Like everyone who really loves hip-hop, Kenan Bell kind of hates hip-hop.
After growing up on Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys, today’s generation of rappers just doesn’t speak to him the same way as the heroes of his youth did.
I’ve sold more albums to my students than anyone else..
Sure, he’s fallen into the role of a rapper now but not only did he not plan on making music his profession, there was a time when he wanted nothing less. “I used to pray like, ‘please, lord, don’t let me end up as a rapper’,” says Bell of an earlier time. “i didn’t want my whole life to revolve around a music career.” To this day, Bell’s burgeoning rap career is purely an after-hours project – he spends his days in los Angeles teaching language Arts to 4th, 5th and 6th grade children. rapping and producing was supposed to just be something to do after class, but when a friend kicked around the idea of creating a record label, Kenan agreed to be his first artist.
At the time, Bell didn’t necessarily expect to have to follow through, but when Cutlass recordings officially launched, he found himself crafting the ‘Good Day EP’ as a warm-up to ‘Sounds Awesome’, his full-length lP scheduled for an early 2009 release. Kenan doesn’t seem prepared to give up teaching anytime soon though. it may seem impossible to balance these two worlds without one disqualifying him for the other but Bell counts his students and their parents as his biggest fans.
“I’ve sold more albums to my students than anyone else,” he reveals, chuckling a bit a the irony. “If you look at [‘Good Day’] on iTunes, those comments are all my students.” The pairing of the two seemingly dispatare lifestyles works because Kenan places importance on presenting himself as an MC in a way that’s consistent with his personality on the classroom.
“My kids always ask me why i’m so honest in my music. I see these kids every day so i can’t hide anything from them.” Knowing how closely his students are watching helps motivate him to keep his music positive and his lyrics clean - he’s more like of the cool young
teacher who brings an acoustic guitar to class than some dangerous influence on California youth. Still, don’t think that Kenan’s young fan-base means that he’s making children’s music. on ‘Good Day’, Kenan commentates on the historic 2008 Presidential elections in a way that a ten-year-old probably wouldn’t appreciate and the distorted guitars on the alt-rock flavored ‘Qwerty’ are a little too hard to ever back a colorful puppet signing about the alphabet.
I see things in rhyme,
“My perspective of the world is in rhyme. i see things in rhyme. Everything i hear is rap music,” Kenan explains. he may not love everything that mainstream rap has become since, even at twenty-five, he’s from the old school. still, with a little discipline and his students cheering him on, he’s determined to make the knowledge in his head coexist with the hip-hop in his soul.
Words by Alex Thornton