Kenna Zemedkun, known professionally as Kenna, is an Ethiopian–American musician, philanthropist and technology creative. His track "Say Goodbye to Love" was nominated for Best Urban/Alternative Performance in the 2009 Grammy Awards. Kenna is the founder and producer of the Summit on the Summit clean water initiative, and also partnered with Justin Timberlake to re-launch Myspace.
Kenna is the eldest son of an Ethiopian family that immigrated to Cincinnati, Ohio. He was later raised in Virginia Beach, Virginia, attending school with friends and eventual career-long collaborators Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams. Kenna began to express an interest in music upon receiving a copy of U2's The Joshua Tree. The album inspired Kenna to teach himself piano while studying singers like Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, as well as groups like The Cure and Duran Duran. Breaking into the music scene at such a young age and at an interesting time in pop history, Kenna met some of music's biggest names including Whitney Houston, Babyface, Blackstreet, Teddy Riley and Michael Jackson.
New Sacred Cow
With the release of his first single in 2001, "Hell Bent", Kenna gained moderate popularity and an underground following of fans who eagerly awaited the release of his debut album, New Sacred Cow. After many delays and swapping of record labels, the album was finally released under the Sony imprint Flawless in 2003. A subsequent North American tour was launched in the Summer of 2003 with Depeche Mode front man Dave Gahan.
The album, which was co-produced by Chad Hugo of The Neptunes, contained elements of electronica, synthpop, post-rock, and house music. Two singles, "Sunday After You" and "Freetime" followed the release of the album; the music video of the latter, along with "Hell Bent", appeared sporadically on MTV2. "Freetime" reached #19 on the U.S. Dance charts.
In Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink, which is about the way people judge and make decisions in their lives, a portion of one chapter focuses on the stops and starts and difficulties that Kenna experienced in getting his music accepted by the general public, despite the tremendous reception and enthusiasm that music executives, other musicians and a small, loyal fan base had when they heard his music.
Make Sure They See My Face
Kenna's second album, entitled Make Sure They See My Face, also co-produced by Hugo, was written over the course of three years, finishing in early 2007. The album was originally set to be released on June 5, 2007, then pushed back to June 19, 2007, finally being released on October 16, 2007. Kenna, in an interview with Vibe magazine, cited the reason for delays as being over the video for the album's debut single. The inspiration for the album came from Kenna's attempt to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the title, inspired from phone calls by Pharrell asking Kenna; "are you going to make sure they see your face?". Kenna's climb took him to 18,200 feet before he fell ill from taking a sulfur-based altitude medicine, to which he had an unknown allergy. On October 23, 2007, the album debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top 20 Heatseekers Chart.
An unrelated song from his second album, "Face the Gun", was released to appease his waiting fans, and initially was not to appear on Make Sure They See My Face, missing from early promos of the album. Ultimately, it was included in the final track listing. Kenna released a track from the album, entitled "Better Wise Up", in time for the Super Bowl; this track can be found on his MySpace page, as well. A remix of "Better Wise Up" featuring Audio Imagery has been circulating the internet since August 2007. There has been no official word from Kenna or from his label about this remix.
Land 2 Air Chronicles and Songs for Flight
On February 13, 2011, Kenna announced plans over Facebook and Twitter to release a series of 3 EPs with 3 songs each, titled the Land 2 Air Chronicles, which will serve as the "runway" to his third album to be titled Songs for Flight, described by Kenna as a "first ever musical journey."
The first EP, titled Chaos and the Darkness, was scheduled to be released on March 8, preceded by the first single "Chains". The song was streamed on Kenna's official website on February 22. On March 4, it was announced that there had been an unfortunate technical failure with the hard drive that stored the majority of the files that made up the songs for the EP and the album. Kenna rerecorded and reproduced all the songs, reworking the concept for the entire series. Chaos and the Darkness was eventually released on April 26, 2011, with "Chains" being available as a single on iTunes & Amazon on March 8.
The second volume of the Land 2 Air Chronicles series saw its release spanning three EPs, titled Imitation is Suicide Chapter I, Chapter II and Chapter III, respectively. Four singles would accompany their release, including "Relations (An Ode To You And Me)", "Long Gone", "Love Is Still Alive" and "How Will It End?". All of them have an accompanying music video, with the exception of "How Will It End?". The video accompanying "Long Gone" was filmed in an Hitchcockian-style and also marks Kenna's directorial debut. It was released on MTV on October 17, 2012. Additionally, a remix to "Relations" featuring Childish Gambino was released on November 12, 2013.
Kenna announced the third and final volume, to be called Genius. A demo of a track from the EP called "Something to Break" was streamed on Kenna's SoundCloud and social media pages.
The first single from Songs for Flight, "Sleep When We Die", was released on July 15, 2015. It premiered on Zane Lowe's Beats 1 Radio show on Apple Music, and was subsequently released for digital download.
On October 6, 2006, the world premiere of the song "Out of Control (State of Emotion)", from Kenna's EP entitled Black Goodbye Ride, was played on East Village Radio on Authentic Shit with Mark Ronson; it became available on iTunes on December 19, 2006.
"Out of Control" appears in the soundtrack for the video games MLB 08 The Show and FIFA 08.
Kenna was also a featured celebrity in the HP You on You project advertisement.
"Never Let Me Down", an unreleased track from the Make Sure They See My Face sessions, was released on the charity album Download to Donate for Haiti in 2010, in which the proceeds go to Music for Relief, Linkin Park's charity. This album also contains "Resurrection", a collaboration with Lupe Fiasco, which was accompanied by a music video.
In 2010, Kenna and Chad Hugo worked with Kid Cudi on a track unofficially titled "Capcom!" for a Street Fighter game. It was never officially released, but was streamed on the internet the following year.
In 2013, Kenna released a cover of the U2 song "Gloria" to his SoundCloud and Myspace pages, as a way to reach out to Bono, one of his biggest musical influences. He received a call from Bono shortly thereafter.
"Sleep When We Die" was used to promote the launch of the Flipagram app in July 2015.
Summit on the Summit
When Kenna learned about the global water crisis affecting even his home village in Ethiopia, he decided to create the SUMMIT ON THE SUMMIT project, when he and friends Lupe Fiasco, Jessica Biel, Emile Hirsch and others climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro on January 7, 2010 to bring attention to the water crisis. The documentary on the climb aired on MTV on March 14, 2010.
A new song called "Turn" was made available as a free download on his official MySpace for a limited time. It has since been released on the iTunes Store on January 26, 2010. Proceeds from the sales of the track are donated to the SUMMIT ON THE SUMMIT project.
After some urging from friend and fellow musician Justin Timberlake, who also invested in the new Myspace, Kenna took a job as Chief Vision Officer in the company. Kenna was featured in the April 2013 Details Magazine issue as one of their 2013 "Digital Mavericks" entrepreneurs.
Kenna's strategic development company Translator serves as the umbrella for all of Kenna's endeavors, including his music, technology and philanthropic efforts. In March 2012, Translator in partnership with Myspace produced a successful outdoor concert featuring Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Mumford & Sons at the annual South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas. The event saw more than 12,000 attendees and 1.3 million livestream views on Myspace. Kenna continues to curate and consult on many projects in tandem with his own music endeavors.
- The Black Goodbye EP (2007)
- Land 2 Air Chronicles I: Chaos and the Darkness (2011)
- Land 2 Air Chronicles II: Imitation Is Suicide Chapter 1 (2013)
- Land 2 Air Chronicles II: Imitation Is Suicide Chapter 2 (2013)
- Land 2 Air Chronicles II: Imitation Is Suicide Chapter 3 (2013)
|"Red to Black"||2005||Fort Minor feat. Jonah Matranga and Styles of Beyond||The Rising Tied|
|"The Hard Way"||Fort Minor|
|"Spiral"||2006||William Orbit feat. Sugababes||Hello Waveforms|
|"My Party" (Remix with Chad Hugo)||2007||Kings of Leon||Charmer|
|"Last Transmission II"||Mae||Singularity|
|"Bittersweet World"||2008||Ashlee Simpson||Bittersweet World|
|"C'est Ecrit"||Futur Proche||Par Tous Les Temps Volume 2|
|"Summertime"||Wiley||See Clear Now|
|"Lock It Up"||2009||Chad Hugo||N/A|
|"Life Change"||Clipse||Til the Casket Drops|
|"Resurrection"||2010||Lupe Fiasco||Download to Donate for Haiti|
|"Games You Can Win"||RJD2||The Colossus|
|"Fear & Doubt"||2013||Vic Mensa||Innanetape|