Make Sure They See My Face
Considering that his childhood friends and current production partners are Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams, aka the omnipresent Neptunes, it’s surprising that Kenna Zemedkun has caused only minor ripples stateside.
Combining hip-hop sensibility with a fondness for acts like U2 and Depeche Mode, the Ethiopian-born, Virginia-raised Kenna has both confounded and intrigued ever since his 2003 debut New Sacred Cow. Songs like the urgent, breakbeat ditty “Freetime” coupled with moodier cuts like “Man Fading” made his sonic style hard to pinpoint, a fact that’s only exacerbated by his sophomore effort, Make Sure They See My Face.
But despite the ongoing musical ambiguity and numerous release delays, Face actually improves on Cow’s genre-blurring concepts. The Neptunes’ Hugo shares most of the co-production responsibilities with Kenna here as the former once again replaces the Top 40-ready beats he’s best known for with more complex rhythms and riffs. The piano and snare-driven opener “Daylight,” laced with flaring synths, immediately reintroduces us to Kenna’s dramatic, buttered soul croon. Though his vocal delivery can sometimes be overwhelming, it can also be wonderfully deceiving like on downtempo tunes “Better Wise Up” and “Wide Awake,” which both sound eerily like Thom Yorke backed by UNKLE.
Regardless of Face’s shape-shifting tempos and styles, it’s Kenna’s most cohesive work thus far. As the title not-so-humbly suggests, the eccentric artist appears to finally be ready for his close-up.