In an age of quick gratification and the instant attention switch, Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez is a name respected for both quality and consistency. Over the last 25 years, the four time Grammy-nominated DJ and producer has been astounding audiences across the world with his fusions of house, hip-hop, Latin, jazz, funk & soul, reggae, alternative pop and broken beats. By releasing literally thousands of original tracks and hundreds of remixes, Kenny has earned a reputation as a living encyclopedia of beats as both a solo artist, and as one-half of the legendary house duo, Masters At Work.
At an early age, Kenny began absorbing the hip-hop beats being played at local house and block parties in Sunset Park, Brooklyn where he grew up. He began his musical career as a buyer for a local record shop called WNR Music Center, where he broadened his musical knowledge and found his love of “diggin” for records. To date, Kenny’s collection totals over 50,000 records.
In the late 80’s, Mike Delgado, a good friend and partner of Kenny’s, organized a series of parties under the alias Masters At Work which the two of them would play at. Brooklyn DJ/producer Todd Terry attended these parties, and soon after, Kenny would cut school to watch Todd work on beats and record with singers and rappers. The combination of working at the store, learning how records were produced, and being around creative people influenced Kenny to begin his own productions. He then met King Grand (Russell Cole) and the two formed a group called KAOS. In 1987, Kenny and Todd produced the group’s album titled Courts In Session, which was released the next year on Gregg Fore’s label Bad Boy Records.
Over time, Kenny had built up the Masters At Work brand from its party-origins, and in 1987 the club hits “Alright Alright” and “Dum Dum Cry” were released by Todd Terry under the Masters At Work name. In return for the releases, Todd introduced Kenny to “Little” Louie Vega, another talented young Bronx DJ. In 1990, Kenny and Louie officially began a creative partnership, appropriately dubbed Masters At Work (MAW), and their sound quickly became a force in the clubs. They were soon sought after by artists and labels, and eventually remixed everyone from Michael Jackson and Luther Vandross, to Madonna and Daft Punk. With Louie influenced by salsa, house and freestyle and Kenny by hip-hop and reggae, the two went on to become labeled by many as the most revolutionary house production team of the 90’s.
In 1993, Kenny and Louie collaborated on a project called Nuyorican Soul, which was named after their heritage (Puerto Rican), residence (New York City), and style of music (Soul). During a MAW gig at the Southport Weekender festival in England, Kenny was inspired by the dancers in the jazz room and had an idea for a syncopated beat style of music, which he dubbed the “broken beat” style. Nuyorican Soul released its first single “The Nervous Track” on Nervous Records shortly after, which became the first broken beat record ever released. In this time frame, not only did Kenny collaborate with Louie on MAW projects, he also produced and remixed tracks in the hip-hop and reggae scene. “Get Up (Clap Your Hands)” and “The Madd Racket” were huge club tracks, and he also produced the Unreleased Project which featured Shaggy on the “Gunshot” track.
Kenny’s breakthrough as a solo artist came in 1995. One night, disheartened by the music that was being released throughout the business, Kenny went home and pulled out a series of classic records, and after three days he’d produced an entire album, The Bucketheads. This was a huge turning point for him, as one track on the album, “The Bomb (These Sounds Fall Into My Mind)” broke through the European pop charts and became his first major solo hit. Under different aliases, Kenny went on to release numerous projects on influential labels like Strictly Rhythm, Freeze, Nervous, Henry Street Records and TNT. Starting in 2000, and over the next decade, Kenny also went on to create classic remixes for the likes of R. Kelly, Shirley Bassey, The Jackson 5, DJ Gregory, Aaliyah, Soul Fuzion, and Kanye West.
Alongside being a DJ and producer, Kenny also holds the title of record label owner. Frank Mendez of Nu Groove Records gave him his first label Dopewax, so that he’d have an outlet to release anything he wanted. Kenny kept the label going after Nu Groove closed its doors, and it’s been a consistent outlet of house music to this day.
Initially, the releases were primarily raw, tracky, beat records produced by Kenny. He then started going into the vocal side of things, and even released remixes of Kanye West and Jill Scott tracks on the label. Demos started to come in, and now Dopewax is open to other artists & producers along with Kenny’s music.
Kenny has another label, Kay-Dee Records, which focuses on re-recording and releasing rare and classic music: everything from funk, soul & breaks, to gospel and movie soundtracks. It was initially born out of a challenge from Scottish DJ legend Keb Darge, who wanted to come up with a funk version of MAW’s “The Nervous Track”. Keb came back a short while later with “Nervous” by The New Mastersounds, which would be the first release on Kay-Dee. The idea for Kay-Dee then became to record new productions with classic recording techniques. Kenny sought out to find old masters and produce entirely new mixes of them. Not to remix, but to mix down the original and create new masters to give collectors and DJ’s a completely new version. Kay-Dee Records is a true haven for those with a passion for rare “real” music, and a deep love for vinyl.
Aside from his own artist projects, Kenny has been a producer for a slew of other artists. For nearly fifteen years, he has produced music for R&B singer Raheem De Vaughn. Kenny produced eleven tracks on Raheem’s 2011 album Love & War Masterpeace, which was Grammy-nominated for Best R&B Album Of The Year. Featured artists of those tracks include Ludacris, Wale, Damian Marley, Jill Scott and Anthony Hamilton. Two of Kenny’s latest projects include producing rapper Rasheed Chappell’s Future Before Nostalgia album, and also putting together a 12-piece funk & soul band called
The Fantastic Souls.
Throughout his career, Kenny admits there were times when he wasn’t inspired to create music because of what was dominating the new direction of sound. However, learning to listen without prejudice has allowed him to continue to discover new styles, artists and musicians, and keep his love for the music alive. Kenny stays inspired and motivated not by doing what he likes, but doing what he loves. This is what makes his music timeless. Look out for him on tour this summer in Ibiza and throughout the rest of the world, and for new upcoming releases on his Dopewax imprint.