How 'Kenan & Kel' Became UK Rap's Unlikeliest Reference Point

Who loves orange soda? Fredo, AJ Tracey and Nines do.
August 31, 2021, 8:00am
Kenan and Kel UK rap references
Photo: TCD/Prod.DB / Alamy Stock Photo

Last February, when UK rap heavyweights Dave and Fredo released ultra-lavish collab “Money Talks”, a hit 90s TV show reference leaped out. “Trap boys, so easy to tell,” said Fredo. “Got more soda than Kenan and Kel.”

Running from 1996 to 2000, Kenan & Kel features all the hallmarks of a 90s US sitcom. There’s canned laughter, ker-azy schemes and a live studio audience. So it’s strange that, over 20 years later, the American kids TV show has become regularly referenced in UK rap lyrics.

Dating as far back as 2012, I’ve noted 36 Kenan & Kel mentions in UK rap tracks. Aitch and AJ Tracey’s “Rain” climbed to the number one spot in March, with a cheeky ref to the orange soda-drinking duo. Big Zuu is a fan, with references popping up on two of his tracks. Lady Leshurr’s viral tune “Queen’s Speech 3” weaponized the boys (“I’ll Kenan and Kel them”), while Nines had the pair date his experience, rapping “When I was putting weed on the scale, you n***** was watching Kenan and Kel” on “Zino Always Said”.

Why, of all the throwback references in the world, does Kenan & Kel keep popping up?

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“You would go in the living room after school, and it was Kenan & Kel, and nothing else,” says grime artist Nika D, who says his track “Rebirth” has a lyric inspired by the rhyming pattern on the TV show’s iconic theme tune.

Initially airing in the States, Kenan & Kel became an afterschool mainstay in the UK thanks to Nickelodeon, who played the show at the same time every weekday, almost immediately after front doors slammed and kids arrived home. “It was on at around half four, everyday. The theme tune from Coolio would come on and it would be 30 minutes of absolute jokes,” says Nika.

Given that Kenan and Kel bowled across UK screens throughout the 2000s and beyond, it’s understandable that a younger generation are now mining the show for references.

In particular, UK drill artists are shouting out the show more than any other genre. Of the 36 mentions I’ve found, 17 come from UK drill. Not bad for a sound that didn’t cement itself in the UK until 2014. 

Consider: south London’s M24, who referenced the Nickelodeon sitcom on his 2019 track “Riding”. That same year, Headie One’s OFB crew released multiple references to the program, on tracks like “Ding Dong” and “Drip No Drown”. Prior to this, back in 2017, UK drill heavyweights Harlem Spartans referenced the show on “K on Da K”, while in 2018, another prominent drill group, BSIDE 30, released drill hit “Kenan & Kel”, garnering 5.7m views on the music video alone. More recently, V9’s “Hole In One” visual drew inspiration from the show, alongside other 90s favourites.

Grime scene legend Dot Rotten tells VICE that UK rap’s Kenan & Kel references are likely to mean a multitude of things. “Personally, it can be used in so many different ways.  For other rappers, I imagine it could mean that you and your boys are jokemen – you’re a comedy show.”

Dot also referenced the duo on his 2019 clash-ready track “Original Real Talk”, spitting “Wanna stop me from eating / I need a good burger but I won’t go check Kenan & Kel.” For Dot, The duo’s reference-ready format meant “I could identify people without having to say their names. It was for battle rap purposes.” Presumably talking about Krept and Konan, the UK duo who own Croydon food spot Crepes and Cones, he laughs: “I still haven’t been to them boy’s restaurant.” 

Chasing M1llionz

Hosts of the Super 90s Bros podcast tell VICE that Kenan & Kel’s continued appeal comes from their audiences being of a similar age. “You felt like one of your own was getting famous as you watched them grow,” says Adam.  “Compared to the rest of the programming on Nickelodeon, their brand of humour was edge. Kids gravitate towards that.”

Despite being firmly in the rearview, Kenan & Kel continues to pop up – and will continue to do so. Dot sums its continued relevance up perfectly. “If you were old enough to watch this show as it aired, it became a focal point in your life – you remember what you were doing at that age.” 

@OlivverJames