Kidd Kenn is finally growing up. The Chicago rapper, named in homage to his idol Nicki Minaj (you know, like Barbie’s boyfriend), broke out when he was just a high school freshman with gleefully gay twists on street hits from his hometown, most virally FBG Duck’s “Slide.” He built on the hype with a string of projects—Childish, Child’s Play, and Problem Child—that lean into the image of a precocious rascal flinging spitballs and texting your boyfriend from the back of the bus. But now, after years of nurturing his rep as a problem child, Kenn realized something about himself. “I’m old as fuck,” the 19-year-old says with a laugh. Kenn’s new EP on 4th and Broadway/Def Jam Recordings, Grown, fashions a new mold. He’s rapping with the wisdom and self-understanding of an adult.
“A child grows up,” Kenn says from his apartment in Los Angeles, where he moved during the pandemic. “I’m paying bills, doing all this shit by myself that makes me feel grown. I’m talking from these grown perspectives.”
Just don’t mistake maturity for moderation. On the EP’s lead single, “Body,” a club-primed bop with a bassline that recalls DJ Mustard’s elastic funk, Kenn’s still making it clap and locking his dawgs in cages. It’s just that he has new appreciation for how pride in his striking figure was hard-earned. “I had my insecurities and my body was one of them,” says Kenn, who styles himself and does his own makeup. “But I grew up.” Another standout, “Want Not a Need,” flips, of all things, a Beethoven sample. It finds the rapper popping tags and relishing in a palm-tree view, accompanied by a guest verse from Baby Tate. Kenn’s trademarks are there—ditching dudes with delight—but his flows are more sophisticated, his intonations more considered.
Kenn grew up in the Chatham neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, the son of a hairstylist. He bounced from middle school to middle school because teachers were unable to handle his rambunctiousness. But soon, he found a way to channel that energy into music. Kenn’s playful
raunch builds on a career that always aligned with the lineage of sexploitation rap turning hypermasculine traditions on their head. His first and most enduring single, “Eriod,” released when he was 15, flipped a City Girls punchline and featured fellow Chicago provocateur Queen Key. It was the first song Kenn recorded over an original beat. His debut mixtape, Childish, added a guest verse from the queen of drill herself, Katie Got Bandz. Child’s Play, Kenn’s major-label debut on 4th and Broadway in 2020, paired him with cupcakKe, and he’s since collaborated with Rico Nasty too. “Want Not a Need,” for its part, shouts out Missy Elliott.
Grown also comes in the wake of career achievements that aren’t landmarks for Kenn alone. In October he became the first openly gay rapper to participate in a BET Hip-Hop Awards cypher. His identity isn’t how he defines his art, but he understood the significance of the moment. When the video of the cypher played at Atlanta’s Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, the crowd was enraptured. “You would’ve thought I was performing onstage or won an award or something,” he remembers. “They went crazy.” It was his first awards show. In a glittering blue suit with dyed hair to match, he met Tyler, the Creator, who showed him love and told him to keep going. Kenn’s also received a co-sign from Kehlani, who flew him to San Francisco to perform with her at the city’s Pride festival when he had just a few songs to his name. Kenn has received support from Grammy®-winning artists Lizzo, Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B, and Lil Nas X, along with Chance The Rapper, Saweetie, Young M.A and more.
As he launches a new chapter, Kidd Kenn continues to grow. He’s reaching new levels of the industry, working with Fenty Beauty, placing songs in Target commercials and Madden games, Apple watch ads and partying with Lil Nas X. But as someone who got famous before he could drive, he’s still learning the value of blowing up at his own pace. “A wise woman told me to stay
consistent through the lit times and the slow times,” he says. “The only challenge is to have patience. Everything happens at a certain time for a certain reason.” Grown is happening because Kenn is ready for the next step in his journey. But as always, he’s having a lot of fun along the way.