Kenyon Dixon is on a mission to make the world fall in love with R&B again, and he knows exactly how he wants to do it. After digesting the current landscape of the genre and the conversations people were having about it, Dixon knew he wanted to dedicate his Closer project to restoring the feeling R&B lovers once knew. “I’ve heard complaints about the lack of these elements in recent R&B music,” he tells REVOLT. “We hear the joke all the time about how guys aren’t dancing in the rain anymore.”
Next, he determined a few non-negotiable core elements of true rhythm and blues: melody, the ability to actually sing, vulnerability and spirituality, just to name his most pressing points. His Closer album was released last month, equipped with 12 tracks and features from Tiffany Gouche, Gwen Bunn, D Smoke, and Susan Carol.
Right from the album’s intro song, Dixon tackles his mission with full force. In “Marvin Gaye,” he focuses on vulnerability and delves deep into his idea of what love and intimacy are. “Intimacy is actually really the things that you can’t see because that’s what makes those moments even more special,” he says about the song. “Being able to understand somebody’s mind and being able to occupy somebody’s space without even physically touching them.”
Kenyon Dixon sat down with REVOLT to speak about his Closer project, the components of an R&B song, the lessons fatherhood has taught him, and much more. Read up!
Congratulations on the release of Closer. How are you feeling about the feedback?
Honestly, it’s been amazing. Every time I put out a new project, the reception always tops the last. What made this one really special was I targeted the core elements of R&B. Because of the current conversations that were already happening, people were really appreciative to have a body of work that represented the nostalgia of what they missed about classic R&B music.
Aside from the quality of the project being great, I think that people just simply missed the feeling. The feeling where you can listen to an R&B album and really be excited about it. That’s overall the energy I was getting back from the people.
Could you explain what the core elements of R&B are?
You have melody, that is a huge part of it. The songs that we know, those lines that we all love to sing, those are the melodies. Then, you have actual singing, as simple as that sounds. Singing is a huge part of R&B music. That’s what we miss. Another key element is the context, which is usually delivered from a place of vulnerability. Another important element is the ability to emote. To be able to curate and accurately portray the specific emotion or mood is a huge thing for the listener. You want to give them an experience.
I’ve heard complaints about the lack of these elements in recent R&B music. We hear the jokes all the time about how guys aren’t dancing in the rain anymore. To me, that’s almost a trigger. It’s about nostalgia and paying homage.
However, another huge key element that is not talked about enough is the background and church and spirituality. A lot of the greats that we know, a lot of their roots are in gospel and the gospel is not necessarily always just just the church experience. Gospel is a type of movement. To be fair to today’s creatives, the church experience has changed. Church doesn’t look like what it looked like in the 90s. When that changes, the conviction changes, so a lot of what we were getting in R&B music really came from unhealthy traditions of people following habits. I consider all of those the core elements of R&B.
What was the most memorable studio session during the creation of Closer and why?
All of them because I record pretty much 100% of my songs at home. I engineer my stuff myself and kind of pre-mix it myself before I lock it in with my actual engineer. One of my favorite records to cut on this album was probably ‘WYTD’ featuring Gwen Bunn.
That’s definitely my favorite record because it’s the funky, feel-good one.
I love to hear you say that because when I was recording that on my computer, I was playing videos of old ‘Soul Train’ clips, and I had them muted. I would get up sometimes in the middle of recording and I would dance because I was truly in the spirit of the record. I felt like when I would open my mouth to record, I was putting that energy into the record. That was definitely one of my favorite records to make.
“WYTD” is my favorite song, but my favorite lyric is actually on “Marvin Gaye.” You say: “Intimacy is much more than the things that we see.” So, what are some of the most intimate things that aren’t tangible?
When people think about intimacy, they think it automatically reverts to sex pretty much. The thing about intimacy is, it’s literally about getting to know someone’s inner parts. Intimacy is actually really the things that you can’t see because that’s what makes those moments even more special. Being able to understand somebody’s mind and being able to occupy somebody’s space without even physically touching them.
That record for me, ‘Marvin Gaye,’ was really just about how there’s a deeper level to the sensual side of things. You heighten that by getting that correct understanding of intimacy. You go higher when you understand the concept of how the more I know about you, the more I understand how to touch your soul.
Speaking of understanding people, you have a beautiful daughter now. How has fatherhood changed how you approach not just music but life in general?
Man, that’s a good one. Fatherhood, man. What’s amazing about parenthood period is that whatever your idea of it is, until you have your child, none of that is accurate. Every child is so different and so specific. You can try and prepare, you can have all of these ideas, but you’re literally starting from scratch when you have a child.
One of the greatest lessons that I’ve learned with fatherhood, aside from patience, is quality time. It’s about how to actually make the most of your time. I say that because when we first had our daughter, I can’t just work on music. I had to understand her sleep pattern, I had to give her the attention she would want when she gets up, and so on. I finally understood that I had this very short window to do what I wanted to do — because once she’s up, she needs me.
Where was your mindset this time last year? Also, how much has changed for you when you look back on it now?
Man, another amazing question. You know what’s crazy? Last summer, things were going really well. My career kind of shot up during the pandemic because of how self-sufficient I was. People were hungry for creativity, and we lost a lot of creativity especially for artists who are used to working with a lot of different people. We didn’t have access to the resources anymore. Me on the other hand, I had been in the house creating my stuff by myself all the time. It was a moment for me to continue doing what I was already doing, you know? That was like the catalyst for everything in that moment … or I should say, a catalyst for the next level of what I’ll do.
I thought that was the height of what I was doing. I was so excited because I’m making some dope progress. Here I am a year later and I can’t even believe that I’ve done so much more than I even dreamed about doing a year before that year ago. When I reached those goals, I thought, ‘Oh, sure, this is pretty much what I wanted to do.’ Then I came to do stuff and meet goals that I didn’t even have.
It’s like that one saying: “God laughs at the man who plans.” There’s always so much more in store than you even thought.
Exactly. I wasn’t even dreaming big enough. There was some stuff that I didn’t even think was on my level of creating. You grind a year, but a whole lot happens in a year. Even in this moment, you are in the process of whatever that will happen next year. You don’t realize all of this stuff is happening for you right now. I’m grateful and it’s been a blessing. God is amazing. I’m just glad that I committed to my vision and understood my vision in the end, and I had perfect clarity so I knew how to attack it in real time. I knew how to really execute what I prayed about. They weren’t blind prayers. They were very specific.