Kenny Greene is a sophomore finance and economics major, but he would drop school in a second if it meant getting his big break.
“If anything, I could see music not only substituting college but [a typical career],” Greene said. “Plan B is to take [my major] and use it out in the world and make it resourceful if I don’t have music as my professional career.”
The West Philadelphia native and Michigan State transfer only started recording music in June of last year but already has three mixtapes, five singles and a handful of collaborations. In addition to working toward two degrees, an equal — if not more — amount of his time is invested in making it in the music world. He’s currently signed to Tyler Nicolo, a Philly-based producer working under Revel Music Group, a recording and publication company.
Despite his music dreams, Greene still puts his finance and economics studies to good use. His finance classes taught him that everyone who hands him a contract ultimately wants something in return, he said. Keeping that in mind makes him focus on the small details of every show he books and each executive he meets.
Greene redefines the typical 9-to-5 workday. While he starts at 9 a.m. each day, his work day ends at 5 a.m. He wakes up, goes to class and does homework during they day so he can come home and throw himself into his music until the early hours of the next morning.
His obsession started young — Greene picked up the trumpet at 7 years old, then moved on to drums. As a high-energy child, drums gave him optimal outlet for his intensity and later helped him create beats and advance his songwriting and “soulful, alternative R&B” sound.
“I always had a peculiar interest toward songwriting and lyrics and how I could express feelings to people,” he said.
Greene reached out to Nicolo last year after hearing his work with independent hip-hop duo Moosh and Twist. Ten seconds into Greene’s single “Sorry I’m Not Sorry (S.I.N.S.),” Nicolo knew Kenny Greene was a name to remember.
“Without a doubt, I see Kenny’s career going in an upward direction. He’s going to do something,” Nicolo said.
The two are constantly playing off each other, sending texts from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia and exchanging ideas for beats and songs. Greene is homeward bound most weekends to play shows in Philly or to meet up with Nicolo and conceptualize his ideas in the studio. Greene even transferred to Pitt from Michigan State University this semester to be closer to his studio.
The move has its drawbacks — attending a 55,000-person university made it easier for Greene’s music to reach fellow students. Greene said it’s harder to find his niche in a city with a stronger, but smaller music scene. Even so, he’s been able to perform more than a dozen shows at popular venues in both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, including The Altar Bar, The Fillmore and the Theatre of Living Arts.
“I’ve done everything for myself,” Greene said. “I have a knack for getting deep into any city I go to and just taking advantage of that. If I hear of a big, popular venue I’ll go and find out who’s opening or that, when.”
In Greene’s opinion, he only has one good song in his set list out right now.
His music video for the song “Mood Swings,” a melodic and introspective anthem, has amassed almost 7,000 views on YouTube since June of last year. It’s the track Greene wants his audience to know him by.
Greene self-funded the song’s video. He knocked down the price to less than $200 by recruiting one of his friends, Hunter Bartlett, to direct and edit the video, and whose camera Greene used to shoot. Greene found his own props, threw them into the back of his mom’s car and drove to a deserted part of Detroit to execute his vision.
“Kenny has so much energy, it’s hard to keep up with him,” Nicolo said. “When it comes to creating in the studio, he is a ball of ideas, creativity and a ‘Let’s try anything’ attitude.”
Greene has made a habit of keeping his friends close in his personal and professional life.
Nikki Kurtz, one of Greene’s closest friends from high school and a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design, created his website and designs all of the artwork for Greene’s mixtapes and singles. Their friendship began in 2014 when Greene first saw artwork Kurtz had posted on her Instagram.
“[Greene] asked if I would be able to help him out with one of his mixtape covers, ‘The Greene Effect.’ I eagerly said yes, and we started exchanging our visions for imagery,” Kurtz said in an email. “The quality has only gotten better with every new project.”
Whenever Greene has an idea for a song, he immediately calls Kurtz and asks her to start working on the cover, which is both challenging and fun for her.
“[Greene] pushes me out of my comfort zone and encourages me to try new things” she said. “I am always trying to learn new techniques, and I use his projects to expand on my skill.”
Greene’s upcoming first full-length record, “Chameleon,” will be a window into his deepest contemplations, but he said he won’t show it to the world until he’s completely satisfied with it.
“[My inspiration is] my soul. If it feels like it comes from my heart, I’m going to say it,” he said. “That’s where those lines come from. My inspiration is Kenny Greene.”
The songs on his SoundCloud page don’t encapsulate the artist. Greene has more to say than what happened at last weekend’s party, but the rapper said he stows all the good stuff in his “vault,” a place within his mind where “no one, not even [his] mother or friends” has a key, except him.
“If you heard some of my new stuff that I recorded over break, it doesn’t sound the same,” he said. “It doesn’t sound like the same human being. It’s a new wave.”
The backing beat to “Mood Swings” is infused with violins and guitars, free of huge drops or buildups. The song depicts Greene’s struggle to find a concrete version of himself — is he a humble artist working his way up or a pompous rapper victim to the temptations of his own game?
“If it feels like it comes from my heart, I’m going to say it,” Greene said. “I think a lot of things in my life have transpired, so I feel like I have a lot to talk about.”
The next few months are crucial in determining Greene’s future. There’s work to do — and not just for class. With promises of newfound musical maturity and expertise, Greene said his forthcoming “Chameleon” will impress his Philly fan base and music executives alike.
“Right now, I’m going into my career with a headstrong, steadfast attitude of ‘Believe in Kenny Greene.’ Kenny Greene is me. That’s my name, that’s what I’m branding. You have to believe in that because if I won’t, you won’t.”