Beatsmith par excellence, Kenny “Dope” has been making records since the late 80s. His distinctive style, both on the decks and in the studio, comes from the way he applies a Hip Hop-centric approach to both making and spinning music. He became a house hold name through his partnership with the diminutive Little Louie Vega. As MAW, the pair has provided a benchmark for producers around the world, in terms of their eagerness to push the creative envelope and embrace different styles of music. Their productions and remixes have propelled them to the top of the tree, and instead of resting on their laurels, MAW always look to take things one step further. Recently, the pair have spent time focussed on solo productions, which has given their audience a chance to re-familiarise themselves with the work of Kenny and Louie as separate musical entities.
On meeting Kenny Dope Gonzalez, it is easy to feel a little intimidated, due to his large frame and his tremendous musical achievements. However, on speaking to Mr. Dope, any initial fears are allayed. He is a relaxed guy, who, with reason, is confident of his own skills as a producer and DJ. At 13, he found music, after initially wanting to study art at school. He was born to parents of Puerto Rican origin and grew up in the working class district of Sunset Park, New York. Kenny believes that this Brooklyn suburb s musical melting pot and diverse cultural mix has had an important impact on his development.He has realised through travelling and studying the history of music that if I lived somewhere else, my music would be so different . The ethnic mix of the Sunset Park area exposed Kenny to many different styles of music from a young age.
Currently, Kenny spends two or three weeks in a month where he travels the world to DJ. He would prefer to cut this down to one or two weeks, but while I feel I want to go out and play, I must do it . As a DJ, Kenny feels his role is to both educate and give people a good party, where he likes to play a range of music. He feels it is his job to break music and play stuff that other people don t , for whatever reason. Kenny says I listen for sounds that the average person won t hear and he believes this gives him the edge over many of his
contemporaries. I asked Mr. Dope whom he respects in terms of other spinners. He says my little sister can mix and therefore there s only a select band of DJs who impress Kenny. He cites Gilles Peterson and Keb Darge as great selectors, and when it comes to technically gifted DJs, Louie Vega, Jazzy Jeff and Cash Money impress him.
The development of music technology is changing the way in which DJs work. Kenny feels he was forced to put vinyl down much against his wishes. However, as a jet-setting DJ, he was fed up with losing records or for them to turn up late. He believes you can t use the next man s records and therefore he was pushed into a corner to play CDs , but admits with CDJ s he can do just about anything he d want to do with vinyl. As a label boss, he feels the downloading culture is doing huge damage to the music industry. He s says it is a touchy subject , where kids are caught up with downloading new stuff and therefore won t want to buy the finished article. He feels there ll always be a market for vinyl collectors, but as far as CDs go, he thinks the situation is dire. As he puts it, Why buy a finished CD where you like one or two out of ten songs, when you could download ten tracks you really love for $10?
Kenny enjoys spinning in Japan, as the crowds are very knowledgeable and he feels he can play anything to them. He also has a lot of time for coming across the water to Europe, with particular favourites being England and Italy. He says you ve embraced us since the beginning, and I ve got mad love for England . When quizzed about the clubs over here, Mr. Dope says he s really impressed by how people are so open to soul music . He was surprised by that he found this a few years ago on early visits to the UK. In the US, he feels for a long time that soul music was for people of colour . Kenny admits there was one stage when he was spending so much time in London that he almost bought a house, I wish I had done, it would be worth a lot now !
With a record collection rumoured to be over the 30,000 mark, I asked Kenny about his favourite spots to pick up vinyl. He says he checks dustygroove.com every week, as they make it easy for him to keep up to date. He feels let down by many of the shops he s visited around the world, people who know the style of tracks I make should be able to sell me records , and he believes people don t sell you records in the way the used to anymore . Kenny served his musical apprenticeship behind the counter of WNR Music Centre aged 15, where you knew your 30 customers and so ordered records for them accordingly. However, Mr. Dope says he always checks out Vinyl Junkies when in London, as he normally finds something there, and being a music addict, Kenny admits I m always curious to find new records !
Kenny says that the records in his vast collection are an important inspiration. He is critical of young producers today who have not studied the music of the past, and make stuff that is so minimal . He says that just listening to stuff by Pete Rock, Marley Marl etc can inspire something different . When it comes to producers currently making House, there are only a few who are currently exciting Kenny. He is impressed by the likes of Kerri Chandler and Osunlade,who have good grasp of what works musically.
It is blatantly obvious from hearing a couple of bars of one Kenny s records, that he has made the beats. Programmed with an incredible vitality and strength, he believes they ve become his signature because he s very criticalwith the sound and that his Hip Hop background gives it the edge . He admits that originally, he used a different drumkit for every single production, down to even using a set of dissimilar beats on vocal and dub versions of remixes! When working in the studio with such luminaries such as Roy Ayers, George Benson and Jocelyn Brown, Kenny feels things work in the same way as when he just sits in the studio and manipulates samples. Incredibly, the vocals and musical parts for some of their most famous tracks such as You Can Do It (Baby) which featured George Benson, were recorded in one or two takes. Mr. Dope believes the reason why him and Louie were able to do this was because the artists they work with trust our musical judgement and realise that MAW want to capture their vibe and take it to the next level . Understandably, considering the array of talent that MAW have worked with in the past, the list of people that Kenny would still like to collaborate with is now very small. He wishes that they d been able to do something with Fela on the Nu Yorican Soul album before he passed away, and would love to work with Stevie Wonder, but feels Stevie is hard to touch .
As remix dons, Kenny and Louie have waived their magical production wand over tracks by a huge rang of artists. Kenny says every one was a challenge and as they wanted each remix to be better than the previous one, the more we progressed, the harder it got . They booked studios for weeks at a time in order to complete mixes, where Kenny would make beats in one room and Louie would then add more components in another. Tracks would then go back and forth, and they often had two or three remixes on the go at once. Kenny picks out remixes of Lisa Stansfield, Alison Limerick and their own revision of You Can Do It (Baby) as a trio of his personal favourites.
On the compilation front, Kenny has put out a few choice selections over the years. He enjoys compiling them because he feels it is just an extension of him playing records. He admits that his Lifestyles compilation caught a lot of people off guard , but he wanted to release it to show there is good music out there if you are willing to listen with an open ear .
Understandably, Kenny has a special relationship, with his long-term production partner and friend, Louie Vega. Kenny feels their partnership works because we are completely different types of people , this isn t just musically but also from food to women to clothes& . He believes that when they work alone we can hold our own , but when they link up, they have something special . Kenny cites scheduling as the biggest difficulty for them at the moment with regards to spending time in the studio together. He s not sure how we managed to do the amount of stuff we did together in the past , but crazy deadlines probably had something to do with their productivity.
Louie s Elements Of Life album has finally seen the light of day, and his Vega Records label has been very productive of late. Not to be outdone, Mr. Dope has one or two things up his sleeve. He wants to release between three and five albums this year, including a Broken beat styled album, a soulful house longplayer and a live-based soul and funk album for his Kay Dee label. Kenny now feels comfortable and so finds he spends a week chilling after touring , but he still has the zest to make new records a reality. He has achieved a great deal, but is still hungry for more.