The cloud era of hip-hop has been a blessing and a curse. On one hand, the Internet is the proliferation of DIY, allowing anyone with a computer and a connection to share their music with the world. Those who might otherwise go unheard can garner exposure. However, the sea of SoundClouds can also bury true talent, with hip-hop and electronic music suffering most from the dilution.
One such talent is Chicago’s Serengeti, who has flown inconspicuously under the radar for the past several years, living a sort of hip-hop triple life. In person, he’s David Cohn; on stage, he’s Serengeti and alter-ego Kenny Dennis — an aging, blue-collar Chicagoan who used to be in an early ‘90s rap group (The Grimm Teachaz), drinks O’Douls by the case, and owns all the Brian Dennehy/Tom Berenger movies on LaserDisc.
Serengeti introduced Kenny back in 2006, and he’s been fleshing out the character on concept albums ever since. The Kenny Dennis LP is the sequel to last year’s EP of the same name and functions as a collection of sequential anecdotes from Dennis’ life. It’s Serengeti’s most detailed and inspired depiction of his alter ego yet.
Kenny Dennis clings hopelessly to nostalgia (the Ditka-era Bears, his rap group past) and lives for things that he believes in: friendship, self-identity, and Chicago-area athletics. On “Crush Em”, he depicts a hearty breakfast with his friends (“Late breakfast, eggs, bacon/ Tommy drink coffee, Kelly drink tea, Craig eat carrots”), which is followed up with a pickup game of basketball. There are brushes with crime (“Punks”), a search for creative inspiration (“Directions”), and hilarious chaos when Kenny turns 50 (“50th Birthday”). Effective narration by Workaholics’ Anders Holm gives context to these situations.
The Kenny Dennis LP will reward those who are already familiar with Dennis’s backstory and Serengeti’s previous releases. Although this makes it somewhat exclusive, you can read the character’s biography before diving in. And there’s really no better album to start the KD saga with; producer Odd Nosdam’s wobbling, jazzy beats give the record a laid-back cohesion, and Serengeti sounds as tight as ever. Just like the man himself, the Kenny Dennis LP is a charming slice of life.
Essential Tracks: “Directions”, “Crush Em”