A lot of rappers condition themselves like boxers -- spending countless hours, days, months and years preparing for greatness. And just like in boxing, to prove your worth in the world of Hip-Hop, you have to work your way through the ranks-bodying contenders on your way up.
Similar to Muhammad Ali’s epic boxing match against Sonny Liston in 1964, Dunson enters Hip-Hop’s crammed ring of newcomers as a considerable underdog, battling to increase his solid fan base and gain the respect of his peers and predecessors.
Dunson spent his formative years in every region of Maryland, gaining different perspectives on life and music along the way. During an era where most rappers assimilate into sub-cultures that highlight criminal, social consciousness, backpacker and indulgent lifestyles, Dunson epitomizes individuality. His strongest selling points are his quick-witted wordplay, musicianship and genuine likeability.
Dunson’s Creative Destruction mixtape series were all exceptional pieces of work that solidified him as a force to be reckoned with in the Hip-Hop ring. However, he’s learning that they were only sparring sessions in preparation for the ‘beautiful fight’ he’s destined to encounter. With a new mixtape in the works, industry alliances, and a can’t lose attitude, Dunson is more ready than he’s ever been -- and this time the gloves are off.
Washington Informer: How you feeling?
Dunson: Incredible, but I definitely think days should have at least 3-4 more hours in them!
WI: You have grown this growing fan-base from your Creative Destruction mixtapes- what was the motivation behind those tapes?
Dunson: That was a period where I dropped everything I worked for in terms of a career to do what I loved. Soon I realized that I had destroyed my lifestyle. I was flat broke, had my car repossessed and living back at home with Mom making music in a bedroom! But for some reason I felt really proud! I had to prove to myself that I was a focused artist. It was part of the process. In order to become a full time creative, some things are destroyed.
WI: Did you ever think anyone would feel the songs as much as you did?
Dunson: No. I was totally selfish when I made Creative Destruction 1 but it’s wild how much your own honesty can belong to so many others. With Creative Destruction 2 I opened up with more generic song themes and the fan base grew exponentially. I started noticing people really owning these songs like soundtracks to their lives at shows and on social media!
WI: You’re from Maryland, right?
Dunson: Born and Raised. I think I pretty much covered the state from Capitol Heights, Silver Spring, Laurel, and Baltimore...couldn’t stay in one place. I spent most of my childhood summers in DC over in Riggs Park, Northeast.
WI: The DMV is a tough area to break from in the music industry, especially for an ex investment banker. Are you finding that to be true?
Dunson: Haha. Well, I was actually an investment advisor. Investment bankers don’t have the best reputations right now, ha! But working in that industry definitely gave me more relevant experience than I would have imagined. Some of the principles absolutely cross over to music. As far as the area, I was absolutely privileged to grow up in such a musical atmosphere between DC and Baltimore. But the industry presence in NYC, LA or ATL just doesn’t exist here. But now you see major artists emerge from places like Pittsburgh, Detroit and so on. There’s absolutely no reason you can’t emerge from this area. I’m an artist so I’m more focused on my music than my area. I think that’s one issue with artists everywhere, specifically in Hip Hop.
WI: How do you think that has shaped who you are as a producer and artist?
Dunson: Drums! From Go-Go to Baltimore Club, this area is all about drums. DC gave me the influence to pick up live instruments so I was kicking Go-Go beats on the drum kit since I was 8 or 9 years old. When I heard Baltimore Club, I wanted the machines they use to chop those samples and program those ridiculous beats! I did that early in the game when I was all about production! Then I started looking everywhere else for lyrical and vocal influences. That’s what helped shape me as a complete artist.
WI: What other instruments do you play? And when did you first learn to play them?
Dunson: Drums since age 8, Piano since 12 and guitar just a couple years ago.
WI: Speaking of your multi-talents, which came first the chicken or the egg- the beats or the rhymes?
Dunson: Definitely the chicken. It was beats from the jump. I got my first sequencer after hearing Timbaland’s production on Aaliyah’s “One in a Million”…it took me until about 15 to pick up the microphone though!
WI: You’ve done a great job branding yourself on your own. What’s your secret to success with branding yourself and your talents?
Dunson: Thank You! My approach is to really give yourself to your audience. Keep it interesting and if you’re interesting enough as a person and artist, people will either really relate to you or at least be curious about what you’re doing. Sonically, I strive to push the needle with the music. With music, I challenge myself to match innovation with connectivity.
WI: If you had to choose, which would it be?
Dunson: Wow! Don’t make me choose! I can’t! Seriously, they go hand in hand for me now. My rhymes are a part of the track when I’m creating. They aren’t mutually exclusive. I’ll be throwing down a drum pattern, get up, put a vocal line in a certain place, next I’m back to the bass line or something. It’s a total package!
WI: Okay so since dropping your last mixtape Creative Destruction 2, you’ve made some connections in the industry. How did those relationships come about?
Dunson: It’s really the Internet! Creative Destruction 2 has proven to be a major stepping-stone. As soon as I dropped the first track and it hit the blogs, I had emails from people like Atlantic Records which led to phone conferences and meetings in Los Angeles. That slowly snowballed throughout 2011 and before I knew it I went from recording in a small bedroom to studios in mid-town Manhattan every night with Grammy-nominated producers. By the end of the year I was performing at Highline Ballroom and working in the presence of people like John Legend and Ne-Yo! I just performed at the legendary S.O.B.’s at the top of the year…Crazy!
WI: Has getting closer to the industry insiders changed your view of how the music industry works?
Dunson: Not very much, coming from a business and investments background, you actually grow an understanding for what industry means. Music industry isn’t much different than any other. There’s definitely a market for music so the powers that be will try to take advantage of both the supply and demand.
WI: Your style is similar to that of J.Cole and Kanye West. Are you afraid that people will compare you to those artists and hold you to that standard because of your connections and ability to produce and rap?
Dunson: That’s a coincidence. On New Year’s Eve there was a big write up with the headline “Dunson vs. Kanye West”. I can’t be afraid of things like that. I’ve been compared to a few artists and producers. Fortunately they are all frontrunners in the game. People find similarities and that’s to be expected, but more importantly, I hope people are able to hear and point out why I’m Dunson.
WI: Are there any other producers and artists that inspire you that you’d like to work with someday?
Dunson: I’m inspired by so many artists, but I absolutely must work with Timbaland. He’s the reason I picked up a beat machine! There’s so many…Jay Z, Kanye, Common, Just Blaze, Badu would be a dream. I would love to do a track with Cyhi da Prynce, produced by 9th Wonder. I want to work with artists outside the genre like TV on the Radio, James Blake, Feist, I really want Caleb Followill from Kings of Leon on a track (I already have the idea recorded!) the list goes on…I’m trying to push the envelope. But I’m very privileged to be working with one of my biggest influences on some music as we speak!
WI: You have a new album dropping soon, right? When can we expect it?
Dunson: Yes, I’m 9 songs in! We are dropping the free album in March before I head to the SXSW festival in Austin.
WI: Are you excited about attending SXSW? Will this be your first year?
Dunson: Beyond excited. I tracked the festival via twitter and web streams from the home studio last year while I was making Creative Destruction 2. I was telling myself "next year"! Boom, here we are! I heard Austin, TX was a very artistic and unique town. I'm looking forward to being around so much creativity and experiencing so much amazing music.
WI: The Kenton Dunson we heard on the Creative Destruction mixtapes was so diverse musically, and intense lyrically. How has Dunson grown since those mixtapes?
Dunson: Great question and thank you! I have really started to embrace the craft and understand the reach I can have as an artist. I’ve really learned how to allocate my creativity from working with new producers and with different song themes. It feels good to develop into a better-rounded artist and this project will display that for sure.
WI: Do you have a favorite track?
Dunson: From my past work, I would say “Beautiful Fight”, “Nostalgia” and “Insider” are personal favorites. With the new project, I have so many distinctive songs. Look out for “Cross Town Lovers” featuring John Legend, “Ode to my Microphone” and “Used to Know.”
WI: If you could write your own success story for Dunson, how would it end?
Dunson: “I can look back and say this fight was beautiful.”
WI: How can fans in the DMV keep up with what you’re doing?
Dunson: I have several live shows lined up. I’ll be in Baltimore on February 21st and DC soon after, but be sure to stay in touch on the web at DunsonMusic.com, Twitter.com/kentondunson, facebook.com/dunsonmusic for constant updates. I appreciate all of the local support! This is home for me.
For more information on Dunson, visit: www.dunsonmusic.com,
"Don't die with music inside you."~ Dunson