Serengeti: Kenny Dennis LP

Music Reviews Serengeti
Serengeti: Kenny Dennis LP

Dismiss the Kenny Dennis LP as a comedy side-project and you’ll end up missing the joke. The big one, I mean, the one that starts out with a guy walking into someplace and ends in the human condition. In this go-round, Chicago undie rapper Serengeti—as in “un-heralded, un-bought, un-known”—plasters a Shih-poo above his lip and channels a bizarro alter-id. Andy, did you hear about this one? Yeah, Andy heard it—Shock G too. When the Genie gets unbottled, that Holy Humpty Fool blows up loud and takes on a life of its own.

On his latest turn as Kenny Dennis (aka the Killer Deacon, aka the KDz), David Cohn (aka Serengeti, aka hey you) sends his cartoon creation out to clock time in the meat world. Still strutting the fat Ditka ‘stache, the oversized glasses, and the clod-tongued flow of embolisms and infarctions first born on the 2006 LP Dennehy: “Favorite actor: Dennehy. Favorite drink: O’Douls. Bears. Hawks. Sox. Bulls.” Repeat that line a dozen and twelve times and the internal rhyme comes, I don’t know, alive, and the summer-lovin’ track slides on that k?an and sticks like melted popsicle.

Shit got severely complex on last year’s Saal, a despairing sidestep of spoken word and thin crooning that found Geti in the pocket somewhere between Basehead and Sparklehorse, voice fishbone brittle as he proposed to redo it all and schemed to don a false nose and trick his ex into sleeping with him on her wedding night. Give Saal a spin and you can imagine how Cohn might wake up breathing eager to revisit Kenny D’s rotisserie lifestyle of near beer and escapism. Softball buddies, poker nights, shout-outs out to role players and B-movie royalty, Corzine sets some picks and Berenger kicks some ass, all the man-cave antics grounded by Kenny’s precious wife Jueles.

Only the simple life ain’t so simple, and Serengeti’s the kind of guy compelled to ask “why”—starting with the fundamental question “why would a white, 50-year-old, workaday schlub be dropping rhymes in the first place?” The Kenny Dennis EP provided answers via an absurdist backstory of Shaq feuds and busted dreams, the KDz’s legend further authenticated by the discovery of a “lost” 1993 LP by his original underground hip-hop trio Tha Grimm Teachaz.

Though the outsized hostility toward The Diesel lingers, the Kenny Dennis LP mostly finds the KDz trapped by the limits of Cohn’s escapist world, flailing against frustrations that look a lot like living. “Bang Em” immediately sets the tone with Dennis doing a one-man House of Pain, fronting that elbows-locked, “Jump Around” jive until the rage that shares a load-bearing wall with comedy starts jabbing hard the broom handle. Odd Nosdam’s beats take an ominous, Bomb-Squad turn as the Killer Deacon sputters flush into the red: “It’s a metaphor for life! You gotta get out and do something! You gotta get out and do something!”

Stoppered and volatile with that need to make a mark on the world, “Directions” surges on night-drive synths and ruptures into existential brilliance. With that unflagging Stanislavskian commitment, Kenny boasts his ability to run a 4:14 mile and lays bets on a money race but then gets lost offering directions, a sequence of lefts, rights, ups, and downs that go on like Sideshow Bob stepping on rakes. “You go right you go right you go left you go right you go right…” Minute after minute that’s all there is—“you go left you go right you go up you go down”—that’s it, a simple test of endurance, four cardinal points and nothing more, any of this, any of this, what’s the point of any of this, “you go up you go up you go down you go down,” Kenny teeters at the brink of fury, I Am A God Yeezus what a clown, the futility, the nonsense, but then Kenny rights his focus, there’s a meaning in the way you keep on, you keep on…

the only thing to do is simply continue
is that simple
yes, it is simple because it is the only thing to do
can you do it
yes, you can because it is the only thing to do

In this human stamina Serengeti finds his character’s big beating heart. Interstitial skits further show how Kenny’s bearhug love can veer from something warm and fuzzy to Jojo the idiot circus boy with a pretty new pet. Across four cuts some guy who sounds like Ben Stiller offers a series of monologues about how Kenny filled a mentor/eccentric uncle role in his life—I can’t remember the actor’s name, he’s on Comedy Central and I don’t usually get that channel.

More memorable are the tracks where Serengeti simply inhabits the role and goes the direction it takes him. The spoken-word “Punks” sounds like the Tindersticks “My Sister” backed by Sandinista!-era Clash, while “Kenny and Jueles” returns to the dark rum flow of the Kenny Dennis EP’s “Flat Pop,” delivering a fluid ode to the ups and downs of marriage, American Gladiators, Steve Trout, teamwork, hot toddies, love, devotion and sacrifice, all while blasting consonants in that unwavering Da Bears Da Bulls cant.

The Kenny Dennis LP may feel a long way from “Dennehy,” but while the big man drew first blood on Rambo and belted Ray Charles with Tommy Boy, Dennehy also pulled his weight through the day-to-day onstage, playing the likes of Hickey and Willy Loman – big talkers consumed by the exhausting downside of the American hustle. Serengeti pops the lid on fantasy and finds his own deeper reality, all but guaranteeing future fans will ask: “Hey… didn’t you used to be Kenny Dennis?”

*from Frank O’Hara, “Adieu to Norman, Bon Jour To Joan And Jean Paul”

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