In hip-hop, momentum matters. After the success of 2012's "The Yellow Album," Los Angeles rapper Dom Kennedy knew he had captured more ears than ever before.
But the 29-year-old born Dominic Hunn refused to consider his next album, last October's "Get Home Safely," his only shot at next-level stardom.
"Everything is not dependent on this project or that project. It's all an evolution of growing as a person," Kennedy said on the phone from downtown Los Angeles last week. "My mindset going into 'Get Home Safely' was making a project that I could be happy with for the rest of my life and something that will test the time."
The longevity of the record is still to be determined, but Kennedy — who headlines Baltimore Soundstage on Thursday and the Fillmore Silver Spring the following night — should be satisfied with "Safely." It is the strongest and most cohesive album of Kennedy's career, which began in 2008 and has steadily grown since, without the help of a major label or even a record-distribution company. He is the rare example of a completely independent artist finding success through word of mouth, touring and a consistent catalog.
"I'm trying to push to show people other ways to get paid and to make a living for themselves. Know the numbers. Utilize people around you," he said. "In this music business and the world today, you can't really tell somebody, 'You can't do this or this can't be done,' because none of that is true."
Although he released seven projects before "The Yellow Album," Kennedy says his profile rose considerably after the surprising emergence of "My Type of Party," the mixtape's minor hit that found its way onto hip-hop radio and MTV Jams.
But instead of rapping about his growing success, Kennedy says he deliberately focused on the people and places around him on "Safely." Part of the album's appeal — besides the shimmering West Coast production and Kennedy's understated, everyman lyrics — is its wide scope. You can hear it on the wistful reflection on fallen friends, "After School," which begins with the line, "If I make it heaven, I hope they still drinking brew."
"Instead of taking 'The Yellow Album' and cashing out on the me-me-me factor ... I kind of wanted to give something back and start there," Kennedy said. "I was showing people you can do something hard and make something meaningful about other people."
The highlight of "Safely" is "South Central Love," a dedication to Kennedy's hometown. Instead of forcing a romantic song "for the ladies," Kennedy crafted a sly ode to the place that would never break his heart — Los Angeles.
"I don't really have that many girls or have that many girls I'd make songs about," Kennedy said with a laugh. "There are more important things. And I don't want to make 10 songs about L.A. or South Central, so I made one. I tried my best to make one and make it as meaningful as I can."
With the success and positive reception of "Safely" — it debuted at No. 23 on the Billboard 200 chart and rap magazine XXL named it one of the Top 25 albums of 2013 — Kennedy is excited for 2014. Although he's unsure if he'll drop an album this year, Kennedy said he is constantly working on new music because he's "in love with creating."
Regardless of when the follow-up to "Safely" comes out, there is a good chance it will be another independent release. Kennedy says he is open to hearing offers from labels — naturally, he finds their marketing budgets appealing — but is perfectly content with his current business model of independence.
"That's where my fight has always been. I don't want to be presented like I'm Alex Rodriguez if I'm not getting paid like Alex Rodriguez," he said, comparing himself to the controversial baseball player strictly in terms of wealth.
Kennedy has built a loyal fanbase without a major label, and he believes he's only scratched the surface of potential success.
"I know that the world has only seen 10 percent of what I do," Kennedy said. "It's going to continue to get bigger and better all of the time. That's what I'm looking forward to."
If you go
Dom Kennedy performs Thursday at Baltimore Soundstage, 124 Market Place at the Inner Harbor. Skeme will also perform. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $23.50 in advance, $26.50 day of show. Call 410-244-0057 or go to baltimoresoundstage.com. Kennedy also performs Friday at the Fillmore Silver Spring, 8656 Colesville Road in Silver Spring. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $23.50. Call 301-960-9999 or go to fillmoresilverspring.com.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun