MTV Artist Of The Week: Kenna

Not to get all parental on you, but you know that whole “if at first you don’t succeed” maxim? It sounds totally trite, right? But in Kenna’s case it can end up nabbing you stage time with Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado, a gig opening Live Earth at Giants Stadium and probably a spot on more album-of-the-year lists than you’d ever imagined.

The long and winding road from the release of his 2003 debut album New Sacred Cow to the late-2007 release of Make Sure They See My Face showed the Ethiopian-born, Virginia-raised artist the dark side of record industry politics after he was passed around from label to label before finally landing on the Neptunes’ Star Trak imprint (high school friend Chad Hugo co-produced both of Kenna’s albums). The critically acclaimed New Sacred Cow saw some mainstream love: “Freetime” nabbed a 2003 MTV VMA Breakthrough Video nomination, and Fischerspooner and Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan added Kenna, who’d previously opened for No Doubt, to their tours. Even pop-author Malcolm Gladwell famously devoted an entire chapter to the genre-defying artist in his 2005 best-seller Blink, summarizing “Kenna’s Dilemma” and the irony behind why Kenna couldn’t maintain a major-label deal at the time: the guy’s basically too inspired to pin down and too multi-talented to tie up in a neat, happy little marketing package.

The self-described chameleon elaborated on his inability to be easily pigeonholed when he recently told Vibe, “I was never a clique kid, I never fit into one crew in elementary (or) high school, I was never down in college, I pretty much rolled with whoever I felt comfortable with in my life. I’m a foreign kid, an inner city kid, a suburban kid — I’ve done and been in all those worlds, so now who am I to you? Who am I to the world when I represent so many aspects of it?” But the multifaceted 29 year old, who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro (slacker!), used his enigmatic appeal to claim his place as the king of esoteric dance-pop with his next album, Make Sure They See My Face.

His hard-hitting sophomore album is a funked-out musical stew that highlights his categorically encyclopedic knowledge of contemporary music and ability to create meaningful synth-funk tracks which, tinged with that interplanetary Neptunes touch, seem to come from another universe. Whether or not Make Sure They See My Face makes Kenna a household name, the man will still remain a genre-busting musical genius.

Experience his Prince-meets-Talking Heads-meets-New Order-meets-LCD Soundsystem style in his “Say Goodbye to Love” video, and watch his “Playlibs” interviews and favorite videos. Check out exclusive Kenna photos, read Kenna’s blog updates from his current tour with She Wants Revenge, watch him channel his inner Dave Chappelle in his MTV Artist Of The Week on-air spots, and tell us why you can’t get enough Kenna. Comment like the wind!