By Chris Troop
Rico Nasty? Freddie Gibbs? 03 Greedo? Key? Young Thug? Vince Staples? Lil Uzi?
In a single year? Woah, Kenny.
As recently as 2017, Kenneth Blume III was an EDM DJ, touring under the name LOUDPVCK. He had achieved moderate success through a couple of Major Lazer and Chainsmokers remixes while garnering a reputation as a great live act. He was well-paid, had a strong fanbase and was in the midst of a worldwide tour, playing just about every festival or venue you could name. Despite this, he was unhappy making music he simply didn’t care about.
So, he walked away.
Building a brand-new studio in his Atlanta apartment, Blume ferociously studied everything happening in hip hop for 6 months, all the while constantly making new music. Once he had 300 beats on his computer and armed himself with an encyclopedic knowledge of any genre he could get his hands on, Blume returned to music under the name he had adopted at the beginning of his career: Kenny Beats. Returning to his roots as a young producer at Top Dawg making beats for the likes of Ab-Soul, Schoolboy Q and even Kendrick Lamar, Kenny re-emerged in late 2017 with a fierce dedication to making great rap – the only music that has ever really mattered to him.
In the age of Metro Boomin and the superstar beatmaker, Kenny wants to see himself as different. Kenny has always stressed that he’s a producer – not just a beatmaker. He views his job as to serve the artist and bring out whatever they want to at a moment’s notice. There are stories about Rico Nasty walking into the studio and asking for “a heavy metal beat,” “something real cute and poppy,” and “I want ‘Sweet Dreams’ by The Eurythmics” all on consecutive days.
Apparently, even long-term collaborator Key got into the habit of setting 15-minute time limits for Kenny to make something. To commit to satisfying his collaborators as an ethos requires both an incredibly diverse skill set and an intimate understanding of how to incorporate dissonant sounds – so far, two things which Kenny hasn’t failed to show in 2018.
Just look at his body of work in 2018. He made Rico Nasty on her mixtape Nasty sound like a punk from the 80s and really early Missy Elliot. On God Level, 03 Greedo oscillates from auto-tune crooner on tracks like the haunting “In My Feelings” to peak Lil Wayne on “Floating.” Kenny even has his fingerprints all over my personal favorite trap album of the summer, Freddie Gibbs’ short, smug and brilliant Freddie. No discussion of Kenny’s work is complete, however, without mention of his breakout record 777 with former Atlanta newcomer Key.
In an epic twist of fate, Key and Kenny found each other at the ideal time. The former was full of ideas for a grand comeback album while the latter was simply biding his time for the perfect project on which to prove himself. Their electric union produced an unbelievably diverse project filled with choirs, crushing 808s, love songs dedicated to Key’s children and Rick James-inspired club hits. The album was only meant to be 7 tracks long, but everything they touched turned to absolute gold – they couldn’t help themselves.
Kenny is far from a sonic chameleon. Although he molds himself to an artist, his incredibly crisp drums and ability to make any melody bounce in just the right way are always prominent. However, what really strikes me about every Kenny project I’ve listened to is just how much fun it sounds like everyone is having. If I had to identify a running theme throughout his creative process on each of his projects, it’s the friendships that he cultivates with artists that seems the most consistent factor. Everyone falls in love with Kenny due to the sheer respect and love he brings to the artists for which he works.
This is a two-way street, though, as Kenny is incredibly selective about whom he produces for. There are rumors that he has ignored texts from some huge names in hip hop, stressing studio time and a personal understanding as central to his process. It’s no surprise he cites behind-the-scenes titans such as Quincy Jones and Mark Ronson as his biggest inspirations – one day he aspires to emulate the respect they have accrued and become the best person to work with in the industry.
So far, largest validation of this commitment came as recently as last week with Vince Staples’ FM!, for which he produced 9 of the 11 tracks. Not only is Staples the most commercially successful artist he has worked for, but Kenny managed to coax the famously elusive Earl Sweatshirt out for a single track - the frankly named New earlsweatshirt – interlude. He’s not stopping there, though. We have yet to even hear the tracks he has with Young Thug, an EP with Ski Mask the Slump God, and a project with Lil Uzi. 2018 is nearing its close, but before the end of the year, Kenny may top his best work – he’s certainly got the momentum.