There are some people that seem to have a knack for being at the right place at the right time. Kenneth Whalum is one of them. Growing up surrounded by music in Memphis, Tennessee with an uncle who was a professional saxophone player, Whalum got his start playing the drums, then moved on to the saxophone with encouragement from a band teacher. He later relocated to New York, where he managed to link up with Diddy, which eventually led to him playing saxophone on JAY-Z’s “Bam” from the rap mogul’s most recent album 4:44.
Known primarily for his more behind the scenes work as a saxophonist and arranger, Whalum is now breaking out on his own as a solo artist, exploring a vast array of genres including hip-hop, R&B, rock, and jazz with his own distinctive approach. He released his debut album Broken Land July 14 on his own Broken Land imprint, and we caught up with the multitalented artist to discuss his new music and how he got his start working with the likes of Diddy, JAY-Z, and Frank Ocean.
What was it like growing up in a musical family?
Oddly enough it didn’t feel like a musical family. There was music around of course but that concept wasn’t really introduced until recently.
What drew you to the saxophone?
I was originally a drummer but when I got to band class my band teacher forced me to play the sax because she was a fan of my uncle, who happens to be a saxophone player.
Your first big break was from Diddy. How did that all go down?
I was living in New York and just making sure I was at all of the jam sessions and anywhere music was happening. A friend of mine was rehearsing in Puff’s new band and let me know that Puff wasn’t really feeling the direction of where it was going. So he called me in and the rest is history. He and I have had a great relationship ever since. He’s actually the person that called me in to work on “Roc Boys” for JAY-Z.
You’ve previously named Frank Ocean as one of your biggest inspirations and toured with him, what did you learn from him?
I’m a fan of Frank’s work. I was just able to observe his work ethic and attention to detail. It’s something that I naturally care about anyway, but just seeing another person into the same type of approach as me was cool.
What song from your new album ‘Broken Land’ are you most proud of?
I’m not sure that I’m more proud of one than another but I am really happy about how “Motive” makes me feel. It’s not always easy to be transparent about your emotions and sometimes the music can get heavy. But that song in particular gives me a certain feeling of freedom that I need right now.
You’ve described ‘Broken Land’ as an “audio movie,” did any films or visual art in general inspire the album?
Banksy’s “Dismaland” inspired the album. It seemed to me like a place where things used to be great. A place to tour the ruins. And that’s what I feel like Broken Land represents for me. A place to go and view what was once a great place.
Who’s an artist you’d most like to collab with?
I’d have to say John Mayer.
Stream Broken Land in full below, and buy the album via iTunes here.
For more of our interviews, check out our recent Q&A with up-and-coming rapper Maliibu Miitch right here.
- Cover Image: Courtesy of Impulse Artists