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Dom Kennedy talks as if he has everything planned out. His life. His music career. And possibly even his death. His tattoo even reads, “In loving memory of hip hop”—a metaphor for how he wants to leave his mark on the game. “That’s how I live kind of, in memory,” he says eerily, eyes hidden under his gray Los Angeles Kings fitted. He looks up and continues, “When I die, all my music will go with me.” His talk of death is symbolic of greater ambitions, though: Dom Kennedy, 24, wants his music to stand the test of time. “My stories are stories that we’ve all lived,” he says. “Ten years from now a kid should be able to play my song and know exactly what I’m talking about.” 

Kennedy, who grew up in Leimert Park—an area considered a staple of Los Angeles’ black community for its rich traditions—popped up on the L.A. music scene two years ago, and released his debut mixtape, The 25th Hour, in March of 2008. “The 25th Hour was my attempt to make a CD now that sounds like and feels like things that I grew up on and that people played for me,” says Dom. “I wanted it be like music that really influenced me.” Dom is quick to cite his influences—Ice Cube’s post-riot opus The Predator (Priority, 1992) and DJ Quik’s g-funkdafied Safe & Sound (Profile, 1995) and testosterone-induced Rhythmn-al-ism (Arista, 1998) – but he refuses to imitate the days of yesteryear. “Living off the past is not going to get us where we need to go. I gotta have my own ‘Bonita Applebum,’” Dom says. “Nobody else can tell my story—our story. And my story mirrors stories of hundreds, maybe thousands of kids in this city.”

Dom Kennedy is the everyday L.A. kid. He grew up the middle child in a loving family, attended Santa Monica High School, is a fan of the Lakers and Dodgers, and reps his city every chance he gets (the word Los Angeles comes up 26 times during conversation). Not too mention: Dom loves the kids. “I know what rap did for me when I was younger and how it affected me and a chance to do that and give it back—I had to,” he says, sitting in his blue Acura CL-type outside Earlez Grille off Crenshaw Boulevard. “Imagine how much power you have. You can mention something as simple as putting on a condom when you have sex with a girl or something. When you flip it in there and do it in a cool way people don’t even realize how much that will affect a kid. So now, they think it’s cool to stop at 7-Eleven to buy a condom. The chance to do that is incredible.” Kennedy understands. He was once that kid.  Now he wants to revitalize the urban narrative with his music. “I was like four of five when “Around the Way Girl” came out, and still know all the lyrics to it,” he says. “But I never once learned anything from LL Cool J. I hope to not be like that. He’s never told me anything as far as, “Don’t do this …” That’s what a lot of newer rappers have problems about with older guys, because its not just the fact that they’re still competing with them, it’s the fact that they never told them shit like, “Hey, don’t do this …” Dom wants to change all that. “I don’t have a thesis or anything, but I do think that it could be a better place and that there could be a lot more fun and honesty through music.”

Already one mixtape deep into the fray, Kennedy is currently working on his next mixtape and is in talks to do a collaborative project with L.A. trio Pacific Division and Houston rapper Carter, but is certain not to lose sight of the bigger picture. “Kids need new shit. New music comes out and they have a right to have the same quality and dope shit we had,” he says. “We got to give it to them—and I might be the first one to really try and do that. I’m committed to doing that, even if I’m a martyr.”

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