If Don Cornelius were here and the Soul Train was still on the air, here’s how a segment featuring this weeks funk banger, “Relations” by Kenna featuring Childish Gambino might go down:
“Here’s a biggin every one round here is sho nuff diggin/it’s by Kenna/and he says/LETS HAVE RELATIONS!”
Cut from the Don to a dance floor set with people standing around, as soon as the music kicks in, a soul sister begins to do a mean hip twisting, turning dance. As if on cue, her dance partner begins to cut up with forceful acrobatics, inspired both by the ladies sensual manuvering and the rigid thrash of Kenna’s groove. The camera moves through various funky people until it reaches super cool Kenna on stage, dressed hipster sharp and looking at the audience behind shaded eyes. The crowd hollers and screams, it’s their favorite funk groove of the moment! Kenna is a monolith of cool while everybody around him goes crazy to the funk groove. He goes on to give an idiosyncratic performance influenced by David Bowie, Prince, Kraftwerk and Marvin Gaye. Afterwards the Soul Train dancers yell for 45 seconds as the Don draws a witty interview out of the star.
Kenna’s “Relations” begins with an intro of a dude talking worthless jibberish, over a bass guitar that’s riffing aimlessly. This jibberish is the prelude of a romantic fumbler talking around what he really wants….in the words of the Klump’s grandmama, “Relations!” Kenna and Neptunes producer Chad Hugo soon ditch the romantic non sequitors for a serious, simple thrash of a groove they call “Relations.”
No beating around the “push in the” bush here. The most salient feature of the music is a devestating analog synth sound bassline, two pitches played three funky times, on the “get” up beat. The focal note is a longer tone, this dotted eight note that provides the Hump in the track, the WD40 that lubricates your back bone as it begins its slip.
“Relations” is killer, sparse funk, with what sounds like an analog synth tone and bass guitar killing the bass line, an insistent synth sequence that provides futuristic color, minimal rhythm guitar riffing, and flashes of conga and synth squiggles that give the track some locomotion, as Kenna lays down a blunt yet classy come on to be “let in.” Kenna’s vocals have a wonderful middle eastren/African tone to them. He also reminds me of Marvin Gaye’s declaiming in his classic song “Anger” from ‘Here My Dear”, when he announces “Lets Have Relations!” in a stentorian tone that gets much more aggressive than your typical R&B singer is prepared to get when asking for the draws these days. Kenna fills his song with lyrical come ons from the classic male school of let’s take advantage of the moment because tommorow may not come : “How could we know the stars are alighned?”
I like the way Kenna passes the baton to Childish Gambino, with Gambino’s rhyme being an extension of his last phrase. And the immature mobster delivers a nice one, out of the book of early Kanye and Jay Z. Kenna ends the song with haunting vocals, scaring off any panties he might have left standing earlier.
Kenna Zemedkun is an Ethiopian born artist who I knew from his association with the Neptunes over the years, including a stone cold jam he did in 2007 called “Say Goodbye to Love”, one of my favorite songs of the last decade. His struggles in gaining an audience despite his obvious talents are covered in the Malcom Gladwell book “Blink.” But if he keeps delivering songs like this, I think an increasingly growing number of fans will be willing to have relations with him.