November 14, 2007

Something Different: Kenna - New Sacred Cow (June 10, 2003)

Malcolm Gladwell's bestseller Blink, which is a fascinating study into snap judgments, devotes an entire chapter to the early career of Ethiopian musician Kenna Zemedkun, who took the unimaginative moniker of Kenna as his stage name. The chapter focuses on the unequivocal amounts of love and respect he received from his music industry peers during the recording and release of his debut, New Sacred Cow (among the folks giving praise were U2's manager and (shudder) Fred fucking Durst). His video for his first single, "hell bent", garnered a ridiculous amount of airplay on MTV2, back when they played videos and not Wonder Showzen. A lot of comparisons were made to 1980's New Wave in general, and Depeche Mode specifically; Kenna even went on to tour to open for frontman Dave Gahan. College radio loved the shit out of his singles. Kenna had also aligned himself, luckily enough, with one of the hottest hip hop producers in the game, Chad Hugo (of The Neptunes), who went by the nickname "Chase" Chad, as I presume "Bank One" Chad just sounded fucking stupid. Things were looking up for Kenna, and New Sacred Cow should have shipped platinum and won three Grammys, at least; with all of the love he got from within the industry, with people that know and live music on a daily basis, he should at least have had a good shot at success, right?

Wrong. His singles tested poorly at the mainstream radio level, and he couldn't pay anyone, not even Funkmaster Flex, to peddle "hell bent" or "Freetime", the second single. The reasons are numerous: Kenna isn't a rapper, but he has Neptunes beats, so his music couldn't be easily classified (which sounds like a cop-out, since not every artist needs to fall into a specific genre, do they?); the songs weren't catchy enough for the average listener to like within ten seconds (this would be because average listeners are fucking idiots who don't know better; how else would you describe the career of Soulja Boy?); people thought the video for "hell bent" was another animated video by Tool (actually, that was only me, and I eventually caught on when the credits were shown); and so it goes. Essentially, Kenna's career was killed by the fact that people inside the music industry have no idea what regular listeners actually want to listen to. And Kenna's career suffered to such a degree that he just recently dropped his follow-up, Make Sure They See My Face, on Interscope records a few weeks ago, after numerous false starts and delays. The moral of this story? Don't trust consumers: all they want are ringtones (which, ironically, New Sacred Cow could have actually provided many times over, but that's not the point.)

New Sacred Cow was released by Sony subsidiary Flawless in 2003. Flawless was a vanity label that Sony gave to Fred Durst after Limp Bizkit inexplicably sold gajillions of copies of their second LP, Significant Other (you know, the one with "Nookie", or for hip hop fans, the one with that Primo track featuring Method Man). Durst supposedly signed Kenna after hearing a snippet of "Freetime" over the phone. Who knows how true that actually is, but who else is excited that Fred Durst is a nonfactor in today's music industry? Hands? Anyone?


Short and sweet. Next!

This song is the reason for all of those Depeche Mode comparisons. And I love Depeche Mode, so for me to say that I see where everyone is getting them from is a big step. This track is still great today.

Pretty good. Sorry, but that's all I've got.

Not only is this track good, but the title is actually pretty good as well. I'm waiting for someone to swipe it for their pretentious art film, and by "someone", I, of course, mean me.

Two separate songs that appear on the same track, supposedly due to a mastering mix-up. "Vexed and Glorious", in my opinion, could get radio airplay today, it's that good. Sure, I'm talking about the radio in my own mind, but still. "A Better Control" is another short song.

When I first heard this track, this was the beat I gravitated to, because it sounds the most like a vintage Neptunes/N*E*R*D beat. The instrumental kind of proves that Chad is really the guy in the Neptunes with the production talent, not Pharrell. This track should have been included on The Neptunes Present...Clones instead of those two rock tracks. Since Chad wasn't looking out for him like that, though, Kenna would have to settle for guest spots on Mark Ronson's and Fort Minor's albums.

The video was pretty cool back in the day. I remember not realizing that 'Chase' Chad was Chad Hugo until I hit the Interweb to locate more info on this Kenna guy. Still a pretty melancholy but moving song today, even with the use of obvious Neptunes drums.

Kenna's attempt to be a 'piano man', like Billy Joel, Elton John, or even worse, Scott Storch.
Good, though.

Alright, but not great. However, this song reminds me of Depeche Mode's "Behind The Wheel" for some reason, and I love that song, so I have to give this a pass.

What kind of title is that?! "New Sac..." Oh, I see, he named it the same phrase as his album! Clever, that Kenna.

11. I'M GONE
Well, they can't all be winners.

When "hell bent" hit the MTV2 airwaves, early copies of New Sacred Cow surfaced online. Somehow, "Siren" never leaked; Kenna was able to keep it under wraps until its 2003 release date. He shouldn't have bothered.

Kind of like Kenna's 'Coldplay' song. Remember, I actually like Coldplay, so this isn't as bad as you may read.

FINAL THOUGHTS: It's not just a Depeche Mode influence; Kenna and Chad reference 1980's New Wave in general, and they do a damn good job at it. So good, in fact, that I would be as bold to say that Depeche Mode's most recent album, Playing The Angel, actually contains influences bitten from New Sacred Cow: namely the tracks "Suffer Well" and "John The Revelator". It's too bad that the people that actually buy albums actively hate music so much; that's the only way I can rationalize Kenna not moving any units while U-God has fucking fan clubs devoted to him. (Still not letting that go.)

BUY OR BURN? New Sacred Cow is a good listen, and if you want to keep good music alive and well, it's worth your purchase, since it'll only set you back like two bucks anyway. If you don't like New Wave, you may still appreciate the beats, but tread with caution. Everyone else, enjoy the damn thing.

BEST TRACKS: "Freetime"; "Red Man"; "hell bent"; "Vexed and Glorious"



  1. I read that another reason this flopped is fred Durst put all his money into Puddle of Mudd and had nothing left for our Nigerian friend. Been meaning to read Blink too. Yeah. I love this record.

  2. Update:
    My wife was watching the Hills (No, I wasn't) and he was all over the place. (I know because she called me in for each commercial break, not because I was watching it and fantasizing about time alone with Spencer) That's pretty good exposure though. So that could be good. Still haven't had a chance to check out the new joint though.

  3. The Puddle of Mudd comment makes perfect sense, since I recall that group selling tons of copies of their album, and also because they suck, especially that one single that I can't remember the name of where the lead was trying his damndest to sound like a copycal Kurt Cobain. Is that a good look for Kenna, though? Playing his music during a show for an audience where 99.99999% of them wouldn't purchase the album if you put a gun to their heads because none of his songs get any burn on the radio? I hope he at least got royalties. And I haven't heard the new album either

  4. "The moral of this story? Don't trust consumers."

    Really? I just read your post and to me the moral was don't trust "experts" or don't trust generated hype.

    Consumers in the story didn't break anyone's trust.

    You nail it here: "Essentially, Kenna's career was killed by the fact that people inside the music industry have no idea what regular listeners actually want to listen to."

    That's not the consumer's fault.... It's the industry's.