We recently had a chance to catch up with singer/songwriter Kenyon Dixon for an interview. During our conversation, we touched on his journey through the music industry so far to this point, his latest album “Closer”, his thoughts on the current state of R&B, tying his 90’s influences into his sound, his plans for 2023, and much more.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I want to say congratulations on reaching a million Spotify streams for “On My Mind”. That’s awesome. How does it feel to have reached that milestone?
Kenyon Dixon: It’s amazing. It’s cool because I feel like it’s a classic R&B record, which I think isn’t as popular in today’s climate. So, it’s just great to see people gravitating towards the R&B I love and that I hear people reminisce about often. I think that was maybe the fifth song from the album to pass a million streams. So that was cool.
YouKnowIGotSoul: That’s awesome. I love that for you. So, you’ve actually been in the industry of making music for quite a while, working with artists like Mary J. Blige, Justin Timberlake, Ginuwine. Tell me a little bit about your journey as an artist now and how you feel about just being in this environment and this current R&B state, having worked with those artists.
Kenyon Dixon: It’s amazing. I think it’s seeing everything that you invest coming to fruition and just manifesting a lot of these opportunities because I have worked for a long time in the industry, starting off in the church, of course. But my first professional aspect of my singing career was as a background vocalist. So I toured with Tank and Ginuwine and Tyrese and Justin Timberlake, Jill Scott, Kurt Franklin, Nick Jonas, a whole spectrum of artists. But the amazing thing about it is I was always doing my own stuff. I never pushed what I felt for myself aside. And so I think my career now and what I’m seeing, the progress and what we’ve invested is really just a testament to being persistent, knowing your vision, knowing your purpose and not letting up on that. So I used everything that you would typically use to get comfortable as fuel, as a reminder of this is just a stepping stone or can be like a catalyst towards what it was I really wanted to do.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Absolutely. And you mentioned starting out in the church and you’ve been very vocal on social media about the whole R&B is struggling debate and things like that. Coming from the church, do you feel like this new R&B is missing something? What do you think could be done to bring back that confidence that we used to have in the 90s and 80s R&B that you feel like could give people more confidence in this current state?
Kenyon Dixon: I really don’t think it’s missing anything. I think it’s where it’s supposed to be just because when you think about music and the progression of music, every generation of music was influenced by whatever was before it. So we’re coming out of huge hip hop influence from the late 90s, early 90s as well, but late 90s into the early 2000s. So that changed the rhythm of what we’re creating now. So I think people have a lot more creative expression and freedom, and we’re just up against more creative people being able to release their ideas. So I think that’s why I love DSPs. That’s why I love Spotify and Apple Music and Amazon, Pandora and their algorithms because it’s very telling of what you’re interested in. So it’s funny when I see people say, Well, I see you on my playlist, or blah, blah, blah. It’s like, I don’t know if you know, but that’s a reflection of what you’re listening to. They literally curate it based on what you show your interest are. So if you’re listening to the type of R&B you say you miss, they will actually give you more suggestions like that. So I love it. I think we’re in a great space. I think it’s just you got to pick and choose what you want and just focus in on that.
YouKnowIGotSoul: That’s very true. And speaking of Apple Music, Spotify and those streaming platforms. One of the things I noticed about you is how you show up on social media. You recently covered like 10, I want to say, of your favorite R&B hooks, which was phenomenal. I thought that was an amazing thing to do. I have two questions tied in that. How much has social media played a part in your journey so far? Also, how did you pick just 10 R&B hooks? How did you figure out which ones you’re going to choose? Because that would have been such a difficult decision for me.
Kenyon Dixon: Man, social media, one, has played a huge part. I feel like my age group in general, we’re big on social media culture. It’s something I’m naturally interested in. I’m always scrolling, I’m always looking at the trends and participating in stuff outside of music. So I think when you understand that this is what everybody else is doing, including yourself, because it’s just what your generation is interested in. You have to learn how to meet them where they are. I love social media, I love seeing what’s happening. I just tie that into music. And it’s genuinely who I am. And I think that that’s why it translates because I’m not trying to turn myself into the train. I’m just being me and I’m like, I like the train. How can what I do exist in the same space? And so, yeah, I think it’s played a huge part. I’ve grown my fan base from scratch. I remember when Instagram was first introduced, I remember having my first 10,000 followers. So it was just me sharing stuff I wanted to share and doing what I love. And then as far as the hooks, my favorite R&B hook is interesting because I initially did it as a countdown into the new year. But I knew to count up instead of down because I had a feeling I was going to keep adding more. And I was like, if you start from five or 10, once you get to one, you don’t have anything. But I was like, if I go from one, just keep counting up. As I think of more, I’m going to be able to add them. Every time I post a new one, it’s like, I thought I was done, but I forgot. I can’t leave this one out. So I could go on forever with those for sure.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I mean, we love them. So if you got more, you can feel free to keep them coming. So yeah, last year you released your album “Closer”. First of all, that album had me in a chokehold for weeks. I will say it was an incredible album. So kudos to you for doing that. So who would you say or what would you say inspired that album? Tell me what that process was like creating that and finally releasing it.
Kenyon Dixon: The R&B that we love and talk about was really the biggest inspiration. I feel like I live… In general, I feel like R&B lives in a space of nostalgia. I feel like that’s what we love about R&B. It’s always making us think about something and just music in general. But my inspiration for “Closer” was really just making a classic R&B album. More than that, making music that I love. I think that’s what makes it classic. I love it. I know what it feels like when something is a sustainable record. I listen to a lot of the records that I love, a lot of the artists that I love. Anita Baker being at the top of my list. There’s a song called Marvin Gaye for that reason.
YouKnowIGotSoul: My favorite.
Kenyon Dixon: Yes, I just listened to a lot of our greats, and I do a lot of studying and dissecting music. I was like, how do I feel listening to this? I’m like, Okay, cool. Say if I’m listening to “Caught up in the Rapture”, I’m like, how does this make me feel? Then I get into, why does this make me feel that way? And I start to dissect the elements of the song. And then when I start writing my music, I keep that in mind and I reference, Okay, how did this song make me feel? And I started to match those feelings that I was feeling from the classic records because I felt like if I could make myself feel the way I felt when I was listening to their music, then I know that I’m on to something. Nine times out of ten, whatever you’re feeling when you’re listening to the music, and this is from an artist’s perspective, you can almost assume that’s probably going to be everybody’s first reaction as far as a feeling. So, then you have the context, that’s what they’re paying attention to. The feeling is involuntary. That’s just what the music does. And so my take on creating a classic is always, I know what you feel from the music because I feel that now. If I can just describe that feeling, that makes the marriage for you. And now I’m just telling you in song for them why you feel the way that you do. I just approach the whole entire album like that and just make sure it felt like those are the nostalgic feelings that I love. But also, still very me, very new and my own contribution to the R&B Canyon and stuff. Yeah, just ended up with this album that everybody seems to love and I love that they do.
YouKnowIGotSoul: That’s awesome. So as far as you creating this album, in my opinion, it’s very current. It actually elicits those feelings of the 90s old school R&B that we’re used to but in a very current climate and a very current generation. So it does reach that newer generation, I feel like. So in what ways are you able to pull from that 90s feeling that you described and make it current for the new generation?
Kenyon Dixon: Really just back to the feeling, but I think it’s really just reimagining it because the same emotions have been around for years. We just find new ways to describe them. And I think that’s all it was. Just being a liaison to my generation to say… Because I think I understand both sides of the argument when people say, Oh, there’s no R&B out here. I know that’s not true. I know what they’re actually trying to express, which is that they miss the feeling being more present. It’s like, again, you’re up against so many different types of creatives and just freedom of expression. And so I just tried to find a way to make that feeling consistent throughout a whole body of work because I listen to my fans, I watch, I see what they’re saying, and that’s the complaint. When they listen to albums, they find it’s like, oh, we like one or two songs, but the whole album doesn’t. So I was like, I got to use this feeling and make sure it’s consistent. So that’s what I did. I just thought about all of the old records. I don’t even think it wasn’t just the music because I think music itself has actually advanced. I think players are even greater now, musicians because they’re able to study what was amazing and then put them on top of that. It’s just finding ways to really just transport that feeling. That’s really all it is.
YouKnowIGotSoul: For sure. Who are some artists that you’ve studied that you’re really inspired by?
Kenyon Dixon: I love Joe Thomas. Joe is probably one of the most capable R&B vocalists in the world. Anita Baker is a master class on love songs. If you want to know a love song and how to deliver it properly and what that feels like, not even just the Rapture album. Really, anything from Anita, all of her songs are about love. There’s a spectrum of love. I love Anita. Usher. Usher is a huge influence, especially considering my generation. Usher is my generation, I learned a lot from Usher. Michael Jackson. I’m a huge Bilal fan. Bilal, he’s very fearless and so as a vocalist, listening to Bilal, especially when I was in high school, taught me how to take risks. I feel like I knew a lot more musically than what was expected of singer. And you would typically dumb yourself down because it’s always like, don’t be too good or don’t be too artsy because you don’t want anybody to feel like… And listening to Bilal gave me that confidence to be like, just sing what you want to sing. And so, yeah, listen, it’s a lot of him. Of course, you got Kim Burrell. There’s no way to even describe her. Brandy, Miguel. I’m a big Miguel fan. And learned a lot from Tyrese finesse King when it comes to R&B and knowing how to just stand in that space and be a man and just… So, yeah, I have a lot of inspiration and I had the pleasure of learning from a lot of these people just directly from them.
YouKnowIGotSoul: If there was one artist dead or alive that you could collaborate with and do a single together, could you pick just one?
Kenyon Dixon: Probably Anita Baker, honestly. It’s between Anita and Drake. I’m also a huge Drake fan, but two completely different sides of the spectrum. Those are my two for sure.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Drake has a little R&B side to him, for sure. He’s a vibe, absolutely. So if you could offer one piece of advice to an aspiring R&B artist, what would you give?
Kenyon Dixon: Bet on yourself. I think that’s important. I think what I learned, especially coming from being a background vocalist, a lot of times we hide behind other people’s greatness. We know that we possess what we do, but it’s so much easier if something goes wrong to be able to blame somebody else. So instead of me giving 100 % to my vision, I’m going to give 60 % to mine, I’m going to give 100 % to yours because if you mess up, I can say, Cool, you did that. But if I mess up and I’m giving 100 % to mine, it’s only yourself to blame. But what I’ve learned is first accepting that when it comes to art, you don’t get back in real time what you put into art. Once you understand that, you’re okay with the journey and the mistakes. It takes time. You don’t start off perfect. It doesn’t matter how good you are when you make art and you put it out, you’re now playing by different set of rules. It’s not just about… You got to know that you’re amazing. Put it out, let art do what it does. So give 100 to your own vision as important as you think everybody else’s stuff is. Know that same way about yourself. Embrace that journey and just watch it flourish.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Absolutely. So you have new music on the way. Collaboration with John Vinyl coming out February 24th. It’s the Pressure remix. Can’t wait to hear that. That’s going to be so dope. So what else can we expect from Kenyon Dixon for the rest of this year and for the future?
Kenyon Dixon: I have a few other dope collaborations coming out. Me and Kevin Ross have been working on some stuff myself and A. I. Lee, we’ve been working on some stuff. I’m also working working on a new album. I didn’t even intend to. I don’t fight the creativity anymore. I said I want to take a break this first quarter, but literally, January first hit and my mind was like, idea, idea, idea. I’m like, sick songs into a new album already. That’s awesome. I’m going back on tour, so I’m really excited about that.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Okay, awesome. Can’t wait. Hopefully you’re stopping by Atlanta.
Kenyon Dixon: Oh, yeah, I’m coming to Atlanta.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Okay, for sure. I’ll be sure to check that out. Again, thank you for joining us today. We look forward to everything that you have coming out this year. And of course, we’ll be supporting you the whole way.
Photo credit: Gordon Price.