Serengeti, Kenny Dennis EP [Anticon]
Remember last year when Kreayshawn came on the scene as a little white girl rapping? People flipped the fuck out. It all seemed easy to dismiss it as a fad after enduring the shit-storm of obnoxious think-pieces and ugly forum wars, but even still: it was more than that. There were a million different arguments had (alright, more like 3 or 4), but it all came back to a central issue: "Hip Hop is primarily a celebration of black masculinity." It's the opening line of Toure's NY Times piece about white female rappers -- an elephant in the room for most, but a very real part of life in this genre. You could even extend it a little further into primarily an urban experience, a solitary one, an outlaw's tale.
Considering that's the norm, rapper Serengeti's seemingly harmless alter ego, Kenny Dennis, is radical by nature of existing. A 45-year-old white Chicagoan family man is about as far away from the hip hop archetype as you can get. If anything, that sounds like the kind of guy who would end up at the Disco Demolition all those years ago -- not the type to share rap music with. And yet, on the Kenny Dennis EP, the understanding of hip hop is beyond intimate; it's not just an understanding of music, but of the culture: the rivalries, the mythologies, the attitude. This is high-caliber parody that avoids cheap laughs by going for deeper, unspoken punchlines.
In fact, before I realized exactly how many details exist in the KD story (from fronting a fake early 90s rap group to getting dissed by Shaq at the Jive Records showcase), I thought it was just a cute concept littered with obvious jokes that were more worthy of groans than grins. My whole family is from Northwest Indiana, an area whose primary purpose is as south side Chi-town suburbs. In short, there are a lot of Kennys there. However, once I made it through his namesake track, it all clicked. Strutting through the ominous boom bap, Kenny strikes with "I was at a charity dinner", following with his good deeds -- whether its roadside assistance or politely disciplining a bad apple of a kid -- with the same aggressive braggadocio one might expect from a thug rattling off the credentials for his hood pass. It's like a dad giving a PSA over a Big L beat. Jel and Odd Nosdam, responsible for all beats here, play up the juxtaposition hardcore and even replace what would almost always be gunshot noises with some pretty quiet sounds of a guy whispering slap sounds.
It's what Serengeti does with many rap conventions on this album: flips them on their head by placing them in the hands of what, at one time, were the biggest critics or least likely stars, but still ties them to what was built upon the black masculine experience in the first place. "Rib Tips" is the welcome celebration, "Shazam" is the diss track, "Top That" is classic b-boy bounce. But the biggest star here is "Don't Blame Steve," a narrative re-telling the Steve Bartman incident with a dramatic sensibility on par with Biggie's "Warning." For Chicago sports fans, that was about as close as you could get to facing death without actually doing it. At times, it may seem indigestible to some, but the chorus' encyclopedic sports hook couldn't be more appropriate for what is one of the zaniest, smartest adventures in concept rap in quite awhile.