In 2018, the world met a teen named Kidd Kenn, whose boyishly good looks were in direct contrast to the straightforward sex-positive-slash-openly-gay lyrics that he delivered like a machine gun, sonically reflecting Chicago’s raw and gritty Drill rap scene. His debut project Childish solidified his place in the new youth leader roster, though he’s since eclipsed the clickbaity descriptors previously used to describe him (which mainly just focused on his sexuality).
Now, at 16, he’s looking ahead, and the glow up is real.
“When Kehlani texted me, I knew I was the real deal,” Kidd gleefully tells Teen Vogue. “I was lit.” In June 2018, she brought Kidd out on stage for San Francisco Pride, aware even then of the rising star’s reach.
Growing up on Chicago’s rugged Southside, Kidd “didn’t come up from that much,” he says. His school days were spent getting into trouble for intimidating teachers because of his bold personality, often distracting their lessons during class just by his presence alone. Now he’s homeschooled so he doesn’t have that problem.
“I always told people I’m gonna be famous one day,” he expresses. “I don’t know how or what I’m gonna do, but it was expected. It was always something I was looking forward to.” At just eleven years old, he took a firm stance after being inspired by Instagram post from the leader of the Barbz.
“I was at school on Instagram when I wasn’t supposed to be and I was looking at Nicki Minaj and I’m like, ‘I could do this,’” he reflects. “So I went home and I wrote a rap.”
The first song he wrote was a reworking of Famous Dex’s “Drip From My Walk,” using the same beat, but taking it into a whole other direction. “I get that drip from my walk / N---as be slick and just talk,” he spits from memory. His version flipped the script to discuss guys approaching him and being all talk. It’s a twist no one expected, but Kidd knew if he was going to do this, he had to be all in. That included remaining true to himself as an openly gay, young man.
“I thought about it, and I was like if I’m gonna do it, I wanna be different and stand out from everybody else,” he says. “I just gotta come a different way. Anything I do, I put my all into it. I’m gonna try to be the best at it.” With a name inspired by Nicki Minaj (the “Kenn” to her “Barbz,” if you will), Kidd began dropping freestyle videos, continuing the technique of adding his own flavor to the lyrics, and highlighting themes in tune with the LGBTQ community — which has historically been a feat for most artists. Kidd cracked the code.
Standout songs like his take on FBG Duck’s “Slide” gave his career a boost, though it was his collaboration with fellow Chicagoan Queen Key on “Eriod” (off 2018’s Childish) that truly harnessed the powers of his fan base. He further grabbed the attention of the world with his “Petty” single at the top of the year. Now he has a whole hive that turns to him for inspiration.
“When I run into fans, they tell me how happy they are because they never thought something like this would ever happen,” he says of crafting his honest music for a community that's often disenfranchised and overlooked in the wider music industry. “They love my confidence; people talk about it all the time.”
While more music is coming (Kidd is planning to release his next single and his Island Records debut project by the end of the year), the next goal on Kidd’s checklist is to get into acting and maybe start his own clothing line. As he’s practically now growing up in the spotlight — he recently performed at Red Bull Presents: Renaissance One event in Chicago — he says his mindset is at 50/50, changing yet remaining the same. “I wanna keep the same mindset because it’s what got me here,” he adds, “but I’m starting to look at things more differently.”
He refers to the current iteration of himself as "Next Level Kenn."
It’s more than just the shock value of lyrics or the ability to tap into a previously unaddressed rap fan base and galvanize them. Kidd is proof that the archaic way of thinking in hip-hop and creating music based upon those credos is long gone. There's money to be made and self-expression to flaunt. “I never saw myself as a regular person, there’s too much I can do,” he says. “So why not do it?”
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue