LAYERS: The Many Facets Of Serengeti's "Kenny Dennis," Produced By Jel And Odd Nosdam
It’s central to Serengeti‘s mission statement that conventions of hip-hop go out the window. And while we’re at it, lets toss out the conventions of theme albums just so we’re on the same page. Kenny Dennis is his fourth release based around this EP’s titular character, a blue collar Chicagoan who loves sports, beer, and his wife Juelz, among countless other things elaborated upon on the record. This installment of his story is something of a prequel, looking back upon Dennis’ early days as a rapper in the group Tha Grimm Teachaz and the subsequent career which later dwindled, leaving the mustachioed BBQ addict we see today.
None of this is real. It’s all a completely fictional story of an average guy that Serengeti has inexplicably obsessed to develop over the past few years, bringing to life different facets of the character. These are heights of bizarreness that no other rapper has reached, not Prince Paul with all his thematic oddity, nor Kool Keith with his pure, uncut insanity. No amount of crack could make ODB as crazy as Serengeti is sober. And the real anomaly is, you’d have to be some kind of dedicated genius to elaborate this much on such an odd story arc.
In this edition of LAYERS, we break down the title track from Kenny Dennis, with notes from Jel and Odd Nosdam, the Anticon heads who produced the EP. Let’s strap on our helmets and dive in. We’ll begin with this appropriately incoherent note from Serengeti himself.
Serengeti: On this track, I was trying to connect Kenny Dennis, lovable guy, sports, and [his wife] Jueles with his raucous KDz days, 40 oz, guardian of the town and weapons, Tha Grimm Teachaz Motorcycle Club, and stuff.
Slices of his life past and present.
In the first part, the Dz is talking at a charity dinner for kids with troubles and he has to shush the table cause Tanya (his brother) kept talking. The keynote speaker he was donating computers, and the Dz was listening to the guy and was packing a Ruger. He cares, just don’t test him. The rest of the song continues with a very hostile Kenny Dennis, choking punks on trains and ripping up parking tickets.
Odd Nosdam: The song “Kenny Dennis” was originally a cover of Mobb Deep’s “From the Cradle to the Grave.” Jel and I threw the instrumental together pretty quick one afternoon at my place in Berkeley. Our homie Bre’r was hanging out that day and while Geti and Jel were YouTubing Mobb Deep videos in the other room looking for some inspiration, Bre’r and I were blasting some improv recordings we made in Chicago at a Hydeon art show. The moody, bassy improv piece apparently sounded so nice along with whatever Mobb Deep tune those dudes were listening to that Jel came in the studio all amped like, “Yo, we should loop that, make a beat with it for this cover.” It was a fresh idea, so I proceeded to cut the piece up in Pro Tools and put together a main loop along with a darker one to switch to. After getting the two bass parts roughly looping in time, Jel took over on the SP1200, found a tempo and added the drums. Once drums and tempo were solid, I tightened up the two bass parts so they looped and switched on beat.
Jel: The drums came from DJ Spinna’s beat record “Compositions 1.” Figured I’d just find a couple of bright snares, hi-hats, and a solid kick, and program a typical Mobb Deep style drum pattern on the SP1200. Fit perfect over the Nosdam/Bre’r improv loops we used as the song’s foundation.
Odd Nosdam: The next step was to flesh out a couple solid loops so I grabbed a bunch of hip hop 12"s to rip from. First record I threw on was Cypress Hill’s “How I Could Just Kill Man.” The high-pitch whiny thing sounded cool so I took it. Gun cock from the intro of Black Sheep’s “The Choice Is Yours” and Scarface’s giggle on “Mr. Scarface” were both no brainers. Q-Tip’s beatbox intro on “Oh My God” made for a nice turnaround at the end of the loop. Noticed later that when I recorded the Scarface giggle, I caught part of the “All I have in this world…” sample from the movie Scarface. Figured it’d be cool to have it come in once at the end of the song as a sort of homage to DJ Ready Red, one of my favorite producers who was first to sample the film on beats for Grip It! On That Other Level era Geto Boys.
Odd Nosdam: the beginning of Nine’s “Redrum” fit perfect over the switch. Looped it up and put it through a high pass filter to get rid of all the bass and some low mids.
Jel: The original concept for the song was to do a straight Mobb Deep cover, just one verse off “From the Cradle to the Grave.” At first, the cuts I did were just a line from Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones Pt. 1” and a Big L line from Showbiz & AG‘s “Represent.” But a few months after we recorded the cover, Geti got bored with it and decided to redo his vocals in a Mobb Deep style KDz song where he’s speaking Kenny knowledge. The chorus ended up being “Cuz I’m Kenny……..Kenny Dennis!!” so I decided to find more stuff to cut like the sample of Don Newkirk introducing KMD’s Zev Love X on 3rd Bass’ “Gas Face.” I just took the “K” and the “D’s” Then while skipping through the first KMD record Mr. Hood for other sounds and words to cut, I remembered the line, “Your mother likes to visit the old churches,” from the barbershop skit, “Mr. Hood Meets Onyx.” I thought that would fit great somewhere on the track since in every chorus you hear the gun cock, like Kenny is about to blast you for not shushing up or accepting his roadside assistance.
Odd Nosdam: A few months later Geti, back in Chicago, decided to redo the raps. Because we usually record his vocals at my place, It’s a rare treat to hear brand new, for the first time, fully realized Geti raps. He sent over the vocals with a note attached, something like, “Think EFX.” I loaded the vocals into Pro Tools, synced them to the beat, we listened a few times and thought, “EFX.” Once we got a grasp on the what Kenny was riffing about, I dug up various records with cool sounds and dumb shit to rip and handed them to Jel the DJ. He found, scratched, and recorded most of the EFX stuff. This was a particularly funny recording session. The EFX add a nice visual quality to the tune.
Jel: For the sound effects, we just decided to spice the story’s up a little more with some cartoony stuff. The kid getting choked on the train is off a Cheech & Chong record. I looked through a lot of Nosdam’s sound records to find the car door and the screeching tires, the baby crying when the Dz smacks the dude on the train. The smack, bees and, the Hulk sounding guy are from Mr. Dibbs’ Unearthed Vol. 3. It all gives the song a little light heartedness.
Odd Nosdam: Geti always does great back ups. Threw together a collage of a few for your listening pleasure.
Put it all together, and here’s what you get. “Kenny Dennis” by Serengeti, produced by Jel and Odd Nosdam.