The fact that Serengeti is still releasing music as his wildly inventive alter ego, Kenny Dennis, years after his original Kenny Dennis project Dennehy dropped is an achievement. But when you realize he’s more committed to the Kenny Dennis narrative than ever before, his creative brilliance really begins to reveal itself on his new Kenny Dennis LP. Geti goes fully down the KD rabbit hole, adding a new character in Workaholics’ Anders Holm who pops up on 4 excellent skits and adds a few wrinkles to the KD mythology. Although this album sounds nothing like Serengeti’s emotional album of the year contender Saal, they share a creative spirit that makes them hard to put in a box. In both cases, they feel like work Serengeti has been building towards.
A narrative centered on an appearance by Kenny Dennis on American Gladiators back in the day (Kenny’s 53 now) is a central theme on the LP. On “Crush Em” Kenny raps about how he crushed Nitro into the wall in Powerball on American Gladiators. Later, on “Kenny and Jueles” he describes returning home to the silent treatment from his wife Jueles after winning the Eliminator on American Gladiators and even turning down an opportunity to become a gladiator (“that’s called love and devotion and sacrifice”). Jueles explains that she was so proud of his exploits that she couldn’t speak, and then the couple makes up. The song is another great chapter in the Kenny and Jueles story that started back on Dennehy.
The four skits featuring ‘Ders are key to the album as well. ‘Ders takes us through first meeting Kenny at a Sharper Image as a kid, to becoming Kenny’s biggest fan when Kenny was a member of Tha Grimm Teachaz, to flying Kenny out to LA for Kenny’s 50th birthday after his Workaholics success. The last skit “50th Birthday” ends badly when, after hanging in LA for a while, Kenny is introduced to ‘Ders’s friend Steve. After finding out Kenny rapped, Steve made the mistake of asking Kenny if he learned to rap from ‘Ders and his TV friends rap group ‘The Wizards.’ This insult, coupled with the fact Steve was wearing a Shaq O’Neal jersey (Kenny’s mortal enemy), was enough to make Kenny abruptly leave his birthday dinner at Ruth’s Chris and not speak to ‘Ders for years. All these details might seem absurd in the context of a rap album, but that’s why any comparisons you choose to make for Serengeti albums fall flat. At this point in his career Serengeti is like a director with amazing stories to tell who absolutely refuses to compromise his vision in the slightest in order to give casual viewers a chance to catch up.
Serengeti has also used the last couple of Kenny Dennis albums to show off his ability to riff on early 90 rap styles (which matches perfectly with Kenny’s back story as a member of Tha Grimm Teachaz). The opening track “Bang Em” features a classic boom-bap beat from Odd Nosdam and Kenny’s throwback choppy, stream of consciousness flow (“Miles, Davis/ Potatoes, Carrots/ Eyes strengthen/ O’Neal retired, Kenny drinkin’”). Little touches like Kenny riffing at the end of the track about the life metaphor that the phrase ‘bang em‘ implies are gold, and the crux of the appeal of the Kenny Dennis albums. It’s not really comedy rap, because if you’re a Kenny Dennis newbie listening for the first time, you’re probably more confused than amused. But if you’ve followed the storyline, it’s the heart and quirky detail that Serengeti injects into Kenny’s character that makes these albums hilarious even when Kenny is angry or playing it straight.
The closing track “Flows” starts with Kenny stating “I gotta get serious” and the song is indeed Kenny’s attempt to drop some jewels on his listeners. Kenny’s basic messages are to think before acting, to be hospitable, and help each other. He seems confounded that people don’t do these things, even showing disgust that the mayor doesn’t get the snow plowed so buses can get the kids to school. Everything is simple in the world of Kenny Dennis and while it’s easy to laugh at, it’s this moral backbone Geti provides Kenny that keeps him grounded and helps make him relatable. “Directions” is another attempt by Kenny to offer guidance (he literally gives directions for the entire 2nd half of the song) and “Punks” finds KD venting by rambling on about different ‘punks’ that he encounters daily over Odd Nosdam’s bluesy, infectious beat.
Just when you think Serengeti has stretched the Kenny Dennis character to the limit, he adds layers of depth you never thought would be possible in a fictional O’Douls-swigging, Craig Hodges-loving, brat-eating throwback rapper. Serengeti’s boundary shattering approach to making music may never make him a household name, but his artistic range is astounding and makes him one of the modern music scene’s best kept secrets. There’s no telling if he’ll be able to keep up his recent pace of releasing a couple Serengeti projects and one Kenny Dennis project every year, but it’s already one of the most consistently good runs of rap releases by one artist in the last several years. Pick up the Kenny Dennis LP on Vinyl/CD over at Anticon and get up to speed on one of rap music’s best alter egos.
Written by John Bugbee
Serengeti ‘s Saal, released earlier this year, was the emotional peak of his recent three album run started by Family & Friends and followed by C.A.R. He’s released the albums at a consistent one-per-year pace, but he has found plenty of projects to keep him busy in between Serengeti releases, most coming from his more lighthearted alter ego Kenny Dennis. His new single “Crush em,” the first from the Kenny Dennis LP being released on Anticon, builds on the sound of 2012’s outstanding Kenny Dennis EP. In the amazing first verse Kenny breaks down the difference between England and America by listing several examples of things they birthed into existence (“English made economy, America made comedy”). The song’s spacey production is provided by Odd Nosdam who, along with his partner Jel, produced C.A.R. and both the Kenny Dennis EP and the Kenny Dennis LP.
If you’re an Indianapolis resident like myself, you have a unique opportunity to catch Serengeti’s album release show this Saturday at Indiana City Beer at 9:00. The show is only 5 bucks and food trucks outside will be serving up some of Kenny’s favorites, brats and chops. Come out this Saturday, sample some brew, and see one of hip hop’s best kept secrets on the cheap before he heads out to Europe on tour.
Written by John Bugbee
Serengeti’s latest EP sees him reprising his role as Kenny Dennis, a 40 something, O’Doul’s swigging, Brat eating Chicago sports diehard. It’s a big style switch from the introspective, storytelling style he’s perfected on his last couple releases (My 2011 album of the year Family & Friends and his collaborative EP Beak & Claw with Sufjan Stevens and Son Lux), but Geti sounds as comfortable as ever in the role. Joining west coast label Anticon has proven to be a great move for Serengeti, giving him access to several talented producers that the label houses. This EP marks the first time he’s worked with Anticon super-producers Jel and Odd Nosdam, who are also producing his upcoming LP C.A.R., set to drop in June.
Kenny Dennis has been one of rap’s best alter egos for a while now, but he takes things to another level on the song “Don’t Blame Steve”. You see, Kenny is a Cubs fan. Not just any Cubs fan, but a fan who was sitting next to Steve Bartman on October 14th, 2003. Kenny says he, not Bartman, knocked the ball down and wants to set the record straight- “Team collapsed, 8 runs in the 8th, errors, managerial and pitcher mistakes. But they blamed it all on the fellow, to my left”. Kenny goes on a tirade, rattling off the name of every obscure Cub that should be blamed instead of Steve and insists “if a ball comes at ya, you knock it down”. As great as the song is by itself, Serengeti’s video for “Don’t Blame Steve” is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.
Written by John Bugbee