It’s been a long, strange road for Kanye West. After he dropped out of college to pursue his music career full time, he became a successful producer, making beats for high profile rappers like Jay-Z, Mos Def and Talib Kweli. However, despite being an in-demand producer, he struggled to be taken seriously as a rapper. Luckily, Jay-Z was willing to give him a chance and signed West to his label, Roc-A-Fella Records. West went on to release his debut album, The College Dropout, in 2004, and it instantly became a commercial and critical success. West was praised for his lyrical themes, which eschewed the gangster rap persona that was popular at the time in favor of more socially-conscious topics. Since then his career has been marked with plenty of ups and downs, but the recent success of Watch The Throne, his collaborative album with Jay-Z, has cemented his position as one of the strongest artists in hip hop. His rise to the top was due to dedication and perseverance, something OurStage rapper/producer Kenton Dunson has in spades.
Like Kanye West, Kenton Dunson is a talented producer as well as a rapper, producing all the beats that he raps over. You can hear some similarities in their production and rapping styles if you compare Dunson’s song “Beautiful Fight” with West’s song “Champion.” Both songs use a pairing of synthesizers and choppy vocal samples to create a unique sounding beat with a distinct rhythm. Like West, Dunson’s lyrics don’t deal with the typical fare of gangster rap, because he chooses to focus on more personal experiences. In this song, Dunson recounts the struggles he has gone through and continues to deal with in order to achieve success as an artist. He also shares Kanye West’s penchant for clever wordplay, with the line “they say that I’m sleepwalking, I’m living the dream” being one of the most notable here. “Take Off” is another of Dunson’s songs that bears some resemblence to Kanye’s music. Production wise, this song uses many of the techniques that helped make West famous, including looped vocal samples and backing string arrangements.
However, Kenton Dunson also separates himself from his peers through his incorporation of rock and pop influences. Dunson has the ability to play multiple instruments, and before becoming a solo artist he spent a number of years as an instrumentalist in different bands of varying genres. This experience has affected his songwriting and production, allowing him to incorporate many different genres into his music. “Mine Again” is a track based around an acoustic guitar chord progression that finds Dunson singing instead of rapping. It’s an interesting and catchy song that starts off sounding more like a rock or pop song than a hip hop song, but he still finishes the song off with a solid rap. “Turn It Loose” goes even further to show Dunson’s affinity for rock music, with a beat that uses a crunchy, distorted guitar riff. “Firestarter” shows Dunson incorporating more elements of pop, using a catchy piano melody and a fantastic hook from featured artist Ryan Kellie to create an absolutely huge song. You definitely get the sense that the song could fill a stadium when you hear it.
In the end, Kenton Dunson creates his unique sound by incorporating multiple genres into his production, as well as through his varied and personal lyrical content.