As genres meld and music travels online, regional signifiers say less about an artist’s output than they once did. Atlanta, for example, is a hip-hop keystone known as the home of trap music, but new waves of talent, as disparate as J.I.D and Playboi Carti, are experimenting with mood and content. Over the past fifteen years, Atlanta trap rappers have coexisted with snap rappers, and straight-edged street rhymers have shared a playing field with emotional weirdos, while some artists have dabbled in multiple approaches. A West Atlanta native now living on the city’s east side, 26 year-old musician Kenny Mason sees duality all over his hometown, from its gentrifying neighborhoods to its eclectic inhabitants.
On last year’s Angelic Hoodrat and tomorrow’s (April 16) follow-up, Angelic Hoodrat: Supercut, Kenny Mason floats between acrobatic rap and alternative rock. Though he’ll sing a grungy ballad about loneliness like on “Handles,” or offer motormouthed raps about money, like on his breakthrough single “Hit,” he often combines styles with ease. “Me and my patnas that grew up in the same neighborhood were listening to Coldplay the same way we were listening to Future,” Kenny says, Zoom-ing from a slightly unkempt bedroom. “We listen to [rock] right after Peewee Longway and Bankroll Fresh.”
Rap and rock have mostly existed in Mason’s life simultaneously. He started writing raps at 12-years-old, around the same time he fell in love with My Chemical Romance. After hearing one-off rock songs while operating avatars in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and Madden, he would research the bands, falling into a rabbit hole of scene leaders and defining albums. He developed a particular affinity for outfits like Smashing Pumpkins, My Bloody Valentine, and Deftones. “I get a lot of ideas listening to them,” he says of the latter. “From the heaviness of their guitars and their melodies.“
He learned how to rap from Drake’s vulnerability and Kendrick Lamar’s empathy, but also from the technical skill of more local acts. “Atlanta wasn’t known for lyricism outside for certain artists,” says Mason. “It was more club, trap, and street shit. But Bankroll Fresh was club, trap, and street, Peewee Longway too, but the physicality of their rap is intricate.” You can hear the way Mason prizes this physicality in his own music when he stacks alliterative syllables on top of each other like a bricklayer.
Kenny Mason’s Atlanta experience was a transient one, making him an introverted observer of the beauty and danger in everything. He spent his childhood in a close knit Black community in Southwest Atlanta that rallied around youth sports. When he was ten, his grandmother — his primary caregiver — died, and he bounced around the homes of different family members in the metro area until high school. “Girls tell me I have a certain level of detachment,” he says, attributing it to the instability. In high school, he settled in Atlanta’s Pittsburgh neighborhood, where prioritizing music kept him out of trouble as he maneuvered around gangs.
“I had patnas skipping school to do hot shit. I was skipping school to record,” says Mason. At 14, he had decided to make a career out of rapping, inspired by an interview in which Kid Cudi said he committed to music at the same age. Though he raps vividly of the misdeeds and misfortunes that peppered his environment, Kenny talks about the darker sides of the city where he was raised with coded restraint. “I’m not looking at anyone different; the circumstances were different. I just preferred making music to doing that shit.”
You’ve spoken about the term “angelic hoodrat” as a way of thinking about people’s duality, but do you worry about implying that the “hoodrat” side is inherently bad?
“Hoodrats” is how society looks at Black people — it’s always dangerous, it’s negative, it’s violent. I want to put these things next to each other, not to show that they’re separate, but to show to that they’re one thing. These people are beautiful and they are angels, depending on your perspective; the perspective you choose to have.
Why did you decide to follow Angelic Hoodrat with a continuation of that concept, rather than a brand new one?
I had a lot more ideas. Some of the songs that came from the original Angelic Hoodrat sessions are on Supercut. I try to make songs at a high volume and just pick the best. I didn’t want to have too many on that album, but they were really good and had to come out. They explain more of the concept. The ultimate goal of it is to draw people back to the first project. I’ve got a lot of new people finding out about me, wanting to support, and being interested in the Kenny Mason world.
You produced or co-produced a bunch of songs across both projects. How did you learn to make music?
I took piano when I was in middle school. Well, I didn’t take it, my cousin was taking it and I would just go with him and try to learn stuff. I don’t think much came from that. I tried to take guitar lessons in high school but my auntie didn’t want to keep paying for it. It became less convenient to go so that kind of fell off. I went to Carver High School and one of my majors was music production. Originally, it was visual arts, but I’m not good at drawing. I realized I could learn to make beats, so I switched. I don’t think I was supposed to do that, but I did it anyway. I learned how to record and structure songs and stuff like that for two out of four years of high school. That helped out a lot.
There were no guests on Angelic Hoodrat, but you have company on Supercut. Tell me about some of the features.
Somebody on my team sent somebody on [Freddie Gibbs’s] team the song and he just got on it. I didn’t even know that he was gonna do that, or that he had heard it, or that he knew about me. My homeboy [creative director Nasser Boulaich], he just played the song one day and I when I thought it was gonna be over, boom, Freddie Gibbs verse.
[Denzel Curry] was already showing a lot of support. Either the week before or the week that “Hit” was out, he was like “come do this show.” And that was the first time I met him. We’ve been cool since that.
You’ve put out projects before Angelic Hoodrat, why do you consider it your debut?
Because I really felt like it’s the most self-realized and the most self aware. I was making a lot of music and trying to put it out because I was trying to find it, but with Angelic Hoodrat it didn’t feel like I was trying to find it, it felt like I really just had something to say. Even coming up with the symbol of the dog with wings felt like it was solidified. It’s on my neck [toggles a silver pendant of an ascending pit bull terrier on a short chain]. It became less about me rapping and trying to make good songs trying to get fans and became more about having an ideology to express. That’s why it feels like the very first one.
You have a song called “Pup,” you use the term often, and dogs can be heard barking and snarling in your music. What does the dog imagery mean to you?
I think it’s just a perfect representation of not only the duality of being an angelic hoodrat, like being aware of that yin and yang in yourself, the beast and the angel, but also is a symbol of growth.