Kenny Greene Looks to Revitalize Philly Hip-Hop

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Rock On Philly: What drew you and Tyler Nicolo together? And, how have you grown as collaborators?

Kenny Greene: I reached out to Tyler because, initially, I was impressed with his work and felt that it would be a great opportunity to move forward. We both had the same… ultimate goal. We’ve become so close and we love each other, so now we do everything together. With the writing, it’s from the heart so I just write whenever. Music allows me to be in control of my feelings in order to speak for others. I want it to be a vehicle for self-expression. I don’t really put time on it.

Tyler Nicolo: Our time in the studio the past few months has been pretty limited while Kenny is at college. When we finally get into the studio and he steps into booth, I press record and think “Is this song gonna work?” With the other artists I work with, we usually talk and work out the song before I press record. Kenny doesn’t like to do that. He likes to try to record it first and then we take it from there. Sometimes I won’t hear a word of the song until I hit record and we feel it out that way.

ROP: Do these thoughts and emotions that you put into these songs stay with you?

KG: I feel it every time. But I never made the perfect song where everything comes together, it’s always so close or just a tad short, I’m always missing something. A lot of them aren’t where I want them to be in terms of encapsulating the story and all the details. It takes effort but to me it’s nothing. I have to do it. I can’t not do it. I couldn’t live with a bad… not bad video, but under-performing video. One that I thought I put less effort than I could have. Everything I do has to be at a certain level, and if it’s not I get real disappointed. I just keep telling myself, “Keep working. Keep working.”

ROP: Meek Mill drew on the negative publicity for claiming Drake uses a ghost writer. What do you think you’d want people to take away from your music and how it represents Philadelphia?

KG: Meek Mill made his way through battle rap where guys were calling out other dudes. It’s kind of the prescribed way for rap. I’m not a rapper. I think Meek Mill is strictly a rapper. You can hear it in his scream, his voice, his pitch, his tone, his delivery. It’s all the same every time because that’s who Meek Mill is.

Music and how it moves me is different from how it moves someone like J. Cole. Our content, lifestyle, how we grew up is so different. I do it naturally my way, he does it his way. I empathize with what they’re doing, but I’m really interested in what kind of person I am because you never really know what you’re really like. No one knows who they truly are, and you keep learning new things about yourself every day.

For me, I don’t wanna be in the same bubble as Meek Mill. I’d want people to say “I like this guy because of this and I like Meek because of that.”

ROP: Do you think that’s an old-school mentality can still exist today?

KG: I think in some respects music has gotten too competitive. You can do it from your home. There’s no scarcity of resources. Battle Rap came from pulling together an audience, then getting two performers and several judges to see who’s the top of the top. Back then, it was “Who was the hardest dude in the city? Who controls all the drugs? Who can get you killed by him?” What you were talking about in your songs was actually real! Nowadays, it’s all judged by how many followers you have…

TN: Or, claiming to do things they never did!

KG: Exactly. All that’s talked about now is how you’re coming up with it or how it sounds. Back then it was more about “did you really do it?” You couldn’t fabricate a story and rap it to the people because they’d test who you are as a person. The game has changed so much that gangster persona has been broken and there are very few artists that are getting away with it still.

Kenny (Second from the left) and Tyler Nicolo (first from the right)

Photo courtesy of the Aaron Ricketts. Pictured is Kenny Greene (Second from the left) and Tyler Nicolo (first from the right)

ROP: How have you approached releasing the music?

TN: We wanted to release a few songs without any promotion just to see if people care, if fans gravitating towards the music, basically testing the waters and finding out what we’re capable of getting on our own.

ROP: That’s a pretty bold move for a developing artist.

TN: I see it as us not being afraid to put Kenny’s music out there. The biggest mistake I see in young artists commit is becoming too afraid to put out their music. They don’t want to release anything unless it’s going to get 5,000 plays overnight or they expect some kind of reaction right away. You have to release music when you know that first night you’re only going to get 100 plays. Every day that you waste putting off a release is time fans could have spent listening to your music.

ROP: Do you think that’s why more artists are dropping mixtapes recently?

TN: The word ‘mixtape’ has evolved so much over the years to the point that I don’t think a lot of people know what it means. Now, people will call a fifteen-song project a mixtape, it’ll be available on iTunes and marketed like a normal album, but they’ll use ‘mixtape’ to play it down a bit and avoid it being examined as critically.

ROP: You’ve released Colorblind and revealed the next project will be titled, Chameleon. Has color always been prominent theme in your writing?

KG: It’s something I’ve always been into. I always played off my name being Greene. My first mixtape was Two Shades of Greene, the second was The Greene Effect, and then I released Colorblind. I got tired of playing off of that theme and came to the realization that “there’s more than one color and there’s more than one side to me.” Of all the possible animals, a chameleon made the most sense. They change and adapt to their surroundings. That’s something I’ve done all my life.

ROP: You used the phrase “revitalize hip-hop” in a social media post about what Colorblind meant to you. What does it mean to you to “revitalize” hip-hop.

KG: I would say that my style, what I’m adding towards it… I feel that it can be not only different, but something that can keep people guessing. I think that’s the key to lasting long: staying unpredictable and keeping people on their toes at all times. If I’m changing it up all the time, you’re never going to know what to expect. I don’t make music to fit a mold or an image; I’m making it because that’s what I’m feeling in the moment. What I want is to focus on Philadelphia hip-hop and redefine its culture.

What do YOU feel is the best way to revitalize hip-hop? What do you think of Kenny Greene? Tell us in the comments below!

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