Kenny Dope Interview: Master At Work

Marko Kutlesa caught up one half of Masters At Work, Kenny Dope, to talk past and present productions plus his collaborative efforts.

Becca Frankland

Last updated: 2nd Nov 2016

Image credit: Keith Major

Kenny Dope Gonzalez makes up one half of Masters At Work alongside Louie Vega, the New York duo that helped define that city's contribution to house music throughout the 90s. Under a variety of aliases such as Kenlou and NuYorican Soul they explored a wide variety of dance music, paying homage to their Latin, hip hop and disco roots while also innovating new styles such as their off beat tracks, which were the chief influence to the British broken beat movement. 

Both members of MAW have had successful solo careers running concurrently since the start of the 90s and Kenny Dope had the biggest hit of either of their careers when his track 'The Bomb', recorded as The Bucketheads, reached the top of the charts internationally in 1994. Since that time he has, in his solo career, explored his long held love for hip hop, produced Latin music and disco as well as house music of many varieties.

His labels Dopewax and Kay-Dee have reissued vintage soul, funk, hip hop, disco and electro alongside contemporary recordings and Kenny Dope has become regarded as one of the finest re-editors operating today. Truly he is a master of his many crafts, the labels he runs so exquisitely curated it's doubtless that they are a labour of love for the DJ/producer.

Prior to his appearance at The Warehouse Project on Friday 4th November, Marko Kutlesa caught up with Kenny Dope at ADE to talk about his new Dopewax Approved: Kenny Dope & Friends compilation, his Kay-Dee label, Masters At Work, his plans at ADE and in the near future. 

Dopewax Approved: Kenny Dope & Friends compilation. 25 tracks. That's quite a lot. Did you enjoy the process of going through all that new material? 

What happened was that the songs were starting to accumulate, so it just made sense to make a project out of it. I was just getting too many songs together at one time so we just decided to go for it, gorilla mode style. What are you gonna do? Sit on them? I did the summer in Ibiza, I was out there for four months and the tracks just kept coming in, so it seemed like the perfect time to do it, with ADE coming up as well.

Is there any other new material you will be showcasing at ADE?

Basically I'll just be supporting what's there. There are a few other acts too, but I'll mainly be focusing on the album.

Some of my favourite recent collaborative work you've done is with Man Without A Clue. How did that hook up come about and is there any more to come from you guys working together? 

I was playing one of his records a lot, we met and talked about working on some music. We kicked some ideas around, back and forth, but then I was just like, "Hey, do you wanna come to New York?" So, we got him to New York, he came over and we actually made an album together.

It's done. We've been putting out songs preparing for the album, but nobody yet knows the album is done. It's basically been little by little, just getting the buzz out there.

You're playing a Nervous Records party at ADE. Will you be representing just the house music side of the label (Nervous has a large catalogue of classic 90s hip hop also)?

Yeah, probably. Mike Weiss is a friend of mine and he asked me to do it. Yeah, I'll probably be playing the house stuff. We're at an electronic music event, after all. Actually we didn't even discuss that, but I assume that it will be all house. But anything can happen, because I have the stuff with me. If I feel like the crowd wants to go there, we can go there too.

You're known for championing a wide variety of sounds. In similar instances to maybe the Nervous party, where there's so much ground and so many different tempos to cover, is it ever frustrating that venues always book house DJs to play before you instead of someone who has the range you have and the skill to move through different tempos? 

Yeah, definitely. Being able to play all that music, what used to happen years ago was that when you walked through the spot, you could tell your hip hop heads from your house heads from your trendy kids. Now, it's very different, everybody kinda dresses the same. The only way to test it is if you get a feeling, you try it out on the crowd and if you get the reaction you can open it up. 

But as far as other DJs go? It's cool to be in the company of people who can go across the board. It just makes it more interesting and fun. It's challenging at the same time. It's great to be around that company.  

Do you think curating such a project as Dopewax Approved, your other collaborations and your work for Kay Dee prevents you from finding time to do some more work with Louie?

Well, no. We both have separate things that we want to accomplish. What people don't realise is that, in the 90s, that's all we were doing. We were together 24 hours a day, we were Djing together all the time. As time went on we got projects that we wanted to work on alone. But there is something that we're working on right now.

There are so many different things that I want to do. Now, having a family, it's the timing and the travelling too. There are only so many hours in a day. Even though we can work much quicker today, because of the technology. Years ago a record would take anything between a few hours to five days. Today you can do it a lot quicker, you can really cut down the days. But I still have so many ideas that I want to do. I'm playing so many different styles now.

I also want to embrace the younger generation. I want to do that, not just because they're making great stuff and I'm feeling it, but I want to be able to collaborate with them, teach and pass on the knowledge I've learned over the years. I've been having a lot of fun with that. I think it's important to do because it helps keep this music going. 

But, when the time permits, we'll get there. We'll finish what we're doing and we keep moving like that. My mind is on projects. I like to put out projects, to tell a story within them, as opposed to just putting out one or two songs. I'm a project orientated producer. 

Skiddle recently interviewed Louie Vega and he told us that you'd be working on what sounded like a Kenlou record, so I wanted to follow up that with you. What makes a record a Kenlou record? Even that alias is quite varied, you have the rhythm frenzy of something 'The Bounce' but also something like 'Through The Skies' or 'MAW War', which have got that offbeat feel, almost like lost NuYorican Soul records. 

Well you're pretty much spot on there, that's exactly what it is. The Kenlou record is more tracky, it's not produced the way we would do a Masters At Work record. It's nowhere near as polished as that or with arrangements that are bigger and bass changes. It is broken beat, it can be Latin influenced, it can be electronic.

Personally I think the timing, in the next couple of months, is key. It fits into what's going on right now, in this moment. So, when we started making music over the summer I was, like, we need to keep going in that direction, this fits in with what's going on. 

You mentioned broken beat there and, as Louie told me, you've got the anniversary of NuYorican Soul next year. Do you think there's the possibility that you'll revisit that?

We always wanted to revisit that album. It was an album that was done from the heart, it was a long process. It took two years to make. There were also mistakes made on that album.

We did it from the heart so we weren't really thinking about travelling, the follow up, the support, doing a show with the project. Putting together something so big, with so many different artists, all of whom each had their own individual career, it was huge.

We started to figure out (that mistake) as the album came out. We tried to put together another album, not exactly in that lane, but to follow it up. But we needed to downsize, because we needed one artist who could sing all the songs (who we could tour with). But we needed to try and find one artist to cover all the different flavours which were on there and that was really difficult. That's the reason why there was never a part two, because we could never find that one artist who could sing Latin, soul, disco and cover all the broad styles on there.

If we wanted to follow that up for next year I think we would have to look at starting now. I just don't know, even then, if that would be possible, because the first one took two years to make. A lot of thought went into that record. The actual process of making it, trying to fit around all those people's schedules, that made it take even longer.  We really haven't discussed that yet, so I have no idea.

The roots of that project, 'Mind Fluid' and 'The Nervous Track' didn't have those really big arrangements, the large numbers of musicians or stars like George Benson. Do you think you could more easily revisit the early days of NuYorican Soul and do something like that?

Yeah, but then people will compare it to the album, they'll say, "Why didn't they do it like that? Why didn't they feature so-and-so as a live guest?" We can do that, that's easy, not a problem. But it's whether it'll have the features that people will expect, after doing a project that was that big.

I would have to really think that out, figure out a way to do it. Maybe we could do a remix project first, something for next year's anniversary, because the way my mind works now I would definitely do some of those things differently. Maybe after a remix project we could do a new album, I don't know. 

I wanted to ask you about the Pazazz re-edits you did. The limited releases of that music were originally just given away to fans, by the band, because they were unhappy with how the sound was when it came out. Were you aware of the specifics of that and did that in any way inform how you approached the remixes?

No. Actually I didn't know too much of the story. A friend of mine hit me up, told me he had this record that was rare and that he'd like to put it out and for me to edit it. There are versions coming out on a Kay Dee 7” really soon. But I didn't know about the band not being happy with the originals, but I can see why because of the quality of the recording. It was really lo-fi. What I tried to do was enhance it the best I could, I put some kicks behind it so you could play it at the club. I love it, it's just got a really raw feeling.

Have you got anything on the horizon for Kay-Dee? 

Yeah, there's a lot of stuff. I've got a soundtrack that has never been released on vinyl, but I can't really say what it's from. I've got some gospel stuff coming as well. We're branching out. We'll be putting out some more funk and soul. I've got an EP coming with Dionne Farris which is really good, The Fantastic Souls have got some more stuff coming too which I've produced.

The hold up's been the vinyl, I haven't been able to get the vinyl in time. I have to get my current projects out first before I get to other things, but all that's going to be straightened out shortly and we'll be getting back to it.

What else is coming up?

I'm mixing an album I did with Rasheed Chappell, a second one, which is hip hop. That will be soon. Between Kay-Dee, my personal stuff, the band and Kenlou there's a lot of stuff coming through, so just be on the look out.

Catch Kenny Dope at MK's Area 10 showcase on 4th November.

Like this? Check out Louie Vega interview: When you touch me 

Tickets are no longer available for this event

Upcoming Events At Depot (Mayfield), Manchester

Here are the next 2 upcoming events At Depot (Mayfield), Manchester

Sonny Fodera (Extra Date Added)

Sonny Fodera (Extra Date Added)

Depot (Mayfield), Manchester

20th September

9:30pm til 3:00am (last entry 10:30pm)

Minimum Age: 18

For ticket prices, please click here (Additional fees may apply)

Sonny Fodera returns to Manchester + Special Guests.

Sonny Fodera Featured event

Sonny Fodera

Depot (Mayfield), Manchester

21st September

9:30pm til 3:00am (last entry 10:30pm)

Minimum Age: 18

For ticket prices, please click here (Additional fees may apply)

Sonny Fodera returns to Manchester + Special Guests.