When you think of a “teen star,” what usually comes to mind is a Mickey Mouse-ear donning child, flashing pearly whites and a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and an obliviously innocent attitude for the camera. But now, with the self-awareness and maturity Gen-Z obtains, a new era of adolescent celebrity has been bred à la Billie Eilish, NBA YoungBoy, and Kidd Kenn.
The latter not only made history by signing a major record deal at the fledgling age of 16 years old but is one of the few handful of rappers on the scene coming out as openly gay. Joining the likes of Young Thug and Lil Nas X, the young rapper is not just another “teen star,” but a signifier that the hip-hop community is evolving for the better.
“It’s nice to see because we’re not putting labels on everyone anymore,” Kenn told COOLS. “Now, it’s just artists doing their own thing and making music the way they want to.”
With his latest single “Bougie Fellow” out now, plus his upcoming project Child’s Play in the works, we talk to Kidd Kenn about his flourishing music career, hip-hop’s transformative future, and more.
So, why rap?
I just always connected with rap. There’s just something about rapping that caught my attention. It just gets me excited.
As of late, there have been a handful of rappers coming out as part of the LGBTQ+ community. Do you think the hip-hop community has become more open as a whole to the community, or have you and other rappers received backlash?
I feel like it’s growing and being more accepting. It’s not what it was years ago; we’ve really grown and the rap community’s perspective has really changed. Now, it doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight; if your music is good, then your music is good, and that’s that.
There’s still this machismo energy in hip-hop, but it’s certainly starting to break down.
I feel like over time it’ll wear off. Everybody is really just being themselves, there’s no need for any aspect of music to judge that. Thankfully, everyone has been really accepting, and it’s because there’s no need for hate.
You’re from Chicago, and as you know it’s been a hotbed for rappers recently. Does the hip-hop community in Chicago support each other, or is there a heavy sense of competition now?
A little bit of both. There are definitely people who will help you, but there are also people that’ll wait until they see you doing something to actually acknowledge you and give your respect. There were people that really fucked with me. My manager really saw something in me, and we both had the same vision for where my music was gonna go. Once we made everything official, we got right to it.
Who are some of your biggest musical influences or some people you’re listening to right now, both in and out of rap?
Right now in hip-hop, I’m really just listening to all of the people you hear on the radio at the moment. I listen to everybody. I listen to a lot of Lil Durk, a bit of G Herbo, and a lot of other Chicago artists.
I really look up to Nicki Minaj, but really everybody doing their own thing in the music game really influences me. Seeing people come up from the bottom by just doing their own thing is exciting.
You’re only 16 years old, but you’ve accomplished so much in your career already. Where do you see yourself and your music progressing as you get older?
I definitely see myself experimenting into different types of sounds and crowds. Hopefully getting on all of the charts, doing everything I’ve dreamed of doing. I want to cross every path and do everything there is to do in music.
Being genreless is a major thing going on right now in music. Look at Lil Nas X and Billie Eilish, there are so many artists coming up right now that are blending entirely contrasting genres of music together.
It’s nice to see because we’re not putting labels on everyone anymore. Now, it’s just artists doing their own thing and making music the way they want to.
I feel like this fluidity in music has a lot to do with Gen-Z’s perspective on the world. Your generation has basically tossed away the idea of labeling ourselves, and now our music.
What I’m really seeing a lot in music right now is this: everything that people previously downplayed on someone, is now being embraced. It’s really cool to see.
What’s also interesting is that back in the day, young stars were only able to make it big by going down the kitschy Disney route. Now, we have so many young artists showing that someone under the age of 18 can still handle mature topics. Now, being a teen doesn’t mean that you have to make teeny-bopper music.
My music is just me; I was never the type of person to make cutie pie music. I was just being me because I just wouldn’t let myself go any other way.
A lot of young stars also force themselves to go into one specific path in order to “make it.” Do you ever feel forced to just follow a certain trajectory like that?
Sometimes, but not really. People will love you for your personality and for the way you handle your craft. So, I feel like for the day we’re in now, a lot of your success has to do with your personality. If you have a personality and if you’re truly being yourself, people will like you. So, I just try to stick to being myself. I physically can’t force myself to act any other way or to do anything that I do, in or out of music, in a way that makes me feel ingenuine.
As a young artist, what are your thoughts on the modern music industry now, and where do you see it going?
I’m really just seeing people being themselves more, both with their music and their personalities in general. Artists aren’t scripted anymore, and now you can’t be. People can smell fakeness from a mile away, so now we don’t have any choice but to be ourselves.
I’ve noticed that too, but I’ve also seen social media completely morph people into something they’re not. Lately, people just do things so they can rack up the likes on Instagram.
That’s very true. But that’s where people mess up. When you’re trying too hard just for acceptance, people are going to notice. You’re not going to make it if you’re trying to be someone else. Eventually, you’re just going to get tired of pretending to be someone else. So, as soon as you become genuine with what you do, others will notice and enjoy your presence. At this point, people can just tell when you’re faking or reaching, so why bother acting that way?
At COOLS, we’re all about style. How would you describe yours?
Colorful, fun. I like to experiment with different colors, especially with my hair.
Who are some of your favorite brands and designers?
I mostly wear Boohoo, I just love Boohoo. But as for luxury, my favorite will always be Balenciaga.
What’s the one thing in your closet that you could never live without?
My coats, because I just love coats and jackets. A cute jacket could make a basic outfit the bomb. It’s hot outside right now, but I just love them so much that I’ll wear them anytime.
Listen to Kidd Kenn, below: