re going to get a certain type of feeling and you’re going to know what to expect and even if you’re not from L.A., you’re going to know where my music comes from. Being from L.A. makes you feel a certain way and as a listener, you look for that and it’s so important when you find somebody like what you’re looking for. I think that’s just what people gravitate towards and I just try to do the best I can so when people hear me, they can hear the sincerity in my music.

How did you feel you had to grow from The 25th Hour to your next projects?

I became a lot more responsible for more people and they wanted me to speak for them and carry on rapping from our standpoint as a young L.A. kid. I just kind of had to accept that responsibility type of thing. I think I had to take it a lot more seriously and I had to do that if I wanted to get to the next step. I had to work a lot harder and put a lot more into it.

Your mixtapes have a very cohesive feel from start to finish. Going back to what you said earlier, do you feel like the cohesiveness of your projects come naturally?

Definitely. Everything I do is planned out. Nothing I do is by coincidence. I wanted to tell a story going in. My story is basically my life and what’s been going on in the last few years. Everything in the project will let you know what I do from the beginning to the middle part to the end. I definitely think about that and I put that part into it. People acknowledge that I put a lot of effort in and that there’s cohesiveness and when they do, that’s really important to me.

What inspired your latest mixtape From the Westside with Love?

I had the name and I really liked the title but the thing about it was I wanted to make it a good project. When you’re in the spotlight, you can either go up or down and you have a lot of people in your corner encouraging you and people maybe don’t care or some people care more and some people kind of discourage you. At that point, I just made a conscious decision to focus on the people that cared about me and the people that are working with me every day. It was kind of like a dedication to my fans who came up to me at shows and told me that they told a lot of people about my music and that they looked forward to my new projects. It was like a thank you to them and let them know that I appreciated that and I was going to make them look good for telling somebody about me.

Are you surprised by your high volume of downloads today?

Not so much that and the online aspect but just the being out aspect. I did a show in L.A. four or five days after the project came out and there were people there who had known all of the words to the songs and it had only been out four or five days. They’ll tell me my project inspired them to get back into music and keep doing it and that’s what inspires me.

Most fans know you from your online presence, which can ruin a lot of artists financially. How do you use the internet to your advantage?

It’s a difficult thing but I just try to learn from the people that were here before me. The internet, you can use it to your advantage but if you do it wrong or you do too much of it, it can work in reverse. It might be good at first but after awhile you’ll realize that it’s not working for you. I just try to balance it out. I don’t try to do too many of the same interviews where I’m talking about the same people. It’s about balance. People initially thought it was great and they could get their numbers up and some of it is because people are tired of the same thing. I try and give enough of myself but not too much as far as the internet is concerned. And I just use it to really connect to my fans. I can’t go to everybody’s house to give them the CD but if they’re online, they can take the CD and then take it to their friends and that’s how it is.

Do you think you could survive as an artist only doing free downloads and getting paid through shows and merch?

Nah. Nah. Absolutely not. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but I’m not going to be one of those people. From the Westside with Love is pretty much my last free project like that. As far as music is concerned, we have to get back to the point to where we’re selling our art. At the end of the day, there are people who do artwork and there are people who record artists such as myself. You gotta think about it from a long list of people who need incomes and it’s coming back around to the point where I just want to be a part of the quality and From the Westside with Love is telling you what you can expect. I think at some point it got to the point where people didn’t have a trust in artists because they were paying top dollar for projects and they weren’t getting much for their $14. For me, it’s like I’m saying I’m an artist and you can spend $12 or $14 with me and you’ll get your dollar’s worth. I’ve accomplished that with my fanbase and I just have to keep that going.

Do you want to go indie or major at this point?

Right now I’m just all independent. It’s all me all the time. My friends help me out as much as they can, when they can. But as far as labels, I’m not much worried about it. I’m just trying to build myself up as much as I can as a person and as an artist and just put myself in a position where whatever happens, happens.

The industry has always been more tentative with signing artists from the West Coast. Do you feel that’s still the case today?

I don’t really know because I’m just one artist. But even as far as radio play and all of that, I think great music will capture all because it’s the people at the end of the day. They decide no matter who tries to blackball or who tries to not acknowledge a certain movement or whatever. The people will support you and if you have a big fanbase, they’re going to support you. But as far as West Coast artists getting signed, I never thought it was a problem. All of the guys I know coming up from the West are signed and have major record deals with major companies like Nipsey Hustle and Jay Rock.

A lot of up-and-coming artists from L.A. that I’ve talked to over the years have talked about how difficult it is getting on radio. What’s your experience been like with L.A. radio?

It’s been good. Shout out to the L.A. Leakers out here. They have a show on Wednesday night where they play the future of rap music and where it’s going. They play all artists, like J. Cole and stuff like that. They mix that in and I’m out there on that show a lot. I was even on Hot 97 for “How I Work.” I don’t know what time of day they played it. I’m sure it was on a weekend or something like that, but it’s still big for me to even say that I’ve had a song played on Hot 97. I would say it’s been good but that’s not really my focus. It’s kind of like a bonus. I’ve never made a record for the radio or had it promoted like a single or anything like that. For my songs to be getting played without that is kind of like a bonus.

Where do you see yourself fitting in on the West Coast?

My place is just, it’s a good spot, actually. I’m just one of the voices but mine is just more in the stance of the everyday kid with a story that’s unique to Los Angeles. At the end of the day, when you look at it, my story is not just what a kid from L.A. can relate to. That’s just where my story takes place. But what I’ve been through are things that people all over the world have been through. I just try to be as true to myself as possible and just take my responsibility for my fans. But I definitely feel like without a doubt, I’m one of the top artists from L.A. and I’m representing for L.A.

Is it ever hard giving away free mixtapes, especially when it sounds better than a lot of albums?

It’s not hard because I went into this one thinking and knowing that it was going to be my last one. I had a plan but I was thinking that this was better than a lot of things that people sell and are probably going to sell this year and what people are going to buy. But at the end of the day, I went in with a plan and I knew I had to do this. I think it would definitely be hard for me to do it again. But I just look at it like banking on my future. I definitely wouldn’t do it again though. I wouldn’t do it again. It was just part of my plan to do this and I was kind of hoping that it would come out like this. I didn’t know that it would. I still have to go through with what I’m going to do. It’s an ever-evolving thing. I’m growing every day. All this is really saying is that the next project is going to be that much better.

What does success look like to you?

It would have to translate for me in record sales and the bank account. Things like that and overall happiness and overall opportunities for jobs. I have a lot of people around me who do things for me and I want to have my own corporation where people can make money around me. That’s what I gauge my success on. I’m in the business of selling records and I would like to see my projects grow and when I do the next one, I want to see the growth in my maturity and definitely make a great album. I also definitely want to see people go out and buy it so that I can know that my work stood for something and that people are out there listening.

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