For Kedrick Mack, a.k.a. Dope KNife, his first win as an independent hip-hop artist was completely unexpected.
“It’s the icing on the cake of 2016 so far,” he confirms.
We’re only five months in, but 2016 has been a helluva year for the Savannah rapper, director, producer, and visual artist.
In March, renowned rapper/spoken word artist Sage Francis signed Mack to his independent label Strange Famous Records. Around since the late ‘90s, the label boasts an assortment of emotive hip-hop artists, making Mack a standout on the roster.
“My stuff is definitely one hundred percent boom-bap hip-hop,” Mack says describes. “They’re digging it, and they believe in me as an artist.”
Since the beginning, Mack has tried to differentiate himself from mainstream hip-hop trends.
“I’ve been trying to do a brand of hip-hop that’s just the opposite of what is popular,” he shares. “I grew up listening to pop music and whatever was available—I have those sensibilities ingrained in me—but the whole notion is that I don’t want to sound like the next person. I’m keeping my head down and doing my thing, trying to release as much music as possible.”
Any follower of Dope KNife’s social media knows he’s always onto something new, from releasing fresh tracks on Soundcloud to producing songs and albums from fellow Savannah artists like Cult Cyph.
“I’m one of those people who, if I’m working on one thing, nine times out of ten, I’m also working on the next thing, too,” he laughs. “I just love doing it. That’s pretty much what it is. If none of this stuff with Strange Famous had even happened, I’d still be putting out music on my own.”
Balancing visual art, filmmaking, and producing helps Mack stay in tune with his craft and not get burnt out while working on Dope KNife material.
“It’s one or the other,” he explains. “I have my ruts. When I don’t feel like working on music for some nondescript long period of time, I’m writing stories or drawing.”
Mack’s Strange Famous debut is NineteenEightyFour. For him, it’s not just a reference to Orwell’s classic work of dystopian literature.
“If I had my way, it would come out in January on my birthday, January 17, 1984,” he says. “I’m working on the loose ends and final touches. It’s taking themes from the novel and applying them to my life. So, for example, there’s a concept in the book of newspeak, and there’s a song about specifically how it’s applied in the book. There’s a song on the album on civil discourse and freedom of speech and misunderstanding of how freedom of speech actually is and how that applies to me specifically. I’m not rapping characters from a book.”
Listen for pop culture references from the year 1984 peppered throughout the record.
“I had to approach it like I was doing something introductory, because it will be the first time a lot of people ever hear of me, but I don’t want to approach it like I’m a 20-year-old newbie artist,” he explains. “I have to have that sort of continuation so it feels like an introduction, but a fourth solo album, too.”
The majority of the beats on NineteenEightyFour are live, recorded instruments played by Savannah musicians like Jeff DeRosa, Tony Bavaro, Garrett Deming, and Matt Duplessie, among others.
“It’s probably the most musical thing I’ve done,” Mack says. “I just have acts come to the house, record them, and chop up what they record. It’s one of those albums that, if you’re not really that huge of a rap fan, then musically, there’s a lot of cool, jazzy, or industrial shit going on.”
A founding member of Dope Sandwich, Mack notes that the label/collective is still releasing new material and bringing new artists to light.
Mack’s got more Dope KNife news on the way for fans and an upcoming summer tour, but for now, Savannah’s Best Hip-Hop/R&B Artist is taking it all in.
“At my age, there times where I’m like, ‘Fuck, man, is it worth it?’” he poses. “But the last two months have quite literally been people I’ve looked up to and listened to since high school telling me, ‘All that stuff you’ve been doing is worth it.’”—Anna Chandler
Runner-Up: Basik Lee