Monday, August 12, 2013

Serengeti - The Kenny Dennis LP

Serengeti – The Kenny Dennis LP
Anticon, 2013

Kenny Dennis returns for his finest hour. I don’t know what other people think of the walking, rapping Chicago stereotype for which Serengeti mastermind David Cohn has been crafting a mythology since 2006, but I think the whole Kenny Dennis is brilliant. The Kenny Dennis LP might read as a joke-rap record if it wasn’t so flat-out good. Sure it’s funny, and the skits provided by WorkaholicsAnders Holm (who effectively weaves himself into the wonderfully expansive Kenny Dennis story over the course of the record) are literally knee-slappingly funny (I always slap with my left hand, and I always knock my knee with my wedding ring, and it hurts, and for some reason I cannot train myself to not do this when I find something particularly hilarious). But the beats courtesy of Odd Nosdam are great and varied, loaded with weird synthesizers and drums that often sound like they’re cut from a dusty vintage rap album and ground into something off-kilter and fresh. It’s all off the wall, for sure, but what makes The Kenny Dennis LP special, and the whole expansive Kenny Dennis mythology special, is that there is just so much heart embedded in it.
Geti could have just left it at “Dennehy” and everyone would have been fine with that. If you haven’t seen the video or heard the song, please do yourself a favor and check it out right now. You’ve gotta think it’s at least a little funny. Things got out of hand quickly. In addition to churning out great hip-hop records not rapped in the voice of Kenny Dennis (2011’s Family & Friends is easily Geti’s masterpiece full of the wit and keenly observed heartbreak that makes his albums such a pleasure), Kenny Dennis remains a constant presence in Geti’s prolific output. He even went so far as to construct an entire album in Kenny Dennis’ rap group from the 90s The Grimm Teachaz. That’s how deep this shit is. And it’s great. It’s fun, and a shot in the arm to a music world where everything has to be oh so serious to be taken seriously.

It’s Cohn’s attention to detail and knack for emotional resonance (especially in comical situations) that kills me though. “Kenny and Jueles” does this best, as Kenny bemoans the fact that Jueles wasn’t even excited when he crushed Nitro on American Gladiators only to find out she was too proud to say anything out loud. And then they play competitive Scrabble with their neighbors and Jueles drinks hot toddies and Kenny drinks O’Douls, naturally. The skits from Ders really let you know the kind of guy Kenny Dennis is. He’s the guy who would see a poor kid eyeing a laser tag set he couldn’t afford and buy the kid a shower radio. A guy who would take the kid on stage at a Grimm Teachaz show in Chicago on his birthday and introduce him to Bo Jackson’s wife. A guy whose fued with Shaq is still messing with his life. A guy who can’t even handle a visit to LA because he’s so entrenched in his blue-collar existence in Chicago (Kenny finds fault with LA’s lack of a grid-system and its dry heat). See, it’s all kind of silly, but Serengeti’s Kenny Dennis is involving in the same way Hold Steady albums are involving. You get to know the characters because the characters are so rich and sure you start out pointing and laughing but then you’re rooting for Kenny. At first he sounds insane, until you realize he’s a man who knows what he wants and you can respect that. And then you realize that maybe Kenny Dennis is the smartest guy in the room.

"Directions" - The beat on this one, holy shit. 

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