VIDEO: Dom Kennedy On Fatherhood, Living Within His Means & Creating His Own Record Label
Dom Kennedy insists that we listen to his new album in the car. With his manager behind the wheel and the rapper in the passenger seat, he proudly narrates throughout the 15 tracks of his new album, Los Angeles Is Not For Sale, Vol. 1. On a rare evening when it’s raining in Los Angeles, listening to Dom’s chill, relaxed music makes you feel like it’s summertime in L.A.
Outside of a listening party for his fans in September, Dom has been relatively out of the spotlight in 2016 and into 2017. He attributes his hiatus from press and touring to taking time out to hone his skills as a songwriter and to become more heavily involved in the production aspects of his music. Dom shares that in working with some of his frequent collaborators including J.LBS, Poly, Cardo and Mike Free he wasn’t just rapping over beats, “…We structured every sound from the hooks to the outros. There’s only one sample on the album, the rest is all us and our creativity.” Specifically from a production aspect, “Los Angeles Is Not For Sale, Vol. 1” (LAINFS) is smooth and well crafted.
While many artists release an album followed by tour dates, Dom seems to be intentionally going against the grain. All of the things that artists are “supposed” to do doesn’t seem to apply to him. He isn’t planning to perform again until he releases “Los Angeles Is Not For Sale, Vol. 2” sometime in March. By that time, “…My fans will have heard 30 tracks not knowing which ones I’ll perform,” says Dom from his record label’s, OPM (The Other Peoples Money Company) office on Fairfax. The thought of not being on the scene and continuing to fly somewhat under the radar for at least the next three months doesn’t seem to phase the 32-year-old whose confidence in himself as an artist and entrepreneur is unwavering, reminiscent of Sean “P.Diddy” Combs; not Puff Daddy the rapper but Sean Combs the mogul whose numerous business ventures are pushing him close to billionaire status. In that context, it’s evident that Dom’s music is important to him but there’s also a bigger picture happening behind the scenes. Basically, he’s playing chess not checkers.
As a father, Dom seems to have an innate paternal instinct to lead by example and make moves in a way that will inspire the next generation of artists to focus less on the perceived fame and materialism that comes from signing a record deal and more on owning your intellectual property. Over the course of our two day interview, Dom gave insight into why he isn’t worried about competing with his peers and how he’s using his OPM imprint as the blueprint for up-and-coming artists to maintain financial stability, impact the community and have success on their own terms.
ZD: During a TEDX speech you gave, you mentioned growing up and seeing a statistic that ‘1 in 5 from your area wouldn’t make it’. Many rappers feel the need to talk about violence and their tumultuous lives. Since you had a pretty middle class upbringing, how are you encouraging younger fans to be okay with who they are?
DK: I can’t compare my life growing up in Leimert Park to someone in Imperial Village Projects; we don’t have the same options and I understand that. You do what you do based on survival and instincts. If I know something, I try to share it and give that opportunity and enlightenment to whomever I’m around, some people might not want to hear it but once you know something, you have the option to do better. You might be fortunate enough to leave your neighborhood and travel but you have homies and family members that are stuck in their ways. “Keep sharing” is an OPM theme that we’ve had for a long time. If anyone afforded me to have more options, it was my father. He worked a lot but he was around and he had more money than the average kids I grew up around especially because many of them didn’t have their father’s presence in their life that was one of my biggest advantages. My dad always shared with my homies. Anything I had, they always had it too.
“…Being a rapper wasn’t my goal, but it became my destination…”
ZD: Oftentimes after an artist gets their first taste of fame, they feel compelled to chase the perception of what it means to be “successful”. Can you give insight into your choice to somewhat fly under the radar?
DK: I’m not playing up to pretend, I don’t live above my means. In my song “96 Cris” I say, “…My bills too low for me to fall off.” Honestly, if I never did anything again with music, because I put out my own music, I could pay my bills, forever. I can pay my mortgage off my old music. Of course, you probably wouldn’t see me in my Lamborghini but, do you really need a Lambo? That’s really what you have to ask yourself. You have to assess your wants and needs. I remember barely being able to afford to put $20 in my gas tank and getting my car impounded on Jefferson so I don’t need a lot to be me and to be happy. The things I do get, I go after but I know what the other side is like as well, so it doesn’t scare me. Whether I’m driving an Acura, a Lambo, performing in front of 10 people or ten thousand, that’s not why I do what I do anyway so it minimizes all of the unimportant shit.
ZD: What was the inspiration behind creating your record label OPM (The Other People’s Money Company)?
DK: In 2010 we started OPM out of necessity, survival and out of not having a record deal. I grew up always admiring business owners. I was always interested in knowing who pulled what strings. I’ve always been in love with the decision making process, not just the product. My team and I have always talked about presentation and I wanted to be in control of how things looked. Not that I have a fear of not being in control but when it comes to my products, I’m very detailed oriented and I couldn’t imagine not being involved in all aspects of my brand. For example, if I recorded a song, turned it over to someone then hear it later on the radio or the album and wonder how it’s going to sound, nah, it would kill me. When we started doing merchandising, in my down time on the road I would draw the t-shirts. Down to the OPM flag, it may seem simple but it’s a specific shade…
ZD: Why did you need a flag to represent OPM?
DK: My homeboy Rich, his dad is Tommy Hilfiger. One day I was telling him that I kept having this vision and I drew it in a notebook I used to carry and I said, ‘I need to have this flag!’ It’s crazy that I grew up wearing Tommy Hilfiger clothes, he was the only other person I knew of whose logo was a flag. [Tommy] told me that he wanted his brand to have a flag because he grew up poor and he noticed that rich people who had boats had a flag so that was his goal when he got money to have his own flag. For me it was about having a country. Being black, being from America, being from L.A. obviously we have a U.S.A flag but I wanted my company to have a flag so wherever we ended up, whatever property we brought, whatever show we did, whatever country we went to, I took my flag with me. This one [referencing the flag in his office] is retired but it’s been overseas. It’s something that made me feel safe; it would hang on stage and travel with me.
ZD: Being that you still live in the Leimert Park area, is there any particular work that you do within your community?
DK: I’m not really the give TVs or turkeys kind of guy. I feel like we can do more good by inspiring people wholeheartedly and truthfully than we can just by giving them something because that creates a cycle of expecting you to give them something. I enjoy speaking to kids one-on-one wherever I’m at. When I’m out getting food, I’ll have a kid come up to me and I’ll chop it up with them for as long as they’d like. I want to recreate those moments in a classroom with a curriculum where I would teach them about the music business and give the hard facts of what I’ve done, what the music business is about and what you can expect so they’re not just hearing it in a song or a video but in a setting where they can ask questions.
ZD: How has having your son, Chip, impacted your decisions as a businessman?
DK: It had an immediate impact on me, that’s when I started taking my business, my time and having something to show for myself seriously. My time has to be compensated. People may call me materialistic or whatever but if I spend 20 hours away from my son, if I don’t bring anything home, then what was I doing with my time? It’s simple, it’s my son and then everything else.
ZD: Once this album is out, what type of pressure do you and your team have maybe from the fans or internally to promote your music to maintain relevancy?
DK: Since 2007, it never seems like there have been too many days where I haven’t performed, made a song, talked about music, listen to beats, etc. Growing up, being a rapper wasn’t my goal, but it became my destination. I feel like I’ve surpassed a lot of things that I previously hadn’t seen other people do. Once I decided to do music, I wanted to be a business owner. At the time, I thought I wanted to make $2,000; I wasn’t really expecting a whole lot.
When I first started rapping, I remember asking my homie, ‘…Do you think someone could come from LA, not be in a gang and be popular?’ We use to laugh about it because I knew it was possible so let me show people. Me and my homies have toured around the world, without any investors; I didn’t have to answer to anyone because I did everything. But there was a time where it wasn’t as interesting, ya know? A lot of things were happening, one of my childhood friends passed away in 2013 while I was making “Get Home Safely”. I was in a beautiful apartment downtown with the view of the city, a Benz, I was on top of the world, like I was supposed to be. But as you get older, you think differently. As a father, I had to figure out what all of these things meant to me because every time you have to get up and be excited.
With this album, I feel like I reinvented myself. My biggest secret weapon is, to me, this is my first album. I feel like that’s the secret of a true artist is to get to a stage where you’re creating purely, before I worried about the questions similar to what you were asking about the pressures to be mainstream, what does that have to do with me? That’s not really what I’m about, all of that shit comes and goes. What I really found out is my love and dedication, through losing friends and people that started with me is my biggest asset is my belief in myself. The past doesn’t have anything to do with the future, only if you let it…In terms of music, for as long as I want to do it, there’s nothing that can stop me. When I’m done, Ima undoubtedly be one of the best, in terms of L.A., that’s gonna be on my tombstone in terms of representing Leimert Park, that’s already in the history books, I already took that OPM flag around the world. A lot of stuff that used to be debatable doesn’t even exist anymore. All of the myths are coming down and what’s important is survival and showing kids a different way which is to be about your business. Spend more time trying to create instead of asking for permission.
“…Whether I’m driving an Acura, a Lambo, performing in front of 10 people or ten thousand, that’s not why I do what I do anyway so it minimizes all of the unimportant shit…”
ZD: In a previous interview you mentioned that you’re your favorite rapper, is that still accurate?
ZD: Is that narcissistic?
DK: Hell no, not to me. I’m a fan of a lot of people more so guys I grew up listening to. Honestly, if I wasn’t my favorite… I think people might think it’s narcissistic from the outside looking in but that’s not to say that I believe that everything I do is the best thing that ever came out. But in the world we live in people want to let you know what you’re not instead of what you are. It’s a big thing to criticize people. So I’m not saying I make every shot that I shoot from half court it’s just to say I’m the best person I know at trying and I look the best doing it. I enjoy what I say the most and I get the most good feelings and inspiration out of my music alone than out of anybody else’s and that’s still the absolute truth… You can’t do this without [confidence]. It’s impossible to try and achieve something of a high level with anything in life if you don’t have that. If I were a lawyer, you’re not gonna win too many cases if you’re not walking in like ‘I have the best arguments in the city!’ You have to prepare for that but that’s definitely how you should feel when you approach your job.
ZD: What do you want your fans to know about the process of creating “Los Angeles Is Not For Sale, Vol. 1”?
DK: This is my most complete work to date. Get Home Safely is almost where this one is to me. “The Yellow Album” had popular songs like “My Type Of Party” but I feel like this is my most complete, front-to-back, 15 song project that I really thought about. There’s a Vol. 2 coming out because I feel like I hit another stride with the music, I feel like I hit another zone. I had been recording for so many years trying to figure it out, while answering questions in my mind and over thinking; now all that’s out the window. LAINFS V1 is just good record after good record. It’s not really a story, it doesn’t have any crazy interludes, it’s not gonna make you feel bad or make you over think, it’s just good songs. And that’s what I feel like I was put here to do, to get to this moment where it’s just a lot of dope records.
I think a lot of people that have never heard Dom Kennedy music will like it too. That was important for me in everything I do going forward, you should never go into what you’re about to do based on what you’ve already done so I don’t really care about the sales or the reviews of my old albums, it doesn’t have anything to do with what’s about to happen. I’m just looking forward to releasing LAINFS V1., it’s been a long time coming.