KennyHoopla Issue 396
[Photo by Brittany Young]

As the hyperspeed of now renders new rock stars at every second, from every corner of the world, such a pursuit retains the potential to change many lives, as well as the terrifying qualities of what comes after. The swift adjustment to accessible excess of one’s every desire, attention from the right and wrong characters, exposure to the world’s merciless fists one sentence fragment at a time.

Read more: KennyHoopla & Travis Barker perform live at DTS Sound Space

It’s the gambling lever one can switch on accident, shoving one into full view, whether warmongering or wholesome, if only for a moment. One move and a loose expression can live in infamy. Fifteen seconds of sound and millions may appear from the swing of the right snippet. Rejoice, rinse, repeat. So, if everyone’s one click away from becoming the main character, what does a real rock star make? What’s the dress code, the tempo and where’s the bleeding heart for our consumption?

Enter Kenneth La’ron Beasley, or KennyHoopla: a Black man from small-town Oshkosh, Wisconsin, who’s grossly uninterested in the staleness of the old guard and the flagrance of the new. Ask a rocker of yesteryear and Kenny leans staggeringly toward the latter: He plays no instruments, knows no music theory, currently has no band… Yet, he’s somehow on pace to becoming one of rock’s defining voices of the next decade.

2019 is gone, and KennyHoopla’s no longer the emo grail of your SoundCloud likes. He’s got Billboard-charting songs, a mixtape with Travis Barker and a backflip that pleases God. Should the variants show us mercy, he’ll be on his first sold-out headline run, hitting the festival circuit and opening for Machine Gun Kelly in arenas. It’s the hero’s arc Kenny’s always craved to overcome his environment, yet he’s thoroughly unconvinced of his own hype. Let him tell it: Rock star status is neither self-defined nor reducible to predictable aesthetics and half-hearted execution. An artist is only a rock star once elected by the people, channeling this ephemeral existence into a living, breathing “fuck you!” to any worthy party within earshot. The terms and conditions involve lending one’s suffering to the world in service of changing it.

Something that I noticed immediately was you calling to the idea of redefining what a rock star could be. And I’ve seen you grapple with that term in public: People call you that, and you’re like, “Don’t call me that.” What does that mean to you in this context now that you have an opportunity to actually redefine that for people?

I’m still grasping the fact that I’m in this position to be able to even do that. Every day I wake up, I still feel like I don’t have enough power. I still need the respect I need as a Black person, and artist, in my everyday life, and when I walk into a room. I need more power and to be able to move the way I want to move to do these things. I’m finding my way through it, and I’m not living in it. This rock star shit is lame. I always felt like you can’t call yourself anything [like that]. I might be wrong because I don’t know everything about music—I’m big on learning the history and seeing where you fit into culture—but I feel like the people choose you to do that.

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So, people call themselves rock stars these days, and it’s like [they’re] labeling themselves as something above [others]. Emo, rapper, whatever: That’s all valid because there’s an authenticity that comes with it, but I feel like this “rock star” is a more-than-life thing where it’s narcissistic and self-absorbed and not empathetic. And that’s what I’m saying is fucking… not me. So, if we’re gonna call ourselves rock stars—if y’all are gonna just fucking dye your hair and go over a trap beat and call yourself a rock star—then I’m about to do whatever I can to push that in the right direction in this generation. A rock star to me? The people decide that for you. You can’t label yourself. That’s something you have to earn.

Riddle me this: So, I caught a lyric on the new project where you were talking about you and Malik skating around the complex, and you just spoke on that as well. You’re dreaming of freedom, of being a star. So back then, when y’all were kids, this sort of thing that you just couldn’t escape. When you step outside of your own body, you see this possibility as an inevitability. If this didn’t come to pass the way it did, what else did y’all dream of? Did you see being a star as the only option, or were there other things on your minds?

I always wanted to be the best human I could be, but it was more so I just wanted to get in power so I could do things, which leads me back to when I kept saying I need my power and respect. I want to be able to put kids through psychology school. We need more therapists out here. Just shit like that, just wanting to take over. That was literally it.

I’ve always just been like, “I want to fucking take over.” Just looking at my surroundings and being like, “I want everything.” Even just going to Madison, I would always look at that big-ass statue at the Capitol Building, and I’d always be like, “How the fuck is one person going to take that over? How am I going to conquer a whole city? How am I going to make this world mine?” So, that’s just how I’ve always seen everything; besides that perspective, there was no choice. I have to make this happen.

Read more: WILLOW joins Travis Barker for live performance of “Lipstick”

I didn’t even think I’d be at this age right now. Also, it’s still crazy even being this old. But I was like, “If I don’t make this shit [happen] by the time I’m 22, I would just rather kill myself.” If I’m not doing what the fuck I want to do, then I really would rather. And I can feel it now; I’m blessed because I probably would have, honestly. I would have not been happy with my life at all.

Right before “lost cause//” happened, I was really contemplating robbing someone ’cause I couldn’t pay my rent. I didn’t know what to do, but I refused to go back to Oshkosh. And I was like, “I gotta fucking make this happen somehow. I need some guap.” There’s just never been any question – I don’t know if it’s a mental disorder or some shit like that, but I feel like it’s just always been in the stars. I have this weird relationship with the universe that I’ve been growing with since I was a baby, and I feel it get stronger every year. And it’s the strongest it’s been in my life right now, where I’m really talking with the universe, and I’m understanding how to maneuver through it and communicate with it.

So, I’d like to offer this because I’m hearing two things at once with that, right? I’m hearing that you’ve always had a sense of purpose. The sort of journey that you’re on is not just in service of you—it’s not selfish—it’s to give back to your family, to your loved ones, to your community at home. But then I hear words like conquer and doing things by yourself, even to get to this point. It’s like you’ve placed so much of the world, and then some, on your shoulders to even get right here. So it makes me wonder: What is possible for you when you take the world off your shoulders a bit and realize that it’s not all you and that it’s all us together?

That’s something I’ve been struggling with. I’ve been so turned on my whole life, and so alone, just being the black sheep. I put my trust in people to trust themselves, to do this thing [and] really make it as big as it can be, and I always end up being alone. So it’s always been something that’s an expression of being trapped. Growing up the way that I’ve grown up, it’s like no one can understand you fully.

So there’s been parts of it where I’ll get frustrated with a friend or some shit because they can’t see the bigger picture, but that’s possibly because they didn’t grow up that way I grew up. They’re chilling, their family has money or they’re not really as hungry to live life to the fullest extent and see everything in the world. It’s easy to get frustrated with that, and then you’re just alone again. It’s hard to find people to match your energy because it’s no one’s fault. Everyone’s different.

I think that’s what I’m battling with in my art: this aloneness, and unity, and wanting to be alone together. How do I do that? That’s been a circling thing in my life for as long as I can remember: me wanting so badly to have this big group of people around me, all these fucking friends and community and shit, and then not knowing how to do that and feeling misunderstood. But still, trying to make music to have unity.

Let’s get into that because I’ve always had these questions. I feel like I’ve just never had the capacity to ask you. The music you’ve made deals with prominent themes of remorse and revenge. Who and where are the targets of that revenge? Why is the feeling of getting that get back so prominent? Who’s in mind?

First thing that comes to my head are just kids I went to school with. It was definitely kids of all backgrounds, but even specifically, just getting shitted on early and not being able to fit in, I guess. And just moments of that, being disrespected at school by white kids. It’s kinda like Earl [Sweatshirt] said: “Too Black for the white kids, and too white for the Blacks.” Shit like that. And then, people that have done me wrong in my personal life, my love life and shit like that. It just plays into the whole idea of ending up alone. But then, lastly, I see it as a revenge of my subconscious. And the parts that I battle with and getting revenge on those and finding the cure and seeing the color again.

And on the idea of remorse, right? You outline such a clear path through your own trauma and your struggles to relate to other people, whether that’s in a romantic or platonic sense. It’s clear that your wounds are still very open once you’re accessing them to try to relay them to other people. You even named your last tape SURVIVORS GUILT//. That’s another idea that comes up in your music a lot. Do you feel like survival mode has been a constant thing in your journey thus far? And then to that point, what do you envision creating when you can move outside of just surviving and being present and finding the color that you’re looking for?

Yeah, I think about that all the time. It’s not fun, being vulnerable like that. So many people play that into aesthetics, you know, talking about their mental illness and shit like that, and having that be this lit thing. Where I’m like, “It’s not really fire to me.” Like, it would be fire if I didn’t have to sing about that. I get excited about being able to make very balanced music. That’s what I’ve been trying to do forever; I want my music to sound very balanced and not one-sided. I am a person that sees things from all perspectives, and no answer is necessarily the right answer because one of the other answers will also be correct.

The whole survival thing is just physically and mentally surviving in life. It goes from being a Black man surviving to get to my position, and then having to cut off friends and people I love, to seeing people that were supposed to be here with me not be here with me. And feeling this guilt, just going insane, flashbacks of things I went through my whole life that I haven’t even ever told anyone, real trauma and shit.

Read more: KennyHoopla and Travis Barker shine on SURVIVORS GUILT: THE MIXTAPE//

That was even the thing with me and Travis [Barker]. Because at the end of the day, I know he feels that. I know he feels, trauma aside, the science of getting here. I see it in his eyes. He has that same pain of getting to this place, and there’s that big hole missing, that feeling of, “At what cost?” That’s what SURVIVORS GUILT// is: Yeah, but at what cost?