Interview: Dom Kennedy Breaks Down California’s New Rap Kings

“I was a kid that bought [Ice Cube’s] “It Was A Good Day” on cassette single,” proudly beams Dom Kennedy. “I bought [Notorious BIG’s] Ready To Die four or five times in my life.” The Leimert Park, Los Angeles, California rapper is embracing his inner hip-hop geek. Kennedy, who drops his latest studio album Get Home Safely today, is talking about the inspiration behind why he continues to side-step musical trends of the day. “It really revolves around OPM, which is my crew,” he explains to VIBE. “We are more of a lifestyle clique. The music is just the soundtrack to what we do in our everyday lives. I’m original because of the history…legacy. I never want to disappoint myself. So regardless of what anybody tells me, I’ve seen West Coast hip-hop at its best. I was there.”

Continues Kennedy: “I know that you can write lyrics that actually mean something and be the star that you want to be and still be respected. If I hadn’t seen and heard those things it probably would be easier for me to fall into whatever trend that’s happening. But all that stuff fades away. [Nas’] Illmatic and [Snoop Dogg’s] Doggystyle still sound good today.”

While he’s been in the game since 2008, Kennedy—who captured the hip-hop nation’s full attention with his 2012 critically acclaimed effort Yellow Album—believes Get Home Safely represents the barebones spirit of the aforementioned landmark releases. The set exhibits the laidback MC at his most personable. “This is the most honest I’ve ever been musically,” he adds. “Nothing on Get Home Safely can be duplicated by anybody. I’m describing true situations that have happened to me in my life when I was 10 or 12-years-old. Nobody else can tell you those stories from that perspective. You just had to be there.”

But Dom Kennedy is not the only Cali artist moving hip-hop forward on his own terms. From Kendrick Lamar to Odd Future, VIBE sat down with enterprising artist and label head to breakdown the current landscape of West Coast hip-hop. Westsiiide!—Keith Murphy (@murphdogg29)

Kendrick Lamar/Top Dawg Entertainment (Compton, California)

They just bring that realism back to rap. TDE is coming from a real place; a very sincere place. Kendrick brings an attention to detail to his work. He is drawing on emotions that people haven’t felt for a long time in hip-hop, which is just authenticity. That’s how rap music and hip-hop started. It needs days and times for people to feel like the music is coming from concerned minds and people that are really walking it and living it, and not just coming from the first class seat on an airplane. You are hearing real stories from Kendrick and TDE.

Nipsey Hussle (Los Angeles, California)

Nipsey is more like the streets, and I don’t want to say gang bang, but he represents that mentality. But his thing has always been coming from that life and trying to make something of yourself. I think it was great when he [sold his Crenshaw mixtape for $100]. That’s something we had talked about. It was him just making a statement like, “You know what? Nobody is forcing y’all to do anything.” Obviously we know that as soon as one person gets the CD they are going to put it up online, but if it’s quality and if you support it you understand that whatever you want to hear and see out of an artist, all that shit cost money. So if you want to see Nipsey Hussle come back and do something even better than he is doing now—his fans like me—I’m on the tape and I still bought it. I have seven Nipsey Hussle tapes that I’ve never paid for. Because I’m a fan of Nipsey.

Odd Future (Los Angeles, California)

People just represent different things and are being brutally honest and true to that. That’s what it really comes down to with Odd Future. I’ve been around Tyler and them. My studio is on Fairfax where their store is at and where they hang out at. I’ve seen them and known them for years now before they did their thing. I knew them when some of them were just working in stores on Fairfax. What they represent and the way they move is completely authentic to how they are in real life. I think that no compromise attitude that Odd Future has is great. Everybody has found a core fanbase in LA to sustain what it is they truly want to represent, and not be afraid to be like, “You know what? I got enough fans to where we can get through this door. I got enough fans where I can be this person and not have to water it down.” That’s Tyler and Odd Future.

YG (Compton, California)

YG is the like O-Dog from Menace II Society [laughs]. He represents the young, do-it-first-and-worry-about-it-later mentality. And that’s authentic to LA to what I know and definitely to Compton. That’s why YG is who he is because the kids identify with that. YG is part of that giving back and sharing stories that are maps to people’s lives. These are young adults that are making music that’s real and at times extreme.

Problem (Compton, California)

Problem’s overall hustle is nonstop. I feel like everybody brings something unique to the table. But Problem came in and just reclaimed his position. He had been around for a while. He’s that missing link in our culture. He’s street, but with a different point of view. Everybody is not going to go the same way as a Dom Kennedy and make a certain song. People definitely are not going to be as artistic as Kendrick. Like I said, we all bring something special to the table. I think the West Coast is everything now.