With the blooming renaissance of women in rap showcasing musical talents and lyrical agility greater than many of their male counterparts, Houston’s KenTheMan takes up space on her own terms. She makes it clear on her latest project, What’s My Name, introducing herself as “Big Ken,” a one-of-a-kind rapper and proud Gemini. Born Kentavia Miller, the 27-year-old musician personifies her zodiac archetype: “I’m a Gemini, I got bitch in my astrology,” she raps over a trap-house piano melody on the sex-positive cut “Onnat.” As a versatile and witty wordsmith, KenTheMan says she sees herself as a woman with an outlook on life “from a man’s eyes.” On What’s My Name, she embraces the fluidity of her energy, crafting a unique sound that only she can embody.
Prior to What’s My Name, KenTheMan worked alone as an independent artist, with the assistance of her manager, Melissa Keklak, who helped the rapper push out some of her earlier work. What’s My name, which she released on Oct. 15, came a year after her debut mixtape, 4 Da 304’s, which was a raunchy display of Ken’s unapologetically sexy ethos. Now signed to Asylum Records, KenTheMan feels like her artistry can be pushed to a new level. “I knew that this project was going to be on a bigger platform and it was going to be able to guide me to a bigger audience,” she says.
Although What’s My Name serves as something of a debut EP, KenTheMan is no rookie to the rap game. Rapping in the car to instrumentals with friends at the age of 18 is what got KenTheMan started on her career path. Soon, those humble beginnings would pave the way for what would ultimately become a newfound purpose. “I don’t know what made me pick up a pen, and don’t remember what made me write [my raps] down, but when I wrote them down it was up, and I started getting good around ages 19 and 20,” KenTheMan says. She’s spent close to eight years as an independent artist, building the knowledge and expertise to help her navigate the sharks and settle on solid ground.
“The benefit of being independent was just having my own creative space, a peace of mind, and actually being the boss of my work,” she recalls. Ken decided to sign with Asylum Records because they were willing to partner with her on equal footing, giving her the space and creative agency to be free, unlike most of the other labels who were interested in signing her, she says. “They want me to be heard and they don’t [want to] make me something that I’m not, and that was the biggest thing I was looking for in a label,” she says. “This is the first thing in life that I had a passion for, so why blow it for a quick little fame and a quick little bag? I want to be successful.”
Her stage name, which plays on gender norms and simultaneously explains her own energy, is a product of trial and error. “KenTheMan was a SoundCloud name because Ken wasn’t available, it’s the most common name ever,” she explains. As a temporary solution, she typed in “The Man,” not giving it much thought until she finished her first feature, after which she was encouraged to keep the name. “This guy was like, ‘I think KenTheMan is hard and fits you,’ and I was like, ‘I don’t know,’ but it started to grow on me, and a lot of people would tell me that when they would listen to my music that I give them male vibes, and they would say, ‘You rap better than these niggas,’ ” she explains.
Although she is a fan of Lil Wayne’s metaphors and acknowledges the impact Nicki Minaj has had in hip-hop, she follows her own rhythm. “I absolutely have no influence on my music. I don’t listen to anyone to rap like them or talk about what they are talking about,” she says. Ken is also more than just a rapper. She juggles a slew of commitments with care. She’s a devoted mother to her eight-year-old-son, whom she adores and hates to be away from when traveling for work. She is also a loyal daughter, sister, and friend who is often seen as the “boy” of her friend group.
Ken says it was her father who instilled in her the ability to be assertive, which has oftentimes led to the rapper being accused of being aggressive — a common complaint projected onto confident Black women. “A lot of people try to display my character as being bitchy or mean or that I don’t want to work with people,” she says. “I feel like people paint me. First of all, I’m already easily painted because my music is aggressive and cocky, but I’m not a cocky person, I’m confident.”
“I hate that people do that, that’s why I had said, ‘I’m cool on all that Hollywood talking/My nigga who is you/How you telling people about me like I been cool with you,’ ” she says, rapping a line from the EP’s opening track, “Love Yourself.”
KenTheMan hopes to expand her musical palette to include pop and R&B within the next five years. She says she’d ultimately like to work with some of her musical favorites, like Summer Walker and Jhene Aiko. Until then, though, she plans to stay focused on her truth and to keep the strength that undergirds her name.
“They always ask me what’s my name, so I named my shit What’s My Name, like, ‘Say my name.’ It was ego,” she explains. “I’m very arrogant when it comes to people telling me I need to change my name or some stupid shit. I like to shove it in their face, make them even madder.”