The Return of Kenny's Dopewax Label
Kenny Dope is a name that needs no introduction to dance music connoisseurs across the globe. One half of the celebrated Masters at Work production team alongside Louie Vega, Kenny has been at the cutting edge of underground music since he first started DJing back in 1985 in Brooklyn, New York.
Widely recognised as one of the true pioneers of the house music scene, no DJ worth his salt would ever leave home without a Kenny Dope weapon in their amoury. Firing out white hot bullets for over a quarter of a century, the four time Grammy-nominated DJ and producer is the true epitome of rough and rugged house music.
It would be easy to shine a light on some of his more underground cuts and wax lyrically about the exemplary production techniques, but that has been done before by many, myself included! I personally think one of his most innovative moments was displayed on probably his most commercial success to date. It seems like only yesterday that I first heard it drop on the balcony in Malibu Stacey’s at the Hanover Grand in London. That’s the thing about magical musical moments, they stay with you forever and make 21-years seen like just a heartbeat.
That serious snare and siren combination was just so raw and hypnotic, it seemed to just keep building and climbing in intensity. As a piece of music, it just demanded not only your attention, but your immediate attendance on the dance floor. After a 6 minute intro of bouncing beats, bleeps and sheer bedlam, quite possibly the most head-turning sample drop in the history of house music.
If you wanna see a dance floor go crazy, rewind back to ’95 and watch ‘The Bomb’ EXPLODE!
The track quickly gained international recognition as it climbed the charts and gobbled up dancefloors across the globe, finally peaking at number 5 in the UK. Yet the 12inch version of Bucketheads ‘The Bomb’ on Henry Street Music was so obviously created for the heads that nobody had a problem when the much shorter disco edit crossed over to huge commercial success. Those in the know had heard the extended intro in all it’s glory; we knew what that track was all about!
That’s the power of good quality house music. Even when it’s been produced with the underground in mind, it still has the ability to cross over the continents and oceans, hitting the ears of people who may have never heard house music before. ‘The Bomb’ was just so good a piece of music, absolutely nobody on the planet could ignore it. After all…
can you remember where you were when you first heard that disco drop?
You just know when you hear a Kenny Dope production; you can feel it. There’s just something so quintessentially raw in the drums and the percussion patterns. In an age of cut and paste producers firing out preset house music like never before, I think it’s fair to say that the cream always rises to the top. This is where Kenny’s Dopewax label comes to the fore.
Already home to some of the classiest producers and vocalists in the business, Dopewax is now having something of a relaunch and reinvention for 2016. We sat down with Kenny to find out more about the label’s new vision, his thoughts on the current house music scene and everything inbetween, in this intimate and exclusive interview for Traxsource.
What was the thinking behind relaunching the label?
Dopewax was a label I created for myself to start releasing tracks whenever I wanted. Releases that I mostly did myself. The relaunching came into play when I started hearing great music that inspired me to play differently, the time when the music started coming back from the EDM craze. In the last couple of years, I’ve re-invented myself without selling out and started targeting the younger audience. Once people noticed that I could keep up with the new, I started getting crazy demos left and right, send yours to firstname.lastname@example.org! There’s a lot of great stuff out there. Dopewax is now a place where any young, up and coming talent, or more experienced producers or vocalists to put out good quality music. Whether it be in its original form or collaborated, mixed, remixed or whatever. We have worked hard building a team and plan to release a significant amount of good music throughout the rest of the year. This is why we are celebrating Dopewax and calling it more than just a relaunch, it’s actually a reinvention.
Is the label’s original ethos still the same?
The philosophy was always quality over quantity, so that stays the same. We can put out a bunch of tracks, but they all have to meet the Dopewax standard. We wont put out music just to put out music. Quality of the drums has always been my thing; if the drums are tight, all the rest falls in place. After the drums, a great melody and song structure, plus of course a great sounding mix. These guidelines are still the same, even if it means me getting behind the boards and mixing the record. I know how I want things to sound and I know how they need to sound in the club.
What artists have you approached to feature?
Well there are a few. Rght now, our focus is on Lee Wilson & Kelvin Sylvester. We released ‘Turn You Up’ on April 8th and have a radio edit release for May 6th. Lee & Kelvin’s album will be featured later this year, with a single coming in the Spring and one in the Summer. The rest of the artists I can’t talk about right now.
What are your own personal favourite music labels? Both today and ‘back in the day’?
I like Cajual right now; his joints hit hard! As for old labels CTI & TK Records, Turbo & Stang, Stax records. All these various labels had such a sound.
House music has never been bigger, yet there was a time when it was on the wane. What do you think changed to see the resurgence?
Technology changed it. Anybody can be a DJ and everybody can buy a computer, software and load it with plugins and make tracks. Today the scene is saturated, but there is still a lot of great music coming from this new way of making music.
House music is blowing up all over the world. Where’s the craziest place you’ve DJed at recently?
This year, India. It was the first time I’ve been there with Red Bull Music Academy. It was crazy, the vibe there was really dope and they knew the music, which I didn’t expect. The crowd was really receptive.
Ibiza is just around the corner. Where’s your favourite place to play on the White Isle?
I wouldn’t say I have a favourite place to play, it all depends on the crowd and sound. I liked Booom a lot when it was open. Space is always crazy. Pacha with Bob Sinclar is always dope. It’s hard to say; Ibiza is Ibiza. All the venues sound good and have good vibes. Different Vibes. I’ll be at quite a few different places a few times this summer. Glitterbox, Bob’s night at Pacha, B2B with Loco Dice with Hyte, Blue Marlin, DC10 and some other spots.
Where was the first place you played in Ibiza and what year?
I don’t remember that far. Maybe someone can help me with that one! Ha!
When you first started DJing and producing, did you think you’d still be in the game in 2016?
I never looked at it liked that. I do what I love and I’m still doing what I love.
When you created the Nuyorican Soul album, did you realise at the time that you were making a classic? Or was it just another day at the office?
When we were working on Nuyorican Soul, we just wanted to make a record from the heart and do what we felt. We did shop the idea around in the beginning, but nobody wanted to take the chance so we went in and financed the entire project ourselves. Musicians arrangers, vocalists, everything. Then we decided to shop it again once it was completed and then it’s ‘take it or leave it’. I didn’t realise until the photoshoot when I walked in the room and saw all the artists and musicians in one room, at the same time, that’s when it hit me.
What’s your favourite club or city in the world to play in?
Too many to mention just one. London; big thanks to Lynn Cosgrave for bringing us out the first time. Ibiza, Japan, Italy and so on. Again, there are too many.
What country has surprised you by their passion for house music when you played for the first time?
Crazy cities in Asia. The ones off the grid that you have to go through hurdles just to get to!
Where are you booked to DJ in 2016?
I’m excited about them all. I’m amped to go out and do my thing and I’m very happy at the age of 45 I’m still smashing places.
It will be exciting to see the new talent that Kenny intends to nuture through his Dopewax label. With his deep understanding of the industry, the sound and the scene, there’s probably no better wing to be under for budding producers looking to make their mark in the world of underground dance music.
For me, Kenny Dope is the J-Dilla of house music. His beatmaking skills are rightly revered as some of the tightest and most innovative in the annals of dance music history. Always merging a melange of musical styles into one distinctive sound, Kenny’s ear and attention to detail is the true hallmark of a Master craftsman at Work. His manipulation of the drum machine and unerring ability to discover sample snippets of solid gold, stand up against any of the biggest names in hip-hop production in my opinion. The genres may be different, but this crate digging maestro has always purveyed a musical finesse that stands him on a different plateau to his various contemporaries.