Why can’t anybody see me?
The musician known as Kenna is quiet. He is polite. He is thoughtful. He is considerate and respectful about his talents and his place in the world.
His father and mother are Ethiopian immigrants. Kenna grew up in the black backwaters of Virginia Beach. As a kid he enjoyed nothing more than skateboarding. Not much more interested him. Then a friend gave him a tape of U2. Kenna played the tape until all sound was erased from the tracks. Music became his life.
“Everything in my life seems to always fall in place”, he offered. “I am blessed.”
He doesn’t sound like the typical hip hop sky-rocketing rock star.
And he’s not.
Every major recording label and every power brokering producer wanted to sign him up and make millions on him. Every one of them felt in their bones that Kenna was the next new guy. On gut level instinct alone they knew Kenna had the right stuff. They had no doubt the world would love his music.
But they didn’t sign him up.
To be successful in the music industry the artist has to get “Air Play”, lots of Air Play. If radio jockeys don’t play your songs over and over, over hours and days and weeks, you won’t have a hit.
Most producers and labels hire statistical research companies to “test” a song or an album or an artist before they invest too heavily. “Pick the Hits” is one such testing company. Pick the Hits has a subscriber base of 200,000 listeners who listen to music then rate it. The music is rated from number One to Four where One is “I don’t like this song” and Four is “Got it Down, Dawg!” If the music scores a Three there is an eighty five percent chance that it will be a hit.
Kenna didn’t score above a 1.3 with Rock listeners. He didn’t score above 0.8 with Rhythm and Blues listeners.
At the request of the producers Pick the Hits rated two of his songs average and eight of them below average. Their conclusion: “Kenna as an artist and his songs lack a core audience and have limited potential to gain significant radio airplay.”
So Kenna bought a camera and made his own music video. He spent almost nothing and personally walked it over to MTV-2 (the channel for more serious music lovers).
Most producers spend hundreds of thousands of dollars getting a music video to MTV. They consider it a good return on their investment if they get played a hundred times.
Kenna’s homemade no-budget video played 475 times.
Still, because “Pick the Hits” scientific research team didn’t score him high enough, Those in the Know wouldn’t sign him.
Two hundred thousand people had spoken, “We don’t want to listen to Kenna.”
The savvy producers chose science over gut level instinct. They were wrong.
And 200,000 people were wrong!
Paul McGuinness, manager of the biggest band in the World, U2, grabbed Kenna’s arm backstage at a concert, pointed at him and predicted, “This man right here, he’s going to change the world.”
Way more than 200,000 people can’t get enough of Kenna’s music.
Kenna is pounding the experts with ground rolling popularity. He’s tripping up the old star-making science.
Click on the image above. Kenna climbed Africa’s highest mountain Kilimangaro with friends Jessica Biel, Santigold, Emile Hirsch and Lupe Fiasco. They wanted to raise awareness about the lack of access to clean drinking water to over a billion people.
His brand will not be categorized. He’s got hits in R&B and Hip-Hop and Rock. Hanna put music before fame, music before money, music before stardom.
Kenna beat the odds and the experts and the old ways of the music business. Kenna songs don’t scream anger. His lyrics don’t lean on hatred. Kenna’s music is hopeful, soulful, hopeful, packed with meaning.
So did a guy named Bob Marley.
And Paul Simon.
And Van Gogh.
Artists who do what they feel to be right with everything they’ve got, artists who buck expert tradition and meet the masses head on, usually end up being the artists we most admire.