By: Arli Lima
Kenton Dunson, a Baltimore native, knows very well the progressions and pitfalls of following your dreams and ‘stepping out on faith.’ The multi-instrumentalist, producer, and lyricist left his comfortable job in corporate America as a financial advisor to pursue his music career full-time.
Dunson (who dropped his first name “Kenton” in 2010) discovered and developed his musical talent at an early age and continued to perfect his craft throughout adolescence and later into his adult life. Making his rounds in the Baltimore music circuit, Dunson has played instrumentals with numerous bands, produced music for many other artists and traveled around the country to promote his own musical project. He has released a three mixtapes during his solo career the most recent titled “The Investment,” which features a guest appearance from multi-platinum selling artist John Legend.
Dunson is in town this weekend headlining a show for the Baltimore Grand Prix at 8×10 (10 E. Cross Street). The Fab Empire recently sat down with Dunson to talk about his decision to quit his job and the results of all his years of hard work.
You are described among your peers as a “multi-instrumentalist.” Explain how you started learning to play one instrument, developed a knack for another, moved on to a third, and finally mastered the art of playing four instruments.
I started playing drums when I was very young. When I was a teenager I learned piano and I picked up the acoustic guitar and bass when I was in college. So in total I play guitar, bass, keys, and drums. It all derived from a battle between me and my cousin. When we were younger my cousin and I played instruments in church. I played the drums and he played keys. I wanted to learn keys too because I wanted to be better than him and he wanted to learn drums to one-up me so we both ended up playing keys and drums. Later I decided to take it to the next level and learn bass. It started out as a friendly competition between us because we just wanted to be the better of the two.
Before you became a solo artist, you perfected your instrumental talents by worked with numerous bands in different genres of music. Was there always a part of you that knew you would eventually branch off into a solo career?
I originally wanted to be a producer like Timberland. Once I heard Aaliyah’s “One in a Million,” I went out and bought a [music] sequencer. I always wanted to be a producer, but I started playing in bands just because I’d already learned all those instruments and it was a good night gig while I was working my day job. I didn’t really start rhyming and doing my own vocals until I realized the people I was giving my beats to really weren’t doing them any justice. I wasn’t satisfied with the outcome and the end result I was hearing over my beats, so I just started doing lyrics and vocals as well. It wasn’t planned this way, it just happened by chance.
Tell me more about your “day job,” the infamous corporate America job that you quit before pursuing music full time – If you’ve always liked music from a young age Why did you initially begin a career in finance?
I was just always interested in numbers; I always had a knack for that [numbers] also every since I was a child. I eventually got my degree in that and believe me it wasn’t easy, but once I went into the actual job I did it for a couple of years and it was a good time and a good learning experience but I was still moonlighting as a musician to get my music “fix” and the music gradually took priority in my life.
At what point did you allow your passion to take priority and pursue music as your full-time job?
It was sort of like an epiphany. It was a random day and I was on a lunch break at my job. I was walking around the corporate campus thinking about the situation and I realized that I didn’t have any obligations as far as children and I had money in the bank, I decided right then and there to pursue music. I’ve been into music for so long, that it came naturally. I really felt that I had what it took to make different music that people would want to hear and share. I just weighed everything, all my options, and two weeks later I handed in my letter of resignation with the company.
Most people quit after they sign the contract, but you quite before. What pushed you and motivated you to quit even though you still had not been “discovered”?
I think it was an intrinsic thing for me because I knew I had more to do and more to say. I’ve always had a feeling that I wasn’t done. I see a lot of people who start businesses or do what I’m doing with this music thing and they get discouraged quickly because of course everyone wants instant gratification, but with me I’m an artist and I feel like this is what I’m supposed to do. Vincent Van Gough for example, he was a starving artist and he choose that lifestyle. He didn’t want anything glamorous, he didn’t want to make a living doing something else. His art was all he could do and I kind of feel that way. I have more to do and more art to make and I still go in the studio every night even though I just released a new mixtape three weeks ago, I’m still in the studio making music…it doesn’t stop.
Your new mixtape is titled “The Investment” and obviously that’s an ode to your former profession, but with most artists there is usually a double meaning behind the title of an album, correct me if I’m wrong…
You are right. The first line I say on this mixtape is “The best investment you can make is an investment in yourself.” What I mean by that is, you have to give up something and expect nothing in return. Myself for example, I gave up a comfortable lifestyle as an investment advisor to invest in myself and my music. Of course there are ups and downs. I had my own personal recession! [Laughs] But it starts to pay off after a while. The mixtape is my reflection of that whole transitional period in my life. It wasn’t easy. It took me two years to get into a legit studio. I was recording records out of a room in my Mom’s apartment and now things are kind of changing. Now I know that as long as you invest in the right things it will all work out.
Well it definitely worked out in a big way because now you have the support of industry expert John Legend. How did that collaboration come about?
I work with a production company called Phatboiz and they produced half of my new project and they also produced John Legends newest project. They were in a studio session with John and he heard some of my music and wanted to meet me. I came up to New York and I went to his crib and we sat down and talked and he just kind of gave me some insight on my music and the music business. The next thing I know I jumped on the remix of his new song “Tonight (Best You’ve Ever Had) and he jumped on the hook to one of my songs “Cross Town Lovers” and he’s been really supportive every since. Actually I spent July 4th out at his crib and it was cool…Stevie Wonder showed up and it was wild. The “Tonight” remix is out there now and it’s gotten some interesting comments, some people are comparing my verse to Luda’s [Ludacris] verse so it’s interesting to know what people think.
Who else do people compare you to?
It’s funny because some people call me the Kanye West that never dropped out of college [laughs] that’s who I’m compared to a lot of times. I’ve heard that I’m like Andre 3000 as far as lyricism goes. I’ve been compared to Common and Lupe. Being mentioned with some of those names is an honor and that keeps me going. I think in this day and age the music industry is so saturated. So when people take the time out to listen to my music and compare me to those great artists it does help me to streamline my focus. I listen to all the comments and I notice what people like the most and it helps me to focus on what I need to keep doing and how I can make it better.
This weekend you are back in Baltimore as a headliner for a Baltimore Grand Prix performance. How does the hometown crowd compare to all the other places you’ve performed throughout your career?
It’s a dope feeling. I always get a good crowd out in Baltimore. They have been familiar with my stuff from day one. I just feel like this is home I don’t need to put on any special outfit or anything like that when I’m there because I’m always around fam[ily].
Full circle is what you’ve come and it’s all because you took a leap of faith and followed your dreams. What is one piece of advice you would give someone that wants to quit their day job and pursue their passion?
Do your research and don’t jump into it. Take time to think about what obligations you have and if you are a resilient person. Plan ahead because any money you have saved up is going to run out quickly just trying to support yourself and your artistry; getting cd’s printed up and getting studio time and things of that nature. It really is a full time job. I do three times as much work now as I did at my 9 to 5. But definitely keep at it and never give up. In my case I’ve been doing this on my own for so long and John [Legend] has stepped in where he can and things are looking up.
For more information on Dunson , please visit his website at www.dunsonmusic.com