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Art & Life with Keenan The First

Today we’d like to introduce you to Keenan The First.

Keenan, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
Well, I actually started my life as a football player. I used to see my dad (a producer and composer) watching Vikings games on the TV as a kid, and I remember thinking to myself, “I want him to cheer for me like that.” So I started playing flag football, got into tackle football early, and got good — really, really good. Before I knew it, I was suited up in a Wyoming Cowboys jersey going for 72 yards against Hawaii in front of tens of thousands of people. Unfortunately, after going through a series of major concussions, I had to end my football career before going pro — and I had to walk away from the dream. I had been doing music in tandem with a football career ever since I was 12, and even while I was at UW, I recorded a tape titled “Diplopia” that helped me become the first active student to open for the spring concert, which at that time was Hoodie Allen, and I had a poem go viral on Wyoming Public Radio titled, “My Black Experience.” I was always trying to do both passions, but football had always taken precedence because of its inevitable expiration date. In 2014, I moved to Los Angeles, trying to figure out how to re-build my identity in a music career, with an English degree in my pocket.

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
I do a lot of things, but I typically describe myself as a rapper who sings. I am very influenced by hip-hop culture, and I approach music from the hip-hop mentality, but I’ve also taken singing lessons and love the things R&B and Pop bring to sonics. Within the last year, I started producing my own records with the help of MarkNoisez, Aleks James, and Drody LeFleur, and I’m working daily to become a dangerous triple threat in the industry. I’m in love with songwriting, with words, with the way we communicate and express our thoughts. A lot of my writing style can be attributed to my English background, my short stint in journalism, and my fascination with documentaries. I write from reality with a rule of threes (if a situation presents itself to me three times, it’s a song). I like to manipulate the meaning of words, I like to tap into the social use of language, and lately, I’ve been focusing on brevity and repetition to create meaning in tone and inflection. I’m a word nerd, and I pride myself on purposefully using clean language to tell my stories. My hope is that people come to my music to become thinkers instead of consumers and that in the process, they get exposed to a full spectrum of the black experience. I guess you could say; I’m the black dude trying to make weird look cool.

What responsibility, if any, do you think artists have to use their art to help alleviate problems faced by others? Has your art been affected by issues you’re concerned about?
I think art is always in a very intimate relationship with life, and that the artist is tethered to life events, social events, and global issues. For me, because I am so seriously in-tune with reality, my music is deeply affected by the world around me. My process of creating is very experiential, and I am very affected by the conversations we’re having nationally about the 2020 election, and I’m very passionate about racial issues especially as they pertain to black people, and I’m surrounded by a lot more environmentalists and vegans just by living in California, so my radar on those topics is up. In my opinion, the role of the artist is to be the voice of your community, of your peers, and of your time period — and that separates an artist from an entertainer.

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
You can see the majority of my work on keenanthefirst.com, and I’m the most active on Instagram: @keenanthefirst. As an independent artist, the best thing my fans and potential listeners can do is listen to the music and share the music. The more people know about it, the more agency I have to experiment and expand. That includes adding it to your playlists, sharing the posts on social channels, and good ole’ word of mouth. Spread the word!

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Nida Nizam, Pete Magine, Aaron Tocchi

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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