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
Given the minimal amount of traditional “rapping” on Serengeti’s new album Saal, his first with Atlanta label Graveface, it’s hard to classify it as a hip hop record. The only records I can think to compare it to are Geti’s last couple solo efforts Family & Friends and C.A.R., yet Saal is such a departure from the sound of those two albums that it’s really in a league of its own. Not that it’s considerably better than those albums, but something is different with this one. It feels like an album and a sound that he has been building towards while creating a new style of songwriting.
Saal was made in Germany with German producer Sicker Man. Serengeti has worked with some great producers recently, but he has never had beats that fit him quite as well as Sicker Man’s mad scientist like productions. Sicker Man uses a combination of guitars, cellos, synthesizers and a liberal amount of reverb and analog effects to create psychedelic soundscapes that enhance Serengeti’s expressive vocals. A handful of their collaborations that didn’t make the LP have surfaced as mp3’s and they are every bit as good as the eight songs that made the cut. The outstanding overall quality of every song the duo recorded has me hoping that Serengeti has more trips to Germany planned in the near future.
Many of the themes found in his last two albums (relationships, regret, change, acceptance) are present here, but Serengeti’s rhymes and especially his delivery seem more emotional and vulnerable than ever before. When Serengeti says “It’s great, it is…it is” self convincingly at the end of “Day by Day” it’s easy to sense the hesitation in his voice. Serengeti’s stream of consciousness storytelling style has always had strong, internal emotional content, but for someone that does “a lot of music that’s written in secret code,” Saal feels more revealing than anything he has done to this point. Serengeti’s comfort in his current style allowed him to truly put himself into these songs and exorcise some demons. His raw performance and ability to shift freely from rapping to talking to singing to mumbling and back to rapping help make Saal a defining work and potential classic.
The album’s beautiful closer “Erotic City” is perhaps the best example of his accomplishment. The song is a snapshot of someone “heading to LA on hope” like Geti did a few years ago to record his last few albums. The song captures a universal feeling of embarking on a new journey equally full of hope and fear. Whether the journey is fruitful or not doesn’t matter, the song encapsulates the in-the-moment emotions associated moving to a place like LA with your back against the wall perfectly. The way he sings “Erotic City” on the chorus and calmly speaks his verses over Sicker Man’s buzzing production, it sounds like he almost wishes he could recapture that time and feeling he once had about LA.
The preceding song “I Could Redo” features more heart-wrenching singing from Serengeti about a regretful night from a past relationship. It features my favorite line from the album, “I hid in your hidden traits.” Geti’s been through a lot and it’s the way he is able to analyze his past and his decisions in unique ways that makes his music so rewarding. His simple story of a boy’s karate being no match for an abusive guardian on “Karate” is the type of song that only Serengeti could make. It’s the same type of song that always leaves me questioning whether the song is about Geti or someone he knows. It’s never quite clear and that’s a big part of Serengeti’s appeal.
“Glassell Park” has become my favorite song of the bunch. A hazy production shifts over a simple bass line as Geti paints a picture of a bum as “the happiest man in Glassell Park” on the first verse and himself as the “happiest man” for the second. “Accomodating” is another creative song that puts a spotlight on a certain kind of person, the person that seems more concerned with putting others at ease than themselves. Geti asks them “What do you like to do?” and promises to “make you more complicated too”. Every song on Saal works great on the surface level while harboring added layers of depth for those willing to dig.
I have heard many people use words like bleak and sad to describe this record. While there are definitely depressing feelings expressed on Saal, that’s not the overarching vibe I get from the album. There is a subdued optimism about Serengeti throughout Saal that makes me feel he knows he’s finding more artistic comfort and freedom. Geti himself says on the song “Seasons” “I haven’t had the perfect time yet…I’m betting on myself again”. Despite all Serengeti’s been through, not only is he not giving up, he’s making the best music of his career. Pick up the album over at Graveface Records.
Written by John Bugbee