Kenny Mason Stays Grounded and True to Himself with 9—“I Think I’m in a Good Spot”

I’m back in the 6 on 9 shit / Ride with that pistol on my hip. East Atlanta native Kenny Mason opened his most recent EP, 3, with this lyric on the song “100 or Nun,” featuring fellow Georgian MC Tony Shhnow. His first release since returning home from his nationwide 2022 tour supported by Shhnow, 3, and this rhyme in particular, would go on to epitomize Mason’s approach for the entire year of 2023.

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Mason would eventually follow up the EP by adding six new tracks on top of it on June 6, dubbing the new and improved 9-song project, 6. Mind you, March is the third month on the calendar, and June is the sixth… So, if you had to guess, what would you predict is meant to arrive in September, the ninth month of the year?

Since January, the 28-year-old rapper has orchestrated this multiples-of-3-inspired plan without a hitch. But, for the third and final installment, coming in the form of nine additional songs to complete his 18-track studio album dubbed 9, Mason might just be too much of a perfectionist to satisfy this calculated aesthetic.

“I was intending for [9] to come out in September, on Sept. 9, but I’m just trying to perfect it and make sure it’s the best it can be, so I don’t really know,” he told American Songwriter during a Zoom interview in July. “I will drop something around that time for sure, but it may not be 9. It’s a certain quality standard I want to meet, and I may not reach that by September. It may take some time, but I’mma definitely drop something around then either way.”

Zone 6

Accentuating his 3, 6, 9 extravaganza taking place this year, when Mason proclaimed he was back in the 6 on “100 or Nun,” he was also giving a subtle salute to Atlanta’s Zone 6, a neighborhood he was raised in that has bred other prominent rappers like Gucci Mane, Future, and 21 Savage. While the area’s rugged environment helped to build an instinct for perseverance and grit, evident in many lyrics found on 6, Mason explained that Zone 6 has faced gentrification lately, which has watered down a culture that birthed many of hip-hop’s brightest stars.

“I feel like there’s parts of it that’s getting gentrified,” he says. “A lot of the original people that were in those neighborhoods are getting pushed out, sadly. Homes are being bought up. But there are still parts of it that are turnt up. You’ll have a dog park, and a coffee shop, and a weird bakery, and then five minutes down the street, it’ll be a gang neighborhood. The dichotomy’s kind of weird. The main rappers that talk about Zone 6, they know. Zone 6 is turnt up, it’s just some parts of it are gentrified.”

I’m from a city where city folks tote they semis on video, bruh
I’m from a city where I seen the most sinister n****s get shitted on, bruh
– Kenny Mason on “Avatar”

Family Ties

Despite this, to help keep him grounded and always true to himself, Mason’s support system is second to none, he says. For one, he has been running with the same pack of wolves since his teen years, a collective known as House 9. Made up of five members, some of whom still make music and others who are dormant now, Mason’s friend group is one that he still keeps close to his heart, regardless of their respective career paths.

“It’s a little beyond music, it’s just us,” he emphasizes. “We were close before we started taking rap seriously.”

At first, there was not necessarily rhyme or reason behind the name House 9. But, as the moniker stuck and they began to find meaning in it, 9 quickly became Mason’s favorite number and the eventual namesake for his impending sophomore album.

“It sounded fire, like, it’s really just a cool number,” he said. “The way it looked and the way it sounded was hard. We did more research on it, like numerology-type shit, and it’s the highest digit, which I think is fire. I was reading a bunch of shit about it representing infinite growth and stuff like that. I resonated with it a lot, me and all my homies did.”

Along with House 9, Mason’s mother has been a driving force behind his ascent, which he has made clear through his lyrics on songs like “Rich” and “Side II Side,” featured on 6. With his mom being there for him through everything, including a shocking shooting he survived in 2014, Mason is confident his mother’s intuition and love have gone a long way.

“I love my mom to death; she’s gangsta,” he shares. “She’s who I get my toughness from. She endured a lot of shit in her life, so I see the shit she endured and I realize I can’t cry about shit… A lot of my family didn’t want me to rap. Understandably so, rap is crazy. But she was always like, ‘I support you doing this shit, because you could be doing some other crazy shit.’ She’ll always be one of the people I credit for being here because she always believed in me and supported me.”

Mason’s Rock Influences

The vision Mason’s mom saw for her son wasn’t just that of another trap rapper from Atlanta. There are already plenty of those. Mason’s perspective and combination of influences are a bit different from his counterparts. In particular, he has successfully found a way to merge his love for hip-hop with his love for rock music, specifically punk, shoegaze, and grunge.

Growing up, Mason differed from his classmates heavily when it came to taste, as he fell in love with bands, such as My Chemical Romance, The Smashing Pumpkins, My Bloody Valentine, Nirvana, and more.

“I, one hundred percent, was the only person in my friend group to be listening to that shit,” he says. “And at my school, it wasn’t cool like how it is now. At all. But I didn’t care about if other people liked it or whatever. That’s some of the shit that I liked listening to, so I really kept it to myself. It was for me.”

In fact, Mason was able to bring his love for rock full circle on 6, welcoming electric guitarist Poison Thorn to shred on tracks like “Darkside,” “I Got,” “Side II Side,” and “Stack It Up.” What makes the relationship even more special is the fact that Thorn, whose legal name is Shane Moran, was the guitarist for one of Mason’s favorite bands, Title Fight, who dabbled in shoegaze, punk, and indie rock from the late 2000s to early 2010s.

“Shane (Poison Thorn) made ‘SIDE II SIDE’ by himself,” Mason shared in a Tweet when 6 was released. “Once I heard da music, da song took 10 mins to write. Thank [you] my brudda.”

But, naturally, in order to make the rock blend well with the rap, it’s important for Mason to have the capacity to sing at times. And, although he knows he isn’t the most naturally gifted vocalist, he feels he’s developed an ability to captivate audiences with his crooning, which shines through on “Side II Side” and “Back Home.”

“I definitely wouldn’t say I can sing, but I know what tone to use and how to move my voice to where it sounds good,” he says. “I just try to use my voice like an instrument, you know? I’m not really trying to sing, I’m trying to just do some shit that sounds good… A lot of rock artists can’t really ‘sing,’ but their voice sounds cool when they do certain things, so I try to emulate that.”

Riding with Coupe

Aside from Poison Thorn, using adversity as motivation, and his attempts to sing proficiently, Mason’s show-stopping rap-rock sound would not be what it is without a man who goes by Coupe, who has produced for Mason his whole career, and earned credits on six of the nine songs on 6.

Able to restore the practice of working together in the studio, one that feels like a lost art for rappers and their producers nowadays, Coupe and Mason’s bond has been unbreakable since day one, when they found out they both shared a love for early 2000s Memphis hip-hop. Further proving this, Mason revealed that the first song they made together was “Black Heart,” a Memphis “horror-core” style song that landed on Mason’s 2022 mixtape Ruffs.

“We were listening to the same type of music [when we met],” he says. “I was listening to old Memphis, horror-core rap type of shit, like Tommy Wright III. And he was listening to that same shit, like Lord Infamous and that type of stuff. So we quickly, creatively connected on that. That inspired ‘Black Heart,’ which we made right then and there. I was like, ‘Oh, I fuck with this dude, I’mma keep working with him.’ His work ethic and my work ethic just matched.”

And, if this wasn’t enough to prove Mason and Coupe’s love for Tennessee’s southernmost major city, then 6’s sixth song “Stack It Up” should do the trick. Featuring a verse from Project Pat, a prominent 2000s Memphis MC and the brother of legendary Memphis group Three 6 Mafia member Juicy J, “Stack It Up” is just another example of how much Mason’s influences bleed into his art.

“That motherfucker be rapping bro,” Mason says of Pat. “Like, he be rapping. He still does his thing. It was some legendary shit. It was full circle. It was crazy. His verse is so hard, it kinda fucked me up. He sent it and I was like, ‘This motherfucker really stepped on this shit.’ I was like, ‘I’m not even gonna try to rap with him on this shit. I’m just gonna vibe out on my verse, ’cause he’s got this shit.’ That shit’s legendary. Rap legend, Southern legend, hip-hop legend.”

What it Takes to Get to 9

6, and its eventual expansion with 9, will not serve as the beginning of Mason’s efforts in making multi-faceted music, though. Just the latest. Five months before 3’s arrival in March, Mason’s spontaneous mixtape, Ruffs, was much more than just a combination of loose tracks, as fiery songs like “Double Up” and “Shell,” along with collaborations with fellow Zone 6 native, Young Nudy, on “Spin N Flip” and burgeoning alternative-rap act Jean Dawson on “Nosedive,” showcased a stellar fusion of trap-rap, punk rock, and everything in between.

However, Mason prefers to keep Ruffs categorized as a mixtape and maintains that his Angelic Hoodrat LP from 2020, and its subsequent Supercut deluxe (2021), are the only times he’s released an actual studio album. With an intensely focused approach where he fine-tuned years’ worth of material, Angelic Hoodrat is an effort he hopes fans seek out first when familiarizing themselves with his work.

“I think a lot of people thought that Ruffs was an album, but it was really a mixtape,” he emphasizes. “It was really just a lot of songs I made real quick, without any real thought, compared to Angelic Hoodrat, where a lot of those songs took me years to make. I worked on them and edited them like crazy for years. But for Ruffs, I was just having way more fun, and it was way more on the fly. Some of the songs I was freestyling. It’s not even really an album.”

With 9, Mason is currently working on replicating the process he employed on Angelic Hoodrat, in order to yield the best results possible.

9 is definitely an album. It will be treated that way,” he says. “Some of the songs on 9 are from years ago, that I’ve been wanting to hold for an album. I’m approaching it the same way [as Angelic Hoodrat]. That’s why I don’t know if it will be done in September. I’m approaching it from a way of, ‘I’m not playing with this shit.’ I don’t play about none of my music, but, I’m definitely not playing with this.”

Ultimately, though, Mason does not put any pressure on himself regarding the trajectory of his career. While some sects of the rap community tend to overlook him, even though he’s been on songs with hip-hop icons like J. Cole and Lil Wayne, as well as having a song featured on the soundtrack of HBO’s hit drama Euphoria, he does not accept the “underrated” tag fans look to give him.

“I think I’m in a good spot. People may think I’m more skillful than certain people who have a bigger following, but I’m still on a journey,” he says. “My first album wasn’t that long ago, and the music I’m doing is not a spectacle. It’s not the music that’s always gonna be viral for some dumb shit. I don’t do viral, dumb shit, so that’s why motherfuckers feel like I’m underrated. I’m on my journey and I like my pace in it. I feel like the way it is going, is the way that I want it. When I get to the top, I’m staying there. I’m gonna be one of the biggest motherfuckers to do this shit, so it just takes time.”

Picture lil’ me in a seat at the top
But leave it uncropped
Show ’em the mud, the seed of the crops precedin’ the guap
Kenny Mason on “Dracula”

Another practice of Mason’s that provides him comfort is his fool-proof skill with manifestation. Every milestone he has reached that has led him to this point, he wrote down in a journal, he said. And, while not wanting to share what he has planned for the future, he is sure that his goals can be and will be achieved.

“I wrote it down, I wrote everything down,” he said. “But I want to keep it private. When you start talking about shit, that’s how shit fucks up. I write down shit that I want, so I know it’s there and I know that it’s coming. It definitely works.”

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