After Dom Kennedy released his “Yellow Album” in June 2012, the local rapper was nowhere to be found.
The Leimert Park native, according to those working with his independent label Other People’s Money (OPM), had seemingly disappeared.
That’s not entirely how Kennedy, born Dominic Hunn remembers it, but he concedes it was a “hard day.”
The 13-track free, downloadable album represented a shift for the artist. Kennedy moved away from feel-good anthems like his 2008 breakout hit “Watermelon Sundae” and into more adventurous sounds. Opening track “So Elastic,” which feels like soul music moving in slow-motion, set the tone with the line, “I’m just exploring.”
Kennedy was apprehensive about how people would receive his new vision.
“As an artist, I felt like [the album] was good, but it was probably the worst day of my career,” the now 33-year-old said during dinner at one of his favorite Beverly Hills restaurants. “I said, ‘People are [either] going to love it or think I’m stupid.’ ”
And some were indeed confused.
“I literally talked to people who knew me as a kid that were like, ‘What are you doing?’ ” he said.
Yet despite Kennedy’s doubts about the album, which features guest appearances from Rick Ross and Freddie Gibbs, along with fellow West Coast rappers Too Short and Kendrick Lamar, the “Yellow Album” turned out to be one of his most celebrated projects. The response to the album further solidified Kennedy’s independent mind-set, and today, a few years removed from it, Kennedy continues to operate as a beloved cult artist on the local scene.
Earlier this summer, Kennedy celebrated its six-year anniversary with a sold-out show at the 2,300-plus capacity Novo downtown. The “Yellow Album,” Kennedy said, “put me in the conversation with all the great rappers.”
“If you want to know what L.A. feels like or you’ve never been here, the ‘Yellow Album’ is what you should listen to,” said Niko G4, a longtime Kennedy supporter and OPM signee.
Many of the twenty-something fans at the concert spoke lovingly before the show of how the album captures the essence of Los Angeles.
Kennedy on the work allows listeners to spend the day with him, in turn seeing L.A. through his eyes. He invites us into the studio with “Don’t Call Me,” and then takes listeners on a ride on “Gold Alpinas,” a sort of not-so-touristy tour of L.A. Whether it’s a drive down Fairfax Avenue or a block party in Leimert Park, the tone is of an artist welcoming fans to his hometown.
The album, said Kennedy, “was just things that we liked.”
“It was our real life, just captured the right way,” he added.
The anniversary show was something of a return to the stage for Kennedy. He’s released multiple projects since “Yellow Album” but began a year-long hiatus in 2016 to focus on music production and rely less on samples, he said.
“I had to become a master, so I took some lumps over the last couple of years to do what I’m doing now,” he said.
Kennedy took his time with his most recent album, “Los Angeles Is Not for Sale, Vol. 1,” which was released at the end of 2016 for purchase as a download as well as on streaming platforms. However, he doesn’t mind that it flew a bit under the radar.
“Popularity doesn’t always go with artistry,” he said. “Like, sometimes you learn more about yourself in adverse times than you do when everybody is telling you they love this. ‘Why do you love it?’ If you don’t know, or if you can’t make it again, you don’t really know what you did. You don’t know what they loved.”
Kennedy, who recently celebrated a decade of rapping, said that a follow-up, “Volume 2,” will be symbolic of the next chapter of his career. He hasn’t set a release date yet, but in the meantime, he dropped a surprise free project titled “Addicted to the Underground” on the Fourth of July.
In addition to his solo work, Kennedy is also part of the duo Half-a-Mil with producer and rapper Hit-Boy, perhaps best-known for his work with Kanye West and Jay-Z on the 2011 album “Watch the Throne.” The duo released a trilogy of self-titled projects in the last two years and is at work on more music.
“I’ve learned so much working with Hit,” Kennedy said. “I get out of my comfort zone and I get to work with the best producer in my age bracket. That’s never a bad thing, because I had to step my game up.”
The artist aims to remain independent rather than seek mainstream success like peers such as YG, Nipsey Hussle and Lamar.
“At this point, [my goal is to] release five great albums in a row,” he said. “To me, that would be success. Before, it was probably to be hot, but at this point, I can do anything I want to do.”