Official Written by Marin Hamataj ([email protected])
In a world where the existence of “Quality R&B” is constantly questioned, Grammy-nominated recording artist Kenyon Dixon reminds us that it is most definitely alive and thriving. As one of this generation’s accomplished songwriters – who’s worked with a range of artists from R&B legends Mary J. Blige, Tyrese, and Ginuwine to Pop superstar Justin Timberlake – Dixon has still managed to reserve some ink for his own catalog of timeless hits. He’s toured as a supporting vocalist for Nick Jonas, Jill Scott, Kelly Rowland, Kirk Franklin and more. As an independent artist, the proud Los Angeles native has smoothly transitioned to center stage and proven that he is destined to become a household name. Following the release of his 2021 LP, Expectations, the project garnered a tremendous amount of support from the industry elite such as Brandy, Jermaine Dupri, Timbaland, as well as Grammy award-winning Ledisi, who Dixon joined as support on her WILDCARD tour. He later collaborated with R&B artists PJ Morton & BJ The Chicago Kid to pay homage to the King of Soul – Sam Cooke – with a remake of the soulful classic “Bring It On Home To Me.”
Give an idea of who Kenyon Dixon is, where did you grow up and how was life growing up for you?
I am from Los Angeles California, Watts, which is the east side of LA, Grew up in a place called Jordan Downs Housing Projects, a lot of duality and contrast because a lot of outsiders look at Watts and like you know like south central as like a very dangerous place in LA so the environment was what it was, but my parents were very religious, very strict Christian parents, couldn’t even listen to any music outside of gospel music, so I had interesting contrast because you know I had full access to the streets outside of the house, nothing I was learning outside of the house was allowed inside the house, so I think you know it made for a great contrast, especially when I got to being a creative because I had a lot more to pull from in some different energies and experiences, but I’ve always had a pretty strong attraction to R&B music and especially like the nostalgia of it, just think that’s the space I have always lived in, so even regardless of the way I grew up and growing up in an household, youngest of seven in total and everybody is musically inclined somehow I just got back to doing R&B music.
Where would you say your style of R&B came from?
I would say from the church, I actually think the church is one of the biggest elements in R&B music traditional R&B music, the soul and conviction that you get from having a Church upbringing, I think Church kids have made some of the greatest R&B that we’ve had, people who grew up exposed to gospel, and so I think my church experience growing up really shaped that and you know I just kind of added my own personal experience and just things I learned along the way and things I was able to explore and be creative about I just add to what I already knew, I give a huge part of that to the Church.
You have worked with a lot of legends and done background and written for like Pharrell, Beyonce, Kirk Franklin, Jill Scott, and Usher. What is something you have learned working with such a prominent artist?
I think given the dynamic of the different artist that I have worked with, it’s always been cool to see them in their space because I got to see what it takes to maintain those kinds of careers, like for instance when I was working with Beyonce, we were rehearsing for the Grammys at the time, rehearsal started, she was there when we got there, rehearsal ended when she left and I think something like that is so impactful because it shows you how much dedication it takes to really stay on top like that, that spoke to you know why she is where she is as far as like the work ethic, same thing with Justin, working with Justin Timberlake both in the studio and touring, I got to see how involved he is with his art and how he makes sure that everything is exactly the way he wants it, he knows how to express what he wants and how to voice it and he knows how to be hands on and actually contribute to stuff himself, same with Jill Scott, working with Jill, Jill is like an artist’s artist, like everything affects her delivery, if she feels like the light should be blue and the fan should be on, that kind of taught me like the things that you think are typically crazy as an artist it lets you know like you are not crazy, like this is the stuff that you need to get the stuff done, just seeing a lot of them in their element it allowed me to really understand on a deeper level what makes them special and it allowed me to validate and embrace those things about myself that I feel like most people probably wouldn’t understand.
You are a 3x Grammy nominated artist, how did you feel when you first heard the news, and how has that shaped you as an artist?
Man, I remember each nomination and such a crazy feeling. My first two nominations were as a writer and the first project I got nominated for, which was Tyrese’s “Open Invitation” album was my first professional songwriting placement ever, and so that was pretty crazy and I was also at the Grammy’s that year as performer with him, we did like a Grammy like pre-telecast, it was a tribute to Teddy Pendergrass, such a contrasting feeling though because they announced our category right before we went on stage to perform but we didn’t win, so that’s always an interesting story to me because you got the high of like “I’m nominated for a Grammy right now and I’m about to perform” and then it’s like as soon as you walk on stage they are like ‘and the winner is” and it’s not you but you still got to go on stage and perform so that was always interesting, the second time as a writer was for TGT’s album, which I did a lot of work on there and then this last time last year was very special because it was my first nomination as an artist and it was a collaboration I did with my brothers BJ the Chicago kid, PJ Morton and Charlie Bareal we did a rendition of Sam Cooke’s ‘Bring It On Home To Me”, which was actually Sam Cooke’s first Grammy Nomination ever 50 years ago last year so it’s been some really cool stuff around these nominations it’s like really dope to be a part of, to be building a legacy and be a part of something like great like that so, it’s very inspiring feeling man and as independent artist I think it means more cause this is the stuff they like to think that you can’t really get or have access to doing it the way that you choose to.
How do you feel about the state of R&B nowadays? Obviously, it’s changed dramatically. How do you feel about the state of it and being a part of it?
I think it’s great, I think that as a collective we have to learn how to embrace creativity, I think we fight for it and we push for it and it sounds good until its different than what we want and I think that you know society does a lot of talking down like our generation of creatives, and I think that we are making we’re making you know we have ideas just like anybody else had ideas and I think that the biggest difference now is that a lot of people are able to make music on their own and there is much more music then we were getting before, which really means that there is much more great music then there was before it’s just harder to sift through because there is more of every dynamic, there is more good music, there is more music that you might not love and so I think in prior eras we just did a better job, kind of gate keeping in a sense and only allowing certain stuff to come out but now creatives have more freedom, you can wake up and have recording equipment in front of you and record it and put it out that same day and uploaded it yourself and you never have to run that pass anybody else and that has its pros and cons, but I think we just have to learn to embrace creativity and the amazing thing about DSP’s like Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music is that when you want to hear the music that you miss it’s also available, so now it’s even better cause you get to listen to any music that you missed from the passed if you want this nostalgic feeling, but you also get to experience the genius some of the great creative minds of this generation, you know I think it’s amazing, I’m making quality R&B I have tons of friends who are making quality R&B and I just think that should be the focus of the conversation, not what we don’t like.
On your new album Closer, which track would you say hit you the most when you were writing it?
I think “Always 203” is very personal and I hardly ever write from my experience in real time, I usually like if I go through something or you know whatever I’m feeling ill navigate and give feelings and emotions a chance to settle and then like years late maybe I’m writing it and maybe pull from it but “Always 203” was a reflection of something that I genuinely still have feelings about, and I produced that record so I’m like completely connected to it, it’s the way it feels, it definitely has some triggering moments in it for me.
What’s your writing process like?
My writing process varies depending on what mood I’m in. I have a few different of ways I like to write cause I find that certain ways are more productive depending on the space that I’m in, but generally you know, if I produced an idea first or if I have some tracks from like a co-producer or another producer that I’m working with, I’ll sit down and I typically listen and explore what I’m feeling, like what the music makes me feel and what I try and do is, whatever it makes me feel, I feel like the music is already its own story so I always just try and put words to you know what’s happening, cause I think that’s how you really create a classic record if whatever I’m feeling when I listen to it more than likely that’s what somebody else is going to feel, so if I can put words to those feelings in detail then I think that’s what makes my music special.
What’s next for Kenyon Dixon?
I got some really cool collaborations coming out this year, more touring and shows, more music. Really I’m just excited to put more R&B into the world. I think when you start to get a certain amount of recognition you’re looked at as this new artist. Truth is, I’ve been putting out the same kind of music over like 10 years, but I love the space that I’m in because people are just now starting to discover some of the other stuff, so it’s exciting to me to prove to them that there is always more where all of this comes from. I think that that’s what I’m most excited about is putting out more music that shows that this is not just a hobby for me. My music is a gift that I genuinely have that I look forward to continuing to bring to the world.
Official Written by Marin Hamataj ([email protected])
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Kenyon Dixon is Reinventing Quality R&B. Photo Credit: Gordan Price..