All photos by Madi Dangerously
Dom Kennedy makes the best case for moving to Los Angeles—just listen to him for even five minutes. He makes every single day in LA sound like the best day of summer vacation. He’s going to a party, he’s drinking, he’s hollering at girls, he’s hollering at more girls, he’s making money, he’s handling business and everything is great. His flow is relaxed, his voice is calm and he just exudes appreciation. Unlike most rap braggadocio, Dom never sounds like he has anything to prove. He raps like someone who has just finished a good yoga class.
It’s this engrained appreciation that makes Get Home Safely such an fitting title for his latest album. Given rap’s penchant for thinking big (both “candy painted helicopters” and “overthrowing the government” count), getting home safely is a very small sentiment. But it’s not something to be taken for granted in Los Angeles today, as so well-demonstrated on Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, mAAd city. It’s an attainable goal, more so than a fluorescent vehicle or a revolution, but still an important one. The two albums compliment each other well: Home is about being a cool-ass dude in LA who appreciates what he has because he’s aware of his proximity to the danger of city.
But that context aside, this shit basically doesn’t come up in his raps. Dom has found California rap stardom by rapping about everything besides gang life (and I’m honestly kicking myself for how gang-heavy the interviewed turned out). Get Home Safely reached No. 3 on the rap charts since its release in October. Dom is independant but struck a deal directly with Best Buy to get his album carried in stores.
I spoke to Dom before his show at Irving Plaza last night, the fifth stop on a 33-city tour in support of the new album.
Why did you call the album Get Home Safely?
Coming off The Yellow Album, I was working on music and getting ideas when one of my homeboys I grew up with passed away, a little over a year ago. And I was just thinking about my life... what kind of messages I can put out in the world. [Getting home safely] was an important mission for us.
The album has interludes from The Warriors, an entire movie about getting home safely in enemy gang turf. Was that a challenge for you and your friends growing up?
Yeah, for everyone from the inner city in LA. I was sent to school with 35 cents so I didn’t have an excuse not to call her if I didn’t come home. I was known not to come home when I was supposed to and go to the mall and hang out. Trying to find myself and hanging out with my homies, you encounter real life situations. We was like 11 and 12 but we seen a lot of things and was in a lot of situations where, at the time, we didn’t know what we was gettin into. I would go to house parties in all different neighborhoods and see all the gangs. [Getting home safely] was still our main mission. So that’s what I relate to with The Warriors.
You mentioned in an earlier interview that when you started out people felt like nobody would fuck with LA if the music wasn’t gang affiliated. At the same time, it’s hard to talk about LA without talking about gangs.
Well now it’s not! Back then it was though.
When was that?
2007, 2008... I used to have conversations with people and right in front of me, they knew I was rapper but they used to question if [any rapper] could make it from LA if they wasn’t in a gang. That was directly what I was trying to do and they knew that! But it was what it was because we didn’t have no example. We couldn’t be like, “This is somebody that everybody knows was from LA that made it [as a rapper] that wasn’t in a gang.”
How did you avoid getting wrapped up in gang life growing up?
I never really avoided it, I just … everbody just knew that’s not what I did. Put it like this: if I would have been in a gang people would have been like “that’s stupid. That’s not you.” What I do in my music and what I talk about is really who I am and people that’s not in gangs, in gangs, whatever, they know that. And the thing about it is it’s a lot more Dom Kennedy’s than everybody else! I always knew that was in my favor. Most people’s not in a gang.
You mention and shout out DJ Quik now and then. What’s your relationship with him? Is he like a mentor?
I would say that. i’ve worked with him on music and gotten a lot of advice... he’s just somebody I look up to, somebody I can actually sit down and talk to about some real shit... life shit, mixing shit, stage shit like Quik sounds just like DJ Quik on the recording when he hit the stage. I asked him like, “So what do you do” and he’ll tell me, “This is how I hold the mic” and shit like that.
Is the older generation of LA rappers supportive?
Definitely. Like, Snoop is hella supportive. For Snoop Dogg to be as big a superstar as he is, you can call him on the phone and if he got a minute he’ll give it to you and talk to you. He gave me fatherly advice! I had my son around the time I first met Snoop and he was just telling me his experiences and shit like that. He signed an old Death Row poster for my son. Kurupt and Daz are the same way; they definitely embrace what we doing.
DJ Mustard’s beat on “Nothing Like Me” is a very different look for him. Did you ask him for something different?
I didn’t ask him for something different but … he sent me a song he wanted a verse for and I told him I wasn’t getting on it because it didn’t sound like a Dom Kennedy song. If i’m gonna do a song with him, it’s gonna be a song that feels like a song that I would like. So we went to the studio and it was easy. Mustard is a person I fuck with, our sons both go to the same school and play together.
Why do you say “Watts is the motherland” on “An Intermission for Watts”?
Well the story I tell on the song is true but deeper than that, my grandmother is from Louisiana. She had nine brothers and sisters. They moved in the late 50’s or the early 60’s to Watts, to the projects in Watts. It was the only place black people could live at at those times in Los Angeles. So that song is saying as long as this shit is fucked up, it’s all gonna be fucked up. And if you’re from LA, if your family is from there, they started in Watts.
Why do you say you fuck with Jodeci and not The Beatles?
Like, that’s who I listened to. Those were my heroes. If I’m gonna talk about melodies and feelings in the same way some people might talk about with The Beatles. I don’t know nobody who talks that way about The Beatles, nahmean? I feel that way about Jodeci.
Skinny Friedman is a DJ, producer and writer living in Brooklyn. He's on Twitter - @skinny412