John Keenan and his lyrics are a breath of fresh air in a hip-hop industry that is often populated by the glorification of opulence, curses and debauchery. His story is all too familiar, with an addiction to drugs and alcohol having taken center-stage at one point in his career. He has flipped the script and conquered his inner demons. His music and lyrics come from his heart, his underbelly. Even though his lyrics reference a dark time in his life, he hopes that they will shine the necessary light to someone who needs the hope and inspiration to make the right choices. “I’m not looking to make a load of money from this.” He once said about his album, Imagination to The Nation. “I’d like to offer others the inspiration to make different choices than I did. If someone is struggling and wants help, maybe they can gain some small thing from my experience. I’m no expert, but I’ve learnt a lot and want to share it the best way I know.”
John Keenan hails from Great Bend, Kansas, a place that is not known for hip-hop talent, especially Caucasian rap. One could say that his music destiny was written before his birth, as music is soaked in his genes. His family has a lot of musical talent. His maternal grandmother is Marilyn Thies, a chorister and musician who participated in a number of musical events and whose compositions were performed at the Kennedy Center. She was once named the Pen Women’s Kansas Composer of the Year. His paternal grandmother, Mona, studied Music and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Music Theory from Kansas University. She too sang in various musicals.
By the time he was 13, John had discovered his own musical talent. His young brother, Mark, was also developing his own unique style of rap. Together, they began to horn their skills by composing beat tracks with the help of a keyboard that their grandmother Mona bought for them, as well as an inexpensive sampler.
The two brothers were persistent in their music and in 2003, they brought a veteran rapper and reggae musician from Kansas City named Mr. Stinky and the Vigilante Squad for live performances in Great Bend. After getting his high school Diploma, John Keenan went to Kansas State University where he and his brother continued to develop their musical talent as rappers, writers, producers, singers and engineers.
Addiction was also in his genes and John Keenan soon followed a dark path. After years of struggle, he was able to sober up and start his life afresh. Armed with experience and life lessons, he took to writing and his first mix tape, "Mind of a Mad Man" was released and he moved over 1,400 copies. He decided to use his music as a platform to express himself and so he launched an Indie Label called Full Circle Entertainment. He also produced two more mix tape compilations before producing his first full EP in the summer of 2011 titled ‘One Day at a Time’.
John Keenan met guitarist Scott Martz, at a recovery home in November 2011. Scott Martz was also a recovering addict and they worked together for an entire year as they learnt how to survive without drugs and booze. “My music gives me something to focus on, to channel heartbreak or pain into something positive,” Keenan says.
In the fourth quarter of 2012, John Keenan released his debut album, "Where I Went Wrong", a 19-track masterful opus that sets him apart as a musical and lyrical genius. The masterful album composition interlaces its R&B foundation with beautiful aural derivations. A lot of the songs talk about his struggles and how he was able to overcome them. He partnered with digital marketing firm Miraldi and Macleod and moved over 1,000 physical copies and sold over 500 digital copies.
After a while, he released his sophomore music masterpiece, “Imagination to the Nation”. It is hard to classify this album in any genre as it draws inspiration from eclectic hip hop, rap and Indie music. In terms of lyrics and message, Keenan says that “It’s almost Where I Went Wrong Part 2”. This album still manages to move forward in a big way. Overall, the sound is very good and the production quality is excellent. The instruments and synths are quite relaxing and this is quite different from the aggressive nature that is often associated with rap and hip-hop. This is what makes his albums so easy to enjoy. Chuck Taylor, the Senior Writer and Critic for Billboard Magazine once commented that, “There’s simply no ready-made term for the musical mastery that pervades the album’s instrumental palette”.
The lyrics never disappoint and the entire album is worth listening to. Unlike the first album, Imagination to the Nation was recorded on a single disc. Keenan says, “Originally my first album was a double disc, but we decided to keep it simple.” He adds that, “80% is totally new material, but a few of the tracks we carried over from the last project.”
John Keenan has always captured the spirit of what he wants to say to his audience through his music. He often tells a story of his journey through jagged terrains and how he was able to emerge as a conqueror. On commenting about his album, Indiebandguru.com noted that, “The soulful head bopping flow hits your ears right away with a hint of reggae thrown in order to keep you calm as the lyrics attack your senses to tell a story. The story is of pushing through the difficulties of life to reach the higher ground. The hook will remain in your head long after the track is over. Each verse shows off a diverse style that can reach all types of fans.” John Keenan has managed to stay sober for more than five years and anyone who has been through this path can attest to the fact that this is no easy feat.
John Keenan is currently working on his third album, “The Illusion of Logic” which is set to be released in the fall. Just like his previous album, this will be a self-produced effort, a rare feat in the hip-hop industry. He joins the glorified company of legends such as Dr. Dre, who produce their own albums. The Mark Weber Music Blog has noted that “As both artist and producer, Keenan has something to say with his music– it’s about humility, faith, hope, love and patience. My thought is that many of you, or people you know, can relate to what Keenan has gone through and where he’s at now in his life.” Another review by Sleeping Bag Studios gave Keenan’s album the highest praise, noting that, “To think there’s people out there not actively seeking something new to listen to like John K here just below the surface….Two Minutes and forty seconds on this side of the speakers and he had himself a new fan.” Judging from previous albums, we can expect a lot from “The Illusion of Logic”. In true Keenan fashion, he promises not to disappoint.
”For information: johnkeenanonline.com
twitter @jkeenanonline Facebook.com/johnkeenanonline youtube.com/johnkeenanonline