As a firm believer in downloading music off the internet (as I’ve mentioned in basically all of my CD reviews), I can proudly say that I’ve had in my possession New Sacred Cow by Ethiopian-born artist Kenna for well over a year, perhaps two. I’ve had it long enough to memorize all the words, establish myself as one of the original posters on the now-popular kennaonline.com message board, and connect myself personally to Kenna through a cousin of mine. Kenna, one of the first acts to be signed to Fred “How Limp is my Bizkit Now” Durst’s Flawless label, had New Sacred Cow recorded in its entirety by January 2002, if my memory serves me correctly, but supposedly the record company had trouble releasing it for some reason or another. Whatever happened, this is an excellent CD, a Radiohead-meet-R&B tpye romp that is one of the first truly new-sounding records I’ve come across in a while.
During his childhood, Kenna relocated to Cincinnati and then later on to my hometown of Virginia Beach, where he hooked up with Neptune Chad Hugo. Many of the tracks were cut before the Neptunes became known for more than just ODB’s “Got Your Money,” so the production sounds a little deviant from their now recognizable style, although that’s probably due to the absence of Pharell Williams, which is definitely a good thing. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Pharell, I think he’s a true innovator, and I certainly wouldn’t mind having him work on my album if I were recording a pop music album, but because Chad is at the helm and not him, the album has a more groovy vibe, more techno-funky and less bling-blinging hip-hop.
Regardless of what people may say about all Neptunes tracks sounding the same, each track on this album maintains its individuality while staying true to the spirit of the album. “Hell Bent” is a soaring, driving ballad, starting off soft and pleading and polevaulting into an impressive spectacle of Kenna’s vocal abilities. The video for this song was released on MTV2 about a year ago and got good feedback. The song was basically dubbed over a short animated flim called More. The video for “Freetime,” the recent second single, is a live-action shot of just feet and follows a punky-looking pair of Converses away from his suburban home and suburan sister to a nightclub, where a bathroom tryst with a pair of stiletto heels lands him beat in the gutter. It’s quite a novel, if simple idea, and allows the viewer to appreciate the track, rather than cluttering it with visuals.
My personal favorite is “Sunday After You,” the ultimate in breakup songs I’ve heard in the past year or so. It begins “I named Sunday after you/when this place was burning down/I swear this is the first time I ever lied to you” and drives quick and strong to the chorus, where Kenna laments that “Nothing’s what it seems anymore.” The rich harmonies over the slick production is the signature sound of the album, which manages to be truly musical (and not faux musical like much pop music today) and fresh at the same time.
If you don’t believe me yet, believe a usually-reliable source of reviews: New Sacred Cow garnered a 4-star review from Rolling Stone.