Kenna Zemedkun, known professionally as simply Kenna, is an Ethiopian-born American musician. His track "Say Goodbye To Love" was nominated for Best Urban/Alternative Performance in the 2009 Grammy Awards.
Kenna is the eldest son of an Ethiopian family that immigrated to Cincinnati, Ohio. He was later raised in Virginia Beach, Virginia, attending school with friends and eventual career-long collaborators Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams. Kenna began to express an interest in music upon receiving a copy of U2's The Joshua Tree. That album inspired Kenna to teach himself piano while studying singers like Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, as well as groups like The Cure and Duran Duran. Breaking into the music scene at such a young age and at an interesting time in pop history, Kenna met some of music’s biggest names including Whitney Houston, Babyface, Blackstreet, Teddy Riley and Michael Jackson. He went on to create his own sound that has yet to be categorized and filed under any mainstream genre.
New Sacred Cow
With the release of his first single in 2001, "Hell Bent", Kenna gained moderate popularity and an underground following of fans who eagerly awaited the release of his debut album, New Sacred Cow. After many delays and swapping of record labels, the album was finally released under the Sony imprint Flawless in 2003. A subsequent North American tour was launched in the Summer of 2003 with Depeche Mode front man Dave Gahan.
The album, which was co-produced by Chad Hugo of The Neptunes, contained elements of electronica, synth pop, post rock, and house music. Two singles, "Sunday After You" and "Freetime" followed the release of the album; the music video of the latter, along with "Hell Bent", appeared sporadically on MTV2. "Freetime" reached #19 on the U.S. Dance charts.
In Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink, which is about the way people judge and make decisions in their lives, a portion of one chapter focuses on the stops and starts and difficulties that Kenna experienced in getting his music accepted by the general public, despite the tremendous reception and enthusiasm that music executives, other musicians and a small, loyal fan base had when they heard his music.
Make Sure They See My Face
Kenna's second album, entitled Make Sure They See My Face, also co-produced by Hugo, was written over the course of three years, finishing in early 2007. The album was originally set to be released on June 5, 2007, then pushed back to June 19, 2007, finally being released on October 16, 2007. Kenna, in an interview with Vibe magazine, cited the reason for delays as being over the video for the album's debut single. The inspiration for the album came from Kenna's attempt to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the title, inspired from phone calls by Pharrell asking Kenna; "are you going to make sure they see your face?". Kenna's climb took him to 18,200 feet before he fell ill from taking a sulfur-based altitude medicine, to which he had an unknown allergy. On October 23, 2007, the album debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top 20 Heatseekers Chart.
An unrelated song from his second album, "Face the Gun", was released to appease his waiting fans, and initially was not to appear on Make Sure They See My Face, missing from early promos of the album. Ultimately, it was included in the final track listing. Kenna released a track from the album, entitled "Better Wise Up", in time for the Super Bowl; this track can be found on his MySpace page, as well. A remix of "Better Wise Up" featuring Audio Imagery has been circulating the internet since August 2007. There has been no official word from Kenna or from his label about this remix.
Summit on the Summit
When Kenna learned about the global water crisis affecting even his home village in Ethiopia, he decided to create the SUMMIT ON THE SUMMIT project, when he and friends Lupe Fiasco, Jessica Biel, Emile Hirsch and others climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro on January 7, 2010 to bring attention to the water crisis.
The documentary on the climb aired on MTV on March 14, 2010.
Kenna and his SUMMIT colleagues were featured in multiple media platforms including television, but the concept was rooted in social media. SOTS was the first ever social media climb of a mountain, having built a 19,340 ft website for fans and followers to participate virtually with the climbers. The project was the first of its kind, a true transmedia event. It generated 2 billion impressions and 1700+ pieces of traditional press. The team was featured on everything from People magazine, Outside, E!, MTV, and Larry King. SUMMIT spent a great deal of time partnered with the UN Foundation doing advocacy at Capitol Hill, determined to bring clean water awareness to Congress and the State Department. In tandem with the efforts of partner agencies and NGOs, the result was a return of 300 million in foreign aid for clean water efforts, and a 100 million dollar increase in funding for the cause, totaling 400 million toward the endeavor.
A new song called "Turn" was made available as a free download on his official MySpace for a limited time. It has since been released on the iTunes Store on January 26, 2010. Proceeds from the sales of the track are donated to the SUMMIT ON THE SUMMIT project.
Land 2 Air Chronicles
On February 13, 2011, Kenna announced plans over Facebook and Twitter to release a series of 3 EPs with 3 songs each, titled the Land 2 Air Chronicles. The series will be followed by his 3rd studio album Songs for Flight. The first EP, titled Chaos and the Darkness, was set to be released on March 8, preceded by the first single "Chains". The song was streamed on Kenna's official website on February 22.
However, on March 4, it was announced that there had been an unfortunate technical failure with the hard drive that stored the majority of the files that made up the songs for not only the EP, but also the Songs for Flight album, wiping out the majority of the material recorded. Despite how upsetting it is for Kenna, he and his production crew are currently in the process of rerecording and reproducing all the songs, stating that he only considers this to be "more Chains." Despite the challenges, the first Land 2 Air Chronicles EP was eventually released on April 26, 2011, and "Chains" was made available as a single on iTunes & Amazon on March 8.
The first single from Kenna's second EP, Imitation is Suicide is called "Long Gone" and was released for streaming on Kenna's website and Soundcloud on October 12, 2012. The accompanying short Hitchcockian-style film marking Kenna's directorial debut was released exclusively on MTV on October 17. The second and third EPs are rumored to be coming very soon, continuing the theme of self-reliance, discovery and the art of creation.
Songs for Flight
The upcoming album Songs for Flight is due out summer of 2013 and marks the third full-length album for Kenna, the culmination of the "runway" that is the L2A EP series.
Kenna’s strategic development company Translator serves as the umbrella for all of Kenna’s endeavors, including his music, technology and philanthropic efforts. In March 2012, Translator in partnership with Myspace produced a successful outdoor concert featuring Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Mumford & Sons at the annual South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas. The event saw more than 12,000 attendees and 1.3 million livestream views on Myspace. Kenna continues to curate and consult on many projects in tandem with his own music endeavors.
Kenna has also contributed to many other tracks by bands associated with Chad Hugo or The Neptunes, including but not limited to "Spiral" from William Orbit's album Hello Waveforms and "Red to Black" and "The Hard Way" off of The Rising Tied, the first album from Fort Minor, the side project of Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda. "The Hard Way" is only available as a bonus track on the limited edition version of the album. Kenna also appears on Mark Ronson's album "Version" with a cover of the Ryan Adams song "AMY".
On October 6, 2006, the world premier of "Out of Control (State of Emotion)", from Kenna's EP entitled Black Goodbye Ride, was played on East Village Radio on Authentic Shit with Mark Ronson; it became available on iTunes on December 19, 2006.
On July 7, 2007 Kenna opened the New Jersey portion of the Live Earth concert. He also toured with Nelly Furtado throughout various stops on her "Loose" tour.
Kenna was featured on Mae's third full length album Singularity on the tracks "Last Transmission II" and "Novocaine". Both tracks being bonus tracks on the iTunes Store.
Kenna produced a number of tracks for Ashlee Simpson's third album "Bittersweet World", released in 2008.
Kenna has also worked with Lupe Fiasco on the remix of "Say Goodbye to Love" and the The Cool Kids on the remix of "Loose Wires."
Kenna teamed up with UK Grime artist Wiley for his 2008 album "See Clear Now", appearing on the track "Summertime". The song was released as the album's second single in the UK, hitting #45 on the UK Singles Chart. Kenna does not appear in the video.
"Out of Control" appears in the soundtrack for the video games: MLB 08 The Show and FIFA 08.
Kenna is currently working with pop singer JoJo and will be producing tracks for her new album "All I Want Is Everything".
He also made a remix of the Kings of Leon song 'My Party' which was on the Charmer single as a B-side.
On RJD2's 2010 album The Colossus, Kenna contributes vocals to the song "Games You Can Win."
Kenna is featured in the latest string of Gatorade Commercials. He created, wrote and does the vocals on the Chad Hugo produced track, "Lock it Up", which plays in the background of the ad.
Kenna the featured celebrity in the HP You on You project advertisement.
Kenna & Pharrell have collaborated with Clipse on their 2009 album Til the Casket Drops on the track "Life Change".
Kenna and Lupe Fiasco recently recorded a song together called "Resurrection". This song was released on the charity album Download to Donate for Haiti in 2010, in which the proceeds go to Music for Relief, Linkin Park's charity. Also present on this album is "Never Let Me Down", an unreleased track from the Make Sure They See My Face sessions.
New Sacred Cow
- Released: June 10, 2003 (U.S.)
- Label: Columbia Records
- Singles: "Hell Bent", "Sunday After You", "Freetime"
The Black Goodbye EP
- Released: 2007 (U.S.)
- Label: Star Trak
Make Sure They See My Face
- Released: October 16, 2007 (U.S.)
- Label: Interscope Records
- Singles: "Out of Control (State of Emotion)", "Say Goodbye To Love", "Loose Wires"
- Charts: U.S. #124
Land 2 Air Chronicles I: Chaos and the Darkness
- Release: April 26, 2011
- Label: Godel
- Track listing:
- "Chains" - 3:47
- "Kharma Is Coming" - 3:19
- "What U Want" - 3:24
Songs for Flight
- Release: 2012?
- Label: TBA
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