Artist name: Keenan The First
Based in: Los Angeles
Genre: Hip-Hop, R&B, Pop, Rap
Influences: Lauryn Hill, Kendrick Lamar, James Fauntleroy, Frank Ocean, Mick Jenkins
Must-hear song: Silver Lining
So first, Keenan The First and Marsel-IS. Older, younger, twin brother?
Marsel-IS is my younger brother. We do look very much alike in that picture! But in person, you can tell he’s much more handsome than me.
How did the collaboration come about? How was this time different from the first time you guys worked together?
We’re currently living together in Los Angeles, sharing a room, so we’re forced to bounce ideas off each other and coexist. We’re already sharing so much, that it only made sense to share our music, and I believe we’re both in such great places with our journeys as artists that collaboration keeps us competitive and elevates our artistry.
The first time we ever made music, was in the basement of our house in MN, way back in the early 2000s. We had an old Microsoft desktop that served as the “family” computer, and we were trying to figure out how to record on a simple, stock recording software. We got pretty creative and figured out that if we plugged in our (at that time, brand new) PS2 headset via usb port, we could hear our voices in the program. And if we played music through the speakers, we could record our voices to the beat, simultaneously. Needless to say, the sound quality was atrocious, but we were so fulfilled by payoff!
So to answer your question, this time around, we know who we are as artists, we’ve studied hip-hop diligently, we know our audience, we’ve built a process of writing, recording, and mixing/mastering to obtain the highest quality, and we’re both huge perfectionists who debate about the smallest parts of a song. It’s a true machine that we use to churn out great music, and it’s been amazing to grow alongside each other.
What’s your most fun memory of being in the studio with your brother?
My fondest moment of being in the studio with him, outside of recording Dose, was a couple years ago. I was in college, and had come home for winter break in between semesters. He had sessions lined up for his album at that time, and was really getting into building long form content, and telling narratives over the course of a project. I remember coming to a session where I got to just sit back and watch him work, and I just remember thinking, ‘wow, he’s an extremely detail-oriented, focused artist with a vision.’ He was quarterbacking the session and letting the engineer know exactly how he wanted his voice to come through the headphones. He would do a take, do a couple more takes, and then suggest keeping a single word he performed in the first take. He would come out of the booth and listen to the music from the more objective place to get a sense of direction. I just enjoyed watching him then because it was the first time I truly saw him as a successful, self-sufficient artist.
I remember coming to a session where I got to just sit back and watch him work, and I just remember thinking; “wow, he’s an extremely detail-oriented, focused artist with a vision.”
I imagine the Montgomery household to be a musical one. What kind of music did you grow up with and when did you know you wanted to make music yourself to?
The Montgomery household was/is indeed a musical one. Growing up, my father owned his own production company named TKM Records (named after the kids, Touré, Keenan, and Marselais), and he produced christian hip-hop and r&b. My household was very christian and secular music was not allowed in the house. So my artistry is not actually as influenced by the ‘golden era’ of hip-hop as other young rappers, because in the 90s I was listening to Mary Mary, Cross Movement, T-Bone, and Gospel Gangstaz. It wasn’t until I hit my rebellious stage at 13 that I started listening to popular music.
I started writing when I was 12 years old, and I did it because I had listened to music my whole life and had heard my dad making music since I could remember. I don’t think I ever ‘decided’ I was going to make music. It has chosen me long before I had a chance to decide. I think it was more a matter of resistance. I just stopped resisting when I was 12, and allowed it into my life.
What’s the first song you’ve ever written and what was it about?
I don’t have an honest answer to that question. I don’t remember the first song. Whatever it was, I’m sure it was terrible. The earliest song I can remember recording was with both of my brothers and my dad. It was a song that my dad had written called ‘Me and My Boyz’, and we each got to record little 2 bar phrases. Mine was “I get on down, I’m the best around.” Those are the first words I remember putting out into the ether.
Your Instagram is full of Modest Wealth promotion. What’s the story behind the brand and your friendship with Reks Mouk?
Reks Mouk is a childhood friend of Marselais, and is now a college graduate turned entrepreneur. One of the hardest working guys I know. Modest Wealth has grown into a platform where people can get flee gear, and also tell their story of success and growth. It’s meant to inspire people to challenge themselves in life and to take the reigns on their dreams, and Marselais and I felt like that was a brand we could get on board with. So we sat down together and decided a collaboration would be a great move for both parties. Reks has also been one of those guys who has believed in our music from the beginning and has definitely been one of our biggest supporters.
Apart from just releasing two brand new songs, you also seem to work on something called Double Helix. What is that project and what kind of sound can we expect?
YES DOUBLE HELIX. Double Helix is a 4 song EP that I am working on right now that has really challenged me and stretched my artistry for the better. It stems from the word ‘fam’ as we use it in MN. In the Twin Cities.. everybody says fam all the time, for everything, and it’s used so much we just sort of become unaware of how much it’s said.
So when I first moved to LA, I was saying it all the time, saturating the streets with it, and people kept bringing it to my attention and saying it back to me. Until one day, I heard someone say, “I don’t like that word.” When I asked them why, they said, “Because I have my own family, and you have yours, and they’re not the same.” Which kinda took me aback for a second, because part of the reason why I use that word is because, as a black person, I have the potential to connect to any random black person on the same level as a family member, simply because we share lives under the same blanket of oppression. It goes that deep.
[…] part of the reason why I use that word [fam] is because, as a black person, I have the potential to connect to any random black person on the same level as a family member, simply because we share lives under the same blanket of oppression. It goes that deep.
So when I call my homies fam, I truly mean it in that sense. It obviously can be used intermittently, but that power of the underlying meaning is always present. So I decided to make a project inspired by the word fam, because of it’s complexity. I’ve been lucky enough to slide into a studio in Hollywood Hills to record it and it’s currently in the process of being mixed and mastered. You should expect to hear a blend of singing and rapping, and more of a hip-hop influence than my last project ‘What is America.’
Your Twitter reads that you’re on your way to make that “quit my job money”. How do you envision the day that dream becomes reality and on what would you spend your first artist paycheck?
I’m aware that more people are watching me as an artist (my followers have been going up on every platform), I’ve been having more people willing to pay to come see my shows, and I’m beginning to get approached by people looking to invest in my career. I know it’s only a matter of time until it all comes together in the form that I want it to take, and that I’ll be able to quit my job in order to pursue this passion. That I definitely know. When it becomes reality, that’s the day the real work starts. I’m a person who maximizes his resources, and by obtaining more resources, I’ll be able to broaden my strokes and create the art that needs to be made. My first paycheck is, unfortunately, going to my student loans and my credit card. I GOT BILLS!
Feel like I'm on course to make that "quit my job money"
— #DoubleHelix (@KeenanThe1st) June 8, 2017